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1989 Chevy Camaro - Transplanted

Josh Kunkel breathed new life into his third-gen with a V-8 swap.

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There is a very long list of derogatory adjectives that could be used to describe the V-6 engines General Motors put in its third-gen F-cars.

We're being charitable calling them disappointing. They were terrible engines, really. They were crude, hated to rev, produced a guttural, droning exhaust note, and made no power-1989's 2.8 MFI sixer labored to produce 135 hp. The following year's 3.1 wasn't much of an improvement, either, upping the ante to 140.

So imagine driving around for a couple of years in this 135hp weakling and all of a sudden transforming it to a 400-plus-horsepower bruiser. Josh Kunkel is the owner of this fine-looking third-gen we spotted at the Car Craft Summer Nats in St. Paul, Minnesota. Josh's goal from the beginning was a V-8 swap, but it took two years of scrimping and saving before he could implement his plan. When he finally did, the end result justified the couple of years of V-6 hell he had to endure. "It took awhile to get used to the power, but I couldn't be happier. I drive the car as much as I can," he says.

Josh has been into cars for as long as he can remember. "I got it from my dad, I guess. He was always building and racing cars." He was a smart kid too, getting a job at 13 years old sweeping his uncle's shop floor so he could earn enough money to buy a car. By 15, an age when most of us waste our money on worthless teenage crap, Josh bought this Camaro for $5,500. "The body was in really good shape, and we were planning on building an engine anyway, so the fact that it was a V-6 didn't really matter that much," he says. Once he got his driver's license, he cruised the Camaro as is, all the while saving up for the next big step. "My dad and I planned a V-8 swap all along. We'd go to shows to look at different installs and talk about our options." They ultimately decided on an LS1 because it was unique and because of the potential of Chevrolet's Gen III powerplant.

Cash in hand, Josh searched the junkyards, found a complete drivetrain from a totaled '02 Camaro, and bought the engine, transmission, radiator, electric fans, and computer for $5,000. "The car had been rolled over, but it only had 8,000 miles on it. I didn't have to do anything to the engine."

Josh and his dad completed the swap in less than six months-the duration of a typical Minnesota winter. A V-6 drove the car into the garage as the temperatures plummeted, but a V-8 powered it out. The swap itself went very well, according to Josh. The engine and trans mounts are available as a kit, and he had his '89 harness adapted to work with the LS1.

While most of us California-jaded CC staffers shudder at the thought of a Minnesota winter, Josh and his dad look forward to them. "That's when we work on our cars." What else would you do? They plan and save all summer and build all winter. Josh performed a cam swap last winter that netted an additional 60 hp for his summer frolicking. That, plus some ECM fiddling during a chassis dyno-tuning session, means his Camaro is putting over 340 hp to the wheels and a big grin on Josh's face. That's 210 ponies more than his old engine made at the crank. How could you not like that?

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