When Dana Barlow’s husband, Jade, first unearthed their 2007 Saturn Sky “Red Line” in May of 2015, she could not have been more ecstatic.The Salt Lake City residents had been looking for a manual version of the GM two-seater locally for quite some time, with one option after another proving to be either overpriced or in piss-poor condition.
Photo By: RedRacer Video LLC
So when a minty fresh, manually-equipped model popped up online with a meager 3,800 miles on the odometer, the couple immediately boarded a plane for Malibu, California to check it out in person. With nary a blemish to be seen, and an asking price that was just as impressive, the two purchased the GM rarity and drove it back to Salt Lake City, unaware of the transformation it would someday see.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the “Red Line” version of the Saturn Sky, rest assured that unlike modern GM “Redline” vehicles, this specialized model was way more than just an appearance package. Utilizing a boosted 2.0-liter Ecotec engine and generating a respectable 260 horsepower, this rear-wheel-drive rollerskate was just as performance-focused as it was obscure.
Mated to a five-speed manual gearbox — an automatic slushbox was optional — the Sky Red Line allowed drivers to harness all of the control found within its torque-sensing, limited-slip differential, and couple it with GM’s StabiliTrak stability control system. Stacked atop sportier suspension and 18-inch alloys, with one-off interior touches and unique aero, manual models of the Saturn Sky Red Line remain one of the most virile roadster unicorns in automotive history.
Backstory complete, and the Barlow’s desire for a Red Line version of the microscopic Saturn Sky justified, we turn toward Dana’s infatuation with driving fast. The 50-year-old accounting manager tells us that her love for all things automotive began the moment she took ownership of her first ride, a Sky Blue 1966 Ford Mustang hard-top with shackled rear leaf springs and American Racing wheels. Marrying her high school sweetheart, who just so happened to be a hardcore gearhead, only cemented this petrol-fueled passion, with the couple admittedly owning over 40 vehicles since 1985.
Shortly after exchanging vows, Dana’s husband started racing motocross, with the couple tearing up courses competitively in a Polaris side-by-side. But in 2012, misfortune struck when the couple rolled their ATV eight times. Although Jade and Dana were lucky enough to walk away, this traumatic experience slowed their enthusiasm, and the couple took a hiatus from competitive motorsports.
But instead of tossing in the shop towel, Jade and Dana turned toward other forms of racing, and in early 2015 the couple discovered what would become a full-blown fixation. A friend had invited the Barlow duo to a local SCCA autocross event, where a handful of ride-alongs would forever alter their automotive inclinations. Grin-filled ride alongs complete, Jade and Dana immediately registered their Holden Commodore SSV in the next event, which they co-drove as a team.
Unfortunately, for as cool as the Commodore is on paper, it is anything but an autocross star athlete. Being huge GM fans, the search for something lightweight, rear-wheel-drive, and potent enough for local SCCA laps began in earnest. Flip forward a few pages, and the couple had obtained their dream cone-crushing machine, and were competing regularly in the AS (stock) class, which Dana tells us remained their bread and butter for three years. But the desire for more extreme racing was undeniable, and the couple realized that to compete in the Raw Times, they needed a faster automobile.
Jade pleaded with Dana for months on end to sell the Sky, claiming that in order to elevate their game, they needed to buy a Corvette. But Dana refused, and eventually her man decided that the only way to reach some form of agreement was for the little roadster to receive an LS heart transplant. After pitching this unorthodox solution, Dana agreed to have her beloved Red Line put under the knife, but with only one stipulation: under no circumstance was the car to be sold.
Within a matter of weeks the car was sent off to JDP Motorsports in order to have the automotive equivalent of open-heart surgery performed upon it. Surprisingly, cramming the LS3 beneath the bonnet of the Sky proved to be far less of a headache than predicted, with the V8 taking up around the same amount of space as the boosted OEM 2.0-liter it replaced. This was further proof that turbo setups, and all of their corresponding cooling accouterments, require significant sums of breathing room.
Instead, the biggest obstacle proved to be the Tremec TR-6060 transmission, which was almost double the size and weight of the stock Aisin five-speed. Issues with shoehorning the LS3’s gearbox into the little roadster were only compounded by the fact that JDP Motorsports had to fabricate a mount in order to connect the Tremec differential to the chassis. Toss in a “plug-and-play” wiring harness that ended up requiring countless hours of tracking down incorrectly positioned wires and connectors, and both time and money spent on this 10-month build became quite substantial.
All wrapped up and running smoothly, Dana and Jade immediately took their swapped Sky to LS Fest West, where they entered the “Autocross Only” class in the hopes of finishing in the top 20. After beating her husband for the first time on the Saturday course, Dana found herself finishing second overall, causing her to make a pact with herself: no matter who else is in her class, Dana’s goal is to beat her husband, regardless of what car or class he may be racing in that particular week.
When asked how the LS-swapped roadster behaves, Dana tells us that despite having more than double the amount of torque and horsepower as before, driveability is surprisingly straightforward. Thanks to a slew of corresponding suspension, traction, and braking upgrades, the Barlow’s Sky Red Line is just as precision focused as it is forceful — a testament to the level of care JDP Motorsports put into engineering and modifying the chassis.
That said, when the Barlow’s first opted for the 580 horsepower LS package, they thought the engine might completely overwhelm the chassis and make it a handful to drive. However, the couple could not have been more wrong, with the vehicle delivering predictable, linear power and traction across the entire powerband. Toss in the fact that aesthetically the LS-swap looks all the world like a factory performance option, and the phrase “home is where the heart is” immediately comes to mind.
Focusing on the future, Jade and Dana tell us that their next objective is ironing out driveability annoyances, starting with the installation of a quieter axle-back exhaust. Also, being that heal-toe downshifts remain difficult to initiate due to OEM pedal placement, the couple is looking toward installing an aftermarket rev-matching feature similar to that found in modern Corvettes. There is also talk of exterior enhancements, including an aero package for increased road course stability.
As for suggestions to those of us who might be tempted to attempt such a swap, Jade and Dana suggest starting with a genuine LS aluminum block in order to keep the front bias in check via a 56/44 split. From there, ditching the five-speed for a custom setup like they have in place should become a focus, along with any necessary fabrication and wiring for flawless fitment and reliability. While brake and suspension upgrades may not seem like a must, the additional weight of the LS motor should also be taken into consideration, especially if track time is in the cards.
So let’s look at the tale of the tape shall we? When this Sky Red Line was bone stock, Dana Barlow became a 3-time Utah SCCA Autocross Class Champion (2016-2018) beneath the A Street Ladies (ASL) category. Swap complete, 2019 marks the first year where she can race on a more competitive stage, where she has already secured her 4th title in CAM-SL (Classic American Muscle Sport Ladies).
Polite and borderline shy with her helmet off, this 50-year-old grandmother of five is living proof that high-performance enthusiasm comes in all shapes, ages, and sizes. So don’t be quick to judge a book by its cover, because much like the minuscule machine she pilots, this grandma packs way more of a punch than you might expect. As Dana Barlow vies for SCCA fame, in the process placing her in the running for greatest granny of all time.
Current mileage: 12,890
Make/year: 2018 Chevrolet LS3 Crate Engine
Stock cid: 376
Current cid: 376
Bore/Stroke: 4.065 x 3.622
Crankshaft: Factory Six-Bolt
Pistons: Factory Flat Top Cast Aluminum Alloy
Connecting rods: Powdered Metal I-Beam
Compression ratio: 10.7:1
Engine built by (city/state): JDP Motorsports
Camshaft make: JDP Motorsports Stage II L76/L92 Camshaft 228/236 .629/.629 113+2
Cylinder heads make/type: GM / Aluminum
Valves Springs: Brian Tooley Racing
Rocker Arms: STR
Timing Chain: Katech
Oil Pump: Melling
Heads built by: JDP Motorsports of Sandy, Utah
Accessory Drive: CTS-V
Under Drive Damper: ATI
Oil Pan: Corvette LS3
Spark Plugs: NGK
Oil Catch Can: Elite Engineering
Radiator: Performance Autowerks
Wiring Harness: Custom Performance Autowerks
Motor Mounts: Custom Performance Autowerks
AIR and FUEL:
PCM: GM E67 ECU with custom OS
Engine tuner: JDP Motorsports of Sandy, Utah
Injector size: 42LB @ 4 Bar
Pump(s): OEM In-Tank
Intake manifold: GM L92 Factory Manifold
Throttle body make/size: 90mm GM LS3
Intake: Air Raid C6 Corvette
Headers: Performance Autowerks
H/Xpipe: Custom X-Pipe
Catalytic Converters: Stainless Works
Pipe size: 2.5”
Type: Tremec TR-6060
Clutch: GM Performance
Flexplate / Flywheel: GM Performance
Shifter: MGW Short Throw – Camaro SS
Cooler: GM Performance
Slave Cylinder: Centerforce
Driveshaft size / material: Custom Fabricated / Aluminum
Other trans/driveline modifications: Custom Differential / Trans Mounts
Trans built by: JDP Motorsports
Type: Saturn / Independent
Front upper/lower control arms: Aluminum
Front shocks/struts: Penske 8300 Double Adjustable Remote Reservoir Coil Overs
Steering box: Power / CTS-V
Front Sway bar: OEM
Other front suspension mods: DDM Works Bushings
Rear upper/lower control arms: Aluminum
Rear shocks: Penske 8300 Double Adjustable Remote Reservoir Coil Overs
Rear Sway bar: FE3 ZOk
Other rear mods: DDM Works Bushings / JDP Motorsports Custom Fab Mounts
Front: Forgestar F-14 Bronze 18 x 8.5 45mm
Rear: Forgestar F-14 Bronze 18 x 9.5 47mm
Tires, front: Bridgestone RE-71R 255/35/18
Tires, rear: Bridgestone RE-71R 285/35/18
Front: Wilwood 14” 6-Piston
Rear: Wilwood 13” 4-Piston
Rotors / Pads: Wilwood
Brake Lines: TCE Performance Steel Braided
Original/Current color: GM Arctic While
What condition was it in when you bought it? Like New / Completely Stock with 3800 Miles
Body modifications: Tow Hooks
Ground effects: None
What brand/type paint was used? OEM
Body/Paint Shop: Price Auto Body of Sandy, Utah
Clear Bra / Tint: Shane Hawkins
Upholstery, color, material: Black/Tan Leather
Roll bar/cage: RPM Motorsports 4-Point Kappa
Other interior mods: JVC Stereo/Head Unit, Back Up Camera
Air Conditioning: Camaro SS
Cruise Control: Custom Performance Autowerks
All Factory Gauges & Steering Wheel Controls are Functional
Best ¼-Mile ET: 12.58-seconds
MPH: 116 mph
60-foot time: .201-seconds
Lap time/track: 1:302 / Las Vegas Motor Speedway