“Cheap Thrills” – Matt Happel’s Turbo 4.8L Swapped Ford Fairmont

Apparently some people still think that an LS engines are too expensive for the average gearhead, and that you’ve got to have mega-bucks to really make big power with one. Well, those people are what we like to call “wrong”.

Need proof? Just take a look at Matt Happel’s LS-Swapped 1982 Ford Fairmont 4-door. Now, we’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t much to look at, and we’re obligated to point out that it’s powered by the lowliest of all LS mills – a junkyard sourced 4.8L truck motor. Still, you’d better be careful about throwing around the “grandma-car” jokes from behind the wheel of your late-model, because you’ll soon be eating your words and wondering what the hell just happened.

This granny grocery-getter effortlessly runs 10’s…that’s right – freaking 10’s!

Happel’s Fairmont is a prime example of just how perfect LS engines can be for low-buck-builds, and an even better example of just how blindingly quick they can make even the most unlikely of cars.We talked with Happel about his Turbo 4.8L Fairmont, and have the whole interview below for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Happel's beige beauty hangin' at the track before it gets busy producing 10-second time slips. Well, maybe just one 10-second slip if the tech guys realize he doesn't have a roll cage yet.

LSXMAG: People have been swapping LS engines into a lot of interesting stuff lately, but your Fairmont is still one of the most interesting we’ve seen. What possessed you to take on such an “atypical” project?

Matt Happel : “For the last six years my friends and I have been taking cars and installing nitrous and turbos, blowing them up, and scrapping them. We’ve recorded it all and put it up on my YouTube channel and website. I just play with cars as a hobby, and I like to have fun with them and learn. I also really enjoy teaching others how to do things, and showing them it doesn’t take a big budget to have fun or go fast. That’s more or less what I am about.”

LSXMAG: Of all the cars you could’ve picked, why did you go with the Fairmont for a project car?

Happel: “I picked it up for $1,000 dollars in a town about 90 miles from my house. I’m only the second owner and it’s got just 48,000 miles. I picked the Fairmont because it shares the same platform as the 79-03 Fox-Body Mustangs, and its super easy to find parts for these cars. Stock, they can hold the 8.8” Ford rear end, which is an extremely stout and easily sourced rear, which obviously has tons of options for gears and brakes. Me and my friends had already done LSx swaps on some other cars including Fox Mustangs, but for my car I wanted a plain-Jane looking piece that would really dumbfound people at the dragstrip.”

Happel scored the 48K mile Fairmont for a song from it's original owner. He even got the original owners manual and window sticker too.

LSXMAG: It sounds like you’re very familiar with them, but what drew you to the 4.8L as your engine?

Happel: “Where I live, the iron block 4.8L, 5.3L and 6.0L engines can be picked up for as little as $80 complete if you can pull it yourself. Besides that, I’ve heard of the abuse they can take and I figured ‘Why not? My friends and I can push them for all they are worth.’”

LSXMAG: What did it take to fit the 4.8L in the Fairmont?

Happel: “We basically ripped out the stock motor and trans, and bolted my 4.8 to a TH400. I put a small piece of wood on the steering rack and K member, and lowered the motor down on it. I just eyeballed it, and welded up some motor mounts out of plate steel and angle iron from tractor supply. I also welded in some subframe connectors and made a trans crossmember for the TH400.”

It's an amazingly simple combo - 4.8L truck mill, LS1 intake, mismatched cylinder heads, ZL1 cam, a little bit of nitrous, and a GT45 turbo that makes over 650 RWHP. Simple, ugly, and dangerously effective.

LSXMAG: What specifics can you tell me about the engine, turbo, and transmission combo?

Happel: “It’s just a stock-bottomed ’01 4.8L iron truck motor with a ported LS1 241 head on the passenger side, and a stock truck 862 head on the driver’s side. It’s got PAC 1218 single springs in both heads, and a ZR1 cam I got new from GM. I also had to use an ‘08 truck front cover and a 1x cam gear so the ZR1 cam would read correctly with the 24x crank trigger setup.

I’m using a stock LS1 intake I got from a friend and the stock truck throttle body. The turbo is a GT45 and I’m using flipped exhaust manifolds off my G8 GT. The exhaust is only about 3-feet long and comes out right in front of the tire. It has a 60mm X02 wastegate, a medium sized air-to-air intercooler, and a double nozzle meth kit. I also have a wet nitrous kit hooked up to help spool the turbo and launch the car at the dragstrip.”

LSXMAG: So how much power does the turbo 4.8L make?

Happel: “The car has made over 650 rear-wheel-horsepower on 18 pounds of boost and a 100 shot of nitrous, even with the torque converter really struggling to lay down the power. I bought the TH400 and converter on Craigslist and paid $500 for both of them. On the foot brake it stalls about 3,000, and I know I’m making entirely too much power for this converter. It slips incredibly bad now and I have to push it really hard. I’ll soon be swapping in a 4L80E from one of our other projects with a triple billet lockup converter, so that should help a lot.”

LSXMAG: That’s an impressive amount of power. How on earth do you get all that to the ground – that is, if you even do?

Happel: “It has a ‘91 Ford Mustang rear end, with a welded stock posi unit and 2.73 highway gears, and plain old stock shocks and springs. Also of note is the Kmart children’s football jammed in the rear spring to stop the body from twisting so much when I jam on the throttle. At the dragstrip I run a set of Mickey Thompson drag radials.”

Some good old M/T drag radials mounted on a set of 10-hole Mustang LX wheels are charged with the monumental task of trying to get the Fairmont hooked up.

LSXMAG: Tell us about how this thing does at the drag strip. We’ve heard that it runs mid-10’s?

Happel: “Even with the bad converter it will cut a 1.7 60-foot and go low 10’s at 138 MPH. It will even hit 111 MPH in the Eighth-Mile. I’m really testing how strong these motors are, and on those passes I hit it with 22 pounds of boost and a 125 shot of nitrous. That’s all on pump-gas and methanol on 15 degrees of timing, all on a set of 255x60x15 radials. It’s a beast. ..and to think – everyone forgets about the little 4.8L’s.”

LSXMAG: What are you most proud of about the Fairmont?

Happel: “It cost a little less than $5,000 to build initially and it has a junkyard motor with mismatched heads, a Craigslist trans, a $300 turbo. It was all built and tuned by me, and its usually the fastest car at the strip on a Friday night. (I get kicked out the fastest too with no roll-bar) It’s pretty rewarding when I drive to the dragstrip and everyone couldn’t be bothered with the car. Then after I line up with a brand new mustang and make it look like a windup toy, I get locked in conversation with 40 people for an hour or two about what in the world I did to my grandmother’s car.”

It may not get much attention based on looks alone, but once Happel displays what the Fairmont is capable of it can start to attract quite a crowd.

LSXMAG: So what do you have in store next for “Grandma’s Fairmont”?

Happel: “I have an 80mm turbo on the shelf I am going to put in after the 4L80E, and I’m currently building an iron 370ci LSx out of a 6.0L block with forged rods and pistons that’s eventually going to call the Fairmont home. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to show off my clunker!”

About the author

Clifton Klaverweiden

Clifton has been a car fanatic since his late teens, when he started the restoration of his '67 Camaro. He considers himself a student of automotive science and technology, and particularly loves all things LSX. And, although he has an appreciation for everything, from imports to exotics, his true passion will always be for GM musclecars.
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