Turbo 5.3L Fairmont Update – Making Big Power and Breaking Stuff

Videos NSFW – Language

The saga of the turbo 5.3L Ford Fairmont continues! When we last reported on this budget beast in September, we told you about how it had finally broken into the single digits. The Fairmont went 9.95 at 140 MPH – with a set of M/T drag radials and a small K-Mart football shoved in the rear springs as a “traction device.” Outstanding stuff, and we wanted more. So, we recently got in touch with our buddy Matt Happel to find out the latest on his LS powered sleeper, and as it turns out, the Fairmont has been very busy the last few months – mostly in the process of hurting motors, rebuilding, dynoing, thrashing, and repeating.

Happel has used the Fairmont as something of a test-bed to see just how robust the stock LS truck engines really are. It's clear that they can take a severe beating, but...

...they do have their limits.

If It Breaks, Fix It…

We first catch up with the Fairmont in this video from back in November, when a bit too much boost on the street leads to the head gasket kicking itself right out the side of the engine. But somehow, someway the 5.3L keeps it together just long enough to make it home with essentially no coolant in the block. Happel and his buddies ripped the heads off, put it back together, and just three days later the Fairmont was back up on the dyno making 697 rear wheel horsepower with no nitrous and several bad cylinders. As you can tell from the video, the 5.3L was smoking like a train, and it was looking like a bottom end refresh would soon be in order.

“Ring lands – be gone!”

After the tear down in this video, it was clear that several of the stock pistons had severely broken ring lands, and the Gen III rods had a few new twists and angles that shouldn’t be there. The stock 5.3L stuff is tough, but it was never designed to handle the abuse of over 600 RWHP on a daily basis – especially not in the way Happel and his buddies from Sloppy Mechanics dish it out. So, he decided it was time to step up to some beefier H-beam Gen IV rods and flat top pistons and see how well they can take the power.  

While he was at it, the stock ZR1 cam was upgraded to a more aggressive bumpstick, specing out at 225/230 .617″/.612″ 114 LSA. “I just put in a Texas Speed single bolt cam I had laying around from my G8,” Happel tells us. “The Fairmont now makes 611 horsepower at the rear wheels at just 11 PSI. I also switched it back to pump gas instead of E85. When we ran it at 16 PSI it jumped up to 650 horsepower.” Check out the dyno runs with the new cam and tune in this video.

The End?

Sadly, this may be the last time you hear about the turbo 5.3L Fairmont for a while. There’s a good chance that the Fairmont will be moving on to a new owner soon, but Happel already has a new sleeperish swap project that he’s about to get started. It’s the one vehicle that could possibly be uglier than the Fairmont – a 1979 Ford Ranchero. Stay tuned for updates.

Happel sent us this pic of his next sleeper LS swap project - this 1979 Ford Ranchero. With little weight over the rear axles, epic burnouts will be a sure fire deal.

About the author

Clifton Klaverweiden

Clifton has been a car fanatic since his late teens, when he started the restoration of his '67 Camaro. He considers himself a student of automotive science and technology, and particularly loves all things LSX. And, although he has an appreciation for everything, from imports to exotics, his true passion will always be for GM musclecars.
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