Like it or not, cars like the 5th generation Chevrolet Camaro are on the outs. With gas prices what they are, along with increasing fuel economy standards and a push towards smaller and lighter vehicles, the Camaro’s two-ton curb weight will be woefully out of place on roads of the future. We need to think smarter, we need to think smaller, and we need to think lighter.
That’s what Toyota and Subaru did when the two Japanese auto giants co-developed the Toyota GT86/Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ. This lightweight, rear-wheel drive sports car has near perfect weight distribution, and tips the scales at less than 3,000 pounds. It is, in essence, a pure sports car with just one tiny problem; the gutless 2.0 liter, 200-horsepower boxer engine.
It was a project I wanted to do since the car was announced. – Doug Ross
That was Doug Ross’s take on the Subaru BRZ. So when he opened his own shop, Weapons Grade Performance in Wallingford, Connecticut, he had one particular project in mind; a LS-swapped Subaru BRZ. “It was a project I wanted to do since the car was announced,” Doug says. Once his shop was up and running, Doug called up a local Subaru dealer, drove his 2011 Corvette Z06 Carbon over there, popped the hoods on both the ‘Vette and a BRZ, and started taking measurements. His verdict? It would fit.
His partner, Brian, had just bought a BRZ, and the daily driver quickly became the Weapons Grade shop car. Thanks to the flat-four factory powerplant, the engine bay is surprisingly wide, as you can see in the pictures. With the 2-liter boxer no longer taking up a lot of horizontal space, that left a lot of room to play around with for the V8 swap.
The LS2 engine fits into the Subaru BRZ quite nicely, and adds just 60 pounds to the curb weight of the car.
From GTO to BRZ
“It was a no brainer to go with a LS-series engine,” says Doug, who has owned other LS-powered cars over the years. “So we called up Fparts and got a LS2 engine from a Pontiac GTO. That engine had a spun bearing, but when we called Fparts up they paid for a rebuild per their guarantee. So we ended up with fully-forged internals on essentially a fresh engine.”
From there, “It was pretty easy,” says Doug. There was no cutting or hacking of the engine bay required. “We had to massage the transmission tunnel a little bit,” Doug explains. “But other than mocking up our own motor mounts, transmission mounts, and oil pan, the swap was fairly straightforward.” Doug worked with an engine jig to mock-up the whole arrangement, before installing the real thing. “It was my first swap,” says Doug. “And it couldn’t be easier.”
Godzilla in the House
A mechanical engineer by trade, Doug knows a thing or two about speed. “My first car was a Volkswagen Passat station wagon with a VR6 swap,” he says. He traded that in for an LS1-powered 1999 Pontiac Trans Am, and also got his hands on the aforementioned 2011 Corvette Z06 Carbon Edition. But his current ride puts those all to shame; a 1,200 horsepower Nissan GT-R. It’s an 8-second ride, one of many that has passed through his shop, and GT-Rs make up a bulk of the business at WPG, but Doug still has a soft spot for domestics. Hence the V8 Subie.
“We would have liked to keep all the parts for the swap American,” says Doug. “But there still isn’t as much aftermarket support here for the BRZ.” Still, parts like the coilover suspension come from America’s own KW Shocks, and Connecticut-based Moroso made parts like the radiator overflow tank. Current Performance provided the custom wiring harness, which Doug says was actually one of the easier parts.
Creature Comforts Intact
“Most of the electronics run off of the ABS system,” explains Doug. “So it was actually pretty easy to hook up.” Everything except the electronic power steering and tachometer work, and we were especially thankful for the car’s air conditioning on a nearly-90 degree day when we visited.
As for the LS2 engine itself, it is a mish-mash of parts from a variety of different LS engines. The air conditioning condenser, for example, came off of a Cadillac CTS-V, and the intake is from a Pontiac G8. The factory LS2 exhaust manifolds were reused, and the stock Toyota-built rear end was also kept on-board, albeit upgraded to 3.73 gears. Doug is still waiting on a few finishing touches, like a custom “BRZ06” badge. See what they did there?
USDM Meets JDM
Doug has a thing for American upgrades to Japanese cars. For example, one of the more popular upgrades for Nissan GT-R owners are the brakes, though Doug went an extra step and developed a conversion kit for the Corvette ZR1’s carbon ceramic brake rotors. “This lets me drop 14 or 15 pounds of unsprung weight at each corner of the car,” says Doug. That improves acceleration and handling, and looks awesome on the GT-R as well. Yes, we know, it’s not American, and it certainly isn’t a “muscle car” with its all-wheel drive and turbo six-cylinder engine.
But the BRZ06? It really is the best of both worlds. On a brief test drive, Doug got on the gas pedal and the car accelerated like a bullet; instant speed, no hesitation.
This slick, sleek, lightweight coupe could point the way forward for American muscle cars.
Roll Your Own
We’re working with a supplier to get a Z06-style hood that should allow us to run a supercharger.
But looking to the future, cars like the V8-swapped Subaru BRZ point the way forward. Sure, the cars might get smaller and lighter, but was Doug and WGP have proven, you can have your cake and eat it too. For $3,000, Weapons Grade Performance will sell you a “basic” kit, which includes the motor mounts, transmission mounts, driveshaft, oil pan, and clutch master cylinder.
This kit will get you started, but for $9,000 the Complete Kit will include all of the above, plus an exhaust system, cooling system, wiring harness, and everything else you need except for the actual engine and transmission. Worried about weight balance? Don’t be. “The engine swap only adds like 60 or 80 pounds over stock,” says Doug, allowing the BRZ to keep its renowned cornering abilities intact. Ask if there were any plans to drop, say, a supercharged LS9 engine into the BRZ, Doug smiles. “Right now hood clearance is an issue,” he says. “But we’re working with a supplier to get a Z06-style hood that should allow us to run a supercharger.” A 638 horsepower Subaru coupe? Yes, please…
For all the talk of hybrids and fuel economy these days, Doug’s idea of crossing American power with Japanese ingenuity isn’t a new idea. But his LS-swapped Subie is the first of its kind, and judging from the ease of the swap, this could one day become as popular as the 240SX and RX7 LS swaps that we see at almost every car show. For now though, it is a unique conjoining of modern Japanese sports cars with classic American muscle.