There are three reasons to swap an LS-based engine into anything. In no particular order, they are price, power, and improvement. Everyone knows (and almost everyone will admit) that you can build or acquire an LS engine more inexpensively than almost every other engine above a Briggs & Stratton. Secondly, the engine’s newer technology, and the fact the aftermarket has embraced the LS/LT family of engines with a tenacity typically only enjoyed by life preservers and free beer, means that parts to upgrade the engine and actually make the swap easier are becoming more commonplace. Lastly, their power content is easily quantified on schlodes of internet sites and videos.
But how do you actually quantify if swapping in an LS engine is an improvement? Like many areas, the amount of “pro’s” brought to the forefront against the “con’s” is quite subjective. For example, the restoration crowd abhors seeing an LS or LT engine in anything where it didn’t originate from the factory. Their loss.
For the rest of us, we’re faced with trying to quantify a mainly subjective topic. That is until we located this video uploaded by JohnnyG TV recently. The subject of this video has many things we hold near and dear. There’s drag racing, Buick Grand Nationals, and of course, LS engines involved, or at least ONE LS engine.
The Grand National was the muscle car of the late-80s. It was a red-light terror to many V-8 cars and even today, they have quite a devoted following. And why not? With their all-black persona and effective use of a turbo, they were cool then, and they’re cool today! But could they be cooler by today’s standards?
This video shows two Grand Nationals duking it out on the 1/4-mile. The difference being, which makes it pertinent to our line of thinking, one of them is now sporting an LS2 engine in place of the boost-fed V6 the car originally came with from the factory.
Not much information is given in the video’s description (that is unless you speak in keywords and hashtags) but the LS2 variant is described as, “LS2 1986 Grand National.” The LS2 brings 6-liters of fun as compared to the V6’s 3.8-liters pumped up with boost.
For our purposes, all the necessary information is provided, either through the short description or by the video itself. It becomes obvious in the video that the car doing a burnout nearest us is of course still boosting its V6. We have to admit that it sounds cool and all, but the difference between boosting with turbos or running naturally-aspirated is where all the cool sounds come out. Blow off valves and turbo spooling has its place, but we remember the good ol’ days when the tailpipes told the tale.
While the one GN is whirring and spinning, the other (the LS2 powered one) sits patiently. After the smoke clears, the difference becomes obvious. The rear tires call out their battle cry and “merica’s symphony of horsepower exudes from the rear of the car as it works its way to the line.
It’s hard to say exactly how each car is set up beyond the V6/V8 mashup, but when the light goes green, the proof is in the pudding, as they say. You’ve heard the saying, “There’s no replacement for displacement,” and while the turbo on that V6 tries hard to overcome atmospheric physics, the LS2 simply finds more cubes in those two auxiliary cylinders. The V6 car appears to leave the line earlier (and perhaps red-lights) but can’t keep ahead of all the ponies running under the hood of the V8 car.
The video doesn’t clearly show what times each car ran, and we’re sure by looking at the time slips that much more information could be surmised about each car. But for now, we’ll just have to be satisfied with the empirical evidence that indeed, swapping an LS engine into a previously V6-powered Grand National IS an improvement. I mean, it’s right there in the video, so it must be true, right?