Proform Adds Some Flash To An Outdated LS Swap

Let’s face it, people from all over are still chanting “LS THE WORLD!” For good reason too – they’re affordable, accessible, and they can hold up to loads of punishment, making them ideal for all types of automotive enthusiasts.

In it’s many variations, GM’s venerable LS powerplant, has garnered a following not seen since the original small-block Chevy. Swapped into everything from Miata’s to first-gen Camaro’s, and everything in between, the LS craze shows no signs of slowing down. We are even starting to see GM’s newer LT-based powerplant swaps becoming a popular trend in hot rodding. If you have seen any of those between the frame-rails of a classic ride, it might make you look at the LS and think it looks – well, old. 

The point of all this is, we’ve had an ongoing project for some time now in the form of a 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400. If you have been following our social media via Facebook, you will recognize the car, and the 5.7-Liter LS1 that calls the Pontiac’s engine bay, home. Well, we wanted to change things up a bit in the underhood looks department for a while now, by getting rid of some of the outdated stock parts. So, we reached out to the experts at Proform to give the LS1 a bit of a makeover.

The LS swap was originally performed back in 2011. The build included the teardown and rebuild of a stock LS1 – we sourced the powerplant from a wrecked 2002 Camaro Z28. At the time, LS swaps were a thing, but they weren’t yet, THE thing. Since it was relatively new, at least to us, we thought the modern engine looked great and was an unexpected surprise when we popped the hood. 

Years later, with everyone and their mother swapping an LS into their rides, we came to look at the engine bay of the Firebird and felt it looked dated. Sure, the LS6 intake manifold performed well, and everything under the hood was functional, but it just looked, for lack of a better word, blah. The ugly, stock valve covers in their smudged, gray aluminum, and lack of shiny bits were something that honestly bothered us. 

When the motor was rebuilt, we went with some really nice PRC heads from Texas Speed and Performance, forged rotating assembly, and other high-dollar items like the Stainless Works headers and exhaust. Point being – having stock valve covers bolted to some serious heads, is a travesty – in retrospect. 

A before shot, featuring several years of road grime. Suffice to say, it was time to freshen up this engine bay.

Seriously, we can’t be the only ones who looks at classic engines with reverence because of the gorgeous form following unparalleled (for the time) performance. Think of your favorite chromed-out Big Block – it’s a pretty striking image. We we’re looking for that same feeling when staring down into the engine bay of the Firebird. The stock look just wasn’t cutting it.

It probably had something to do with the fact that most of these LS engines have come from cars that were engineered to hide their parts under plastic shrouds. When most people swap these into their rides, they ditch those plastic parts, leaving the install looking unfinished.

As is often the case, our LS1 no longer had the plastic covers that go over the coils, and unlike the truck motors, the intake manifold had no “Vortec” cover. So, we set out to start a “renovation” of sorts under the hood. Our goal was to spice things up, and make the engine bay a place we could spend time with a slack-jawed gaze of admiration – not a look of disappointment. 

The first step in this process was to get rid of the stock valve covers. We chose to swap them out for something with a little more flash. Aside from keeping oil where it belongs, the stock valve covers serve the function of holding onto the two rows of ignition coils. Relocating those coils was necessary in cleaning up the overall look. 

Luckily for us, Proform makes a kit that handles all-of-the-above. We spoke with Ryan Salata of Proform, who brought us up to speed on some of the features and benefits offered by its kit. “Not only does our kit make your engine look a lot better, but our slant-edge, aluminum valve covers offer the benefit of being taller to accommodate a variety of valvetrain applications. These valve covers are available in six different styles, which include raised and recessed emblems. Unique mounting studs, and oil restricting baffles are included. Threaded mounting holes for the optional Integrated Ignition Coil Bracket are also included, and the passenger-side valve cover has an oil filler hole in the stock location.”

We opted for the plain, polished version along with the integrated coil bracket (P/N: 141-266, 69520). If someone wanted to use the valve covers without the brackets, though, that is also an option. In fact, it would be perfect for someone looking to hide their ignition coils and give their LS a more classic look.

Follow along as we show you how our installation of the new valve covers, and coil relocation brackets went. 

Inventory: 

We started by taking inventory of all the new items that were going on the LS. The new parts included polished valve covers (Proform), coil relocation brackets (Proform), new valve cover gaskets (Felpro), and longer spark plug wires (MSD).

Just like Legos, we like to lay out all our parts and take inventory before the installation happens.

The coil relocation brackets come disassembled, but putting them together is quick work.

Since the new valve covers don’t require the use of hardware with rubber grommets, Proform supplies new fasteners to bolt the valve covers to the heads, including rubber-backed washers.

Installation: 

Since we were going to be dealing with some electrical connections, we started the installation by disconnecting the positive battery terminal.

Next, we disconnected the ignition coil harness (left, middle), and the spark plug wires (right).

With the harness out of the way, the fasteners holding the stock coil bracket to the valve covers were able to be removed.

Next, we disconnected the PCV hose from the stock valve cover.

Out with the old, and in with the new. The new location for the ignition coils requires longer spark plug wires (13″-15″), and these MSD Super Conductor wires were perfect. (P/N: 39849)

We prepped the new valve covers for installation by pressing in the new Felpro gaskets first. If you're buying them at your local auto parts store, opt for the gasket set without the grommets, as the new hardware does not utilize them.

Removing the stock valve covers is simple. We just removed the (4) 10mm hex-head bolts, along with their metal sleeves and rubber grommets (right).

After the hardware was removed, the OEM valve covers lifted right off. If you have difficulties removing them, you can use a pick or soft (plastic) pry bar to separate them from the heads.

With the valve covers off, we were able to give our valvetrain a once over. Everything looked as it should, so we began to prep the mating surface of the head for the new valve covers.

Before we could slap on the new covers, we had to install the new mounting hardware included in Proform's kit – the first of which were the mounting studs that fasten to the stock location (right).

Once we had the new studs installed, we were able to secure the new, polished Proform valve covers to the heads. It is important to ensure the gasket maintains a good seal. You can run your finger around the perimeter of the valve cover and make sure there is no portion of the gasket that is protruding. Even though it isn't necessarily a serious problem, a leaky valve cover is still a pain in the butt.

The supplied hardware included rubber washers that prevented tools and the Allen-head bolts from scratching our new covers. We also took this time to replace the PCV hose.

The new oil filler cap included in the kit has a rubber backing that simply presses into the opening on the valve cover. Proform offers a variety of caps. We chose to go with one that simply says "oil."

With the valve covers in place, it came time to install our new coil relocation brackets. First, we had to remove the coils from their original brackets. This required the use of a 10mm socket, and a small pick to remove some metal clips on the harness.

While installing the new coil brackets, we made sure to keep the individual coil mounts loosely attached for adjustment later.

The lower coil bracket mounts to the top of the valve cover via six hex-head bolts.

Before the coils could be attached to their respective mounting locations, we ran the harness underneath to avoid any binding and to keep them being an eyesore on top. Once the harness was in place and connected, we secured the coils to their new homes. (right).

The final steps in the installation were plugging the MSD spark plug wires into the ignition coils and reconnecting the positive battery terminal.

The Proform valve covers and coil relocation brackets really helped modernize the look of our LS Swapped Firebird. They were a great first step in tidying up the engine bay, and making it the crowned jewel of the build.

The installation was fairly straight forward. We took our time, and made sure we had all the right parts before starting. Proform even includes the part number for the MSD spark plug wires they recommend, on their website. All told, we’d call this about a 3-4 beer job.

One thing that should be noted is the fact that this kit necessitates the use of an aftermarket fuel rail system. For our stock fuel rail with the crossover in the center, the fuel inlet runs into the coil relocation bracket. We already had plans on swapping out our intake manifold and fuel rails, so this wasn’t an issue for us.

To find out more about everything Proform has to offer, check out their website, here. Keep an eye out for the next article in this series, where we swap out the LS6 Intake manifold, throttle body, and factory fuel rails.

Article Sources

About the author

Vinny Costa

Fast cars, motorcycles, and loud music are what get Vinny’s blood pumping. Catch him behind the wheel of his ’68 Firebird. Chances are, Black Sabbath will be playing in the background.
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