Sloppy Mechanics’ Colorado Makes 796 HP On A 250,000-Mile LQ4

When it comes to junkyard LS-builds, it seems like everyone and their dog has some skin in the game, and who can blame them? Considering the overabundance of cheap power just sitting at the local junkyard, it’s hard to condemn people for plucking up anything LS-based and dropping it in everything ranging from Volvos to BMWs. Making cheap, reliable horsepower is the name of the game; and when it comes to that game, there are few better out there better than Sloppy Mechanics‘ proprietor Matt Happel and his brutal 2005 Chevrolet Colorado.

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People always tell me that i’m lying or using ‘black magic’ to get the numbers I am, but there are no tricks. – Matt Happel, Sloppy Mechanics

Matt has had his own YouTube channel since 2006 and has made a name for himself under the handle Sloppy Mechanics. While the name may or may not be familiar (depending on how into cobbling together cheap, LS-based builds you are), his results are hard to argue with. Matt believes that making excessive amounts of power doesn’t have to be as expensive as everyone thinks.

“I build a couple of cars a year,” Matt said. “And people always tell me that I’m lying or using ‘black magic’ to get the numbers I am, but there are no tricks.”

Most of the builds Matt puts together don’t even go as far as opening the motor up to any large degree. And, in the cases that it does, it is usually just to clean the junkyard-souced motors up a bit and put them back together again using their stock pieces, right down to the gaskets whenever possible.

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“We go by a motto here, you may have heard it, we don’t want to open it up and let all the magic out,” Matt said. “Guys get nervous that their build won’t hold the power so they go in and change everything, but this just adds more possibility for mistakes.”

We go by a motto here, you may have heard it, we don’t want to open it up and let all the magic out. – Matt Happel, Sloppy Mechanics

Matt believes in making cheap horsepower so much that every build he does is documented and posted on his sites. From dyno runs to turbo fitment, nothing is a secret here. He even gives tunes away for free on his Wiki site.

“The problem is guys are so secretive about their builds they won’t share any of their ‘secrets,'” Matt said. “But that’s the problem, they are so secretive about it that they might not even know if what they are doing is right anymore.”

And while his philosophies pertaining to all things automotive are very altruistic, his actions speak louder than words — with “loud” definitely the operative term, here.

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Matt’s latest creation is a first-generation 2005 Chevrolet Colorado powered by an LQ4 that had already seen more than 250,000 miles between the fenders of a previously-loved Silverado. This particular Colorado is a two-wheel drive fleet model (denoted by the glass halogen headlights). While cheap is a relative term, most would agree that under $3,000 is a pretty decent price.

“My wife wanted to build a Colorado because she liked the looks of them,” Matt said. “I couldn’t find one for less than $9,000 until I saw this truck sitting out front of another shop and I thought ‘he couldn’t be asking much for that thing.’”

Turns out, Matt was right and he walked away with the truck for a paltry $2,800.

The first incarnation of the truck saw its original 2.8-liter four-cylinder removed in favor of an LQ4 paired with an On3 Performance 7876 turbo. The combination performed well, running 11.20s on street radials at only 6 pounds of boost, and eventually threw down 696 horsepower (with higher boost) to the wheels until a piston ring land broke and fragged the entire motor and turbo setup due to a lean engine condition.

The next, and current, iteration would be an even more ambitious build. Matt started with the previously mentioned, 250,000-mile LQ4. When he dropped the oil pan to see how it looked on the inside, he found nothing but sludge. Instead of scrapping the motor, like most people would, he dug into the motor to clean everything up.

But make no mistake, clean was all he did. The motor was reassembled using the stock rod bearings, main bearings, rod bolts, cam bearings, head bolts and even head gaskets. Not a single wearable item in the motor was swapped — just cleaned; despite the fact that the engine had enough miles on it to have circumnavigated the Earth more than 10 times.

“Some people think that you need to use studs on everything if you are doing a build like this,” Matt said. “But why use them if you don’t really need them? That’s where people get carried away.”

One of the only changes in the entire long-block was the camshaft. A Turbo Stage II cam featuring 226 and 231 degrees of duration on the intake and exhaust respectively was sourced from Lil John’s Motorsports Solutions.

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The original On3 Performance 7876 side-by-side with the VS Racing Borg-Warner clone.

After the previous engine scattered its guts through the turbo, it was time for an upgrade. Matt selected a VS Racing VSR 80 mm Billet T6 turbo — which just so happens to be a clone of the S480 Borg-Warner turbo. It features a billet compressor wheel and is capable of supporting up to 1,200 horsepower.

Originally, 80 lb/hr injectors were used to supply the mill with go juice, but the truck maxed them out at anything over 12 psi. To allow the truck to go farther without running into lean conditions, as it did before, 160 lb/hr Bosch injectors, originally designed for CNG-powered vehicles, were sourced and shipped all the way from Latvia.

“A lot of companies out there are buying these injectors and reselling them to people for at least twice what I paid for them,” Matt said. “Some are quick to criticize them, but I’ve seen motors where the different cylinders’ fuel requirement can vary by up to 13 percent, so flow matching them can only go so far.”

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Inside, Matt’s truck sports what he refers to as “Dial-A-Boost” which is a switch that ranges in settings from one to 11 that controls boost levels on the fly.

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An interesting innovation from Matt was the addition of a wastegate directly mounted to the turbine housing.

The amalgamation of LS and turbo parts is backed by a 4L80E with a Trans Go shift kit that Matt traded a Turbo 400 for. The transmission is spun by a PTC 3,600 rpm stall torque converter originally intended for a different application but conscripted into service in this application due to its affordable $400 price tag. While the converter handles the power to an extent, it does lack something to be desired.

“The torque converter was originally built for a 3800 V6-powered Volvo wagon my friend has,” Matt said with a laugh. “Over 700 at the tire, it’s struggling to couple the power; we could tell because we kept turning up boost and losing mph and not gaining power all at the same time, which pretty much means the converter is struggling.”

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Matt’s Colorado threw down 796.33 horsepower even through the temperamental torque converter.

While the torque converter may be struggling to keep up, it’s still stuffing nearly 796.33 horsepower through the Colorado’s stock rearend, and that just wasn’t going to fly. True to form, Matt turned to a tried-and-true junkyard favorite of his, the 8.8-inch Ford rearend. These differentials are almost as common and reliable as the LS motor is — and for good reason, they can handle a lot of power.

While you can find these rearends in Ford Explorers across the country, they are nowhere near close to fitting in a ’05 Colorado, and that is where Matt had a trick up his sleeve.

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“The 8.8-inch rearend in most Explorers are off-centered, so they have a shorter axle on one side and a longer axle on the other,” Matt said. “So we take the rearend and a shorter axle out of another (Explorer) sitting right next to it, take it back to the shop, shorten the axle tube, and slap in the shorter axle … and we’re good to go.”

Its held up to daily highway rolling burnouts, joyrides with co-workers, and multiple dyno appointments after work. – Matt Happel, Sloppy Mechanics

While the transmission and rearend may be up to the task, some would still call into question how long the mill could survive under these extreme conditions. The answer? Long enough. So far, Matt has put more than 2,000 hard miles on the LQ4 and it shows no signs of stopping.

“Its held up to daily highway rolling burnouts, joyrides with co-workers, and multiple dyno appointments after work,” he said. “Not to mention I put 1,400 miles on the truck in a week and a half driving it all over for work.”

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Even if the 250,000-mile LQ4 does decide to let go, there are thousands out there to take its place; especially when Matt is typically spending only $500 a pop. And, with thousands more headed to junkyards everyday, his habit of torturing LS motors has little chance of slowing down any time soon.

Despite the urge to make cheap horsepower, Matt occasionally splurges on items that he can’t live without. Take for example the Racepak that is currently monitoring the vital signs of this scrapyard build. Most would have a hard time justifying gauges that cost more than the motor that powers the project, but when you’re saving that much money, why not?

Some would call all of this scrappy (or worse), some would call it ingenuitive genius; we tend to agree with the later. But whatever it is, there is no arguing that making almost 800 horsepower for just $11,000 (including the purchase price of the truck, taxes, registration, Racepak, and two motors) is, in fact, at least a little genius mixed with a whole lot of crazy. Indeed, the line between insanity and genius is measured only by success.

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About the author

Chase Christensen

Chase Christensen hails from Salt Lake City, and grew up around high-performance GM vehicles. He took possession of his very first F-body— an ’86 Trans Am— at the age of 13 and has been wrenching ever since.
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