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Chevy S-10 V8 Engine Swap Project - Project Sten: A Budget V8 S-10

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The editor's call went out across the land: "We need new project cars and anything is fair game as long as (this means you, Smith) it's not a Chevelle!" The gauntlet had been thrown down, and we had to come up with a suitable vehicle. We offered a third-gen Camaro ("We're already Camaro Craft!"), we proposed an LS Fox Mustang ("Everybody will hate us!"), and we even toyed with a mid-engine LS-powered '69 Corvair idea, which offered all sorts of potential but was, sadly, too weird to be acceptable. Finally, the conceptual synapses clicked and it came down to a simple question. What is the least expensive, lightest, domestic rear-wheel-drive vehicle on the road today that could accommodate a V8? The answer was (insert bell chime) a V8 S-10 Chevy pickup.

It was a weird moment in the staff meeting. No one groaned, no one jeered, and no one was offended, so clearly we were on to something. Admittedly, this is hardly a new idea. Mike Knell at Jaguars That Run (JTR) and a legion of car crafters have been performing this swap almost from the moment the first '82 S-10 pickup rolled off the assembly line. So we're late to the party, but that doesn't mean it's not a good idea. Far from it. Here is the tale of the tape.

Our initial investigations into this swap led us to believe we could stuff a V8 in our S-10, keep it less than 3,000 pounds, and not pillage the kids' college fund in the process. We had to go about this in classic car crafter fashion, which is challenging because we immediately visualized a complete aluminum LS2 E-Rod V8 swap idea backed by a Tremec five-speed and a narrowed 12-bolt. But the harsh reality of thin-wallet economics redirected our daydreams into an iron-head TPI 350 backed by an overdrive automatic. Later, after our knuckles have healed, we might consider an aluminum 5.3L motor as an update.

The Quest
Once we decided to buy an S-10 pickup, we quickly homed in on what we really wanted. Conventional wisdom held out for an extended cab V6 as a quick find, but we decided that would be too heavy. We put out the Bat Signal to all our co-conspirators for the cheapest standard cab, shortbed S-10 we could dredge up, and fellow enabler Ed Taylor quickly found an orphaned '90 on Craigslist with an asking price of $1,400. It turned out to be the perfect truck with a screamin' 94hp Tech 4 (Iron Duke) four-cylinder, manual steering, power brakes, no A/C, and a five-speed trans. We haggled with the seller and drove away for $1,100. It overheated on the way home, and inside a few days we had installed a new radiator, fan clutch, and thermostat, all for only about $160. We were into the truck for around $1,300, and we'll reuse the radiator with the V8 swap.

The California Rub
With any good V8 swap idea, there's always a catch. In our case, the snag occurs because we live in Southern California and must endure the strictest emissions laws in the country. It's still legal to perform a V8 engine swap, but there are limitations. For example, since this is a '90 model S-10, we can only use '90-and-later engines. The E-Rod is a great idea, but cost issues pushed us to replicate a '90 Camaro or Firebird speed density 350 TPI engine. We located a used one-piece rear main seal 350 short-block that was in decent shape, and we've been tripping over a used TPI manifold in the parts pile for years. To pass the California emissions laws, we've decided to build our 350 with relatively few initial modifications, choosing to modify it later after we pass the stringent California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) visual and emissions tests.

With A Little Help From Our Friends
The smart move when doing an engine swap like this is to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before, rather than be a pioneer. The definition of a pioneer is the guy face down in the dirt alongside the Chisolm Trail with 10 arrows in his back. We prefer to rely on the wisdom of previous trailblazers, which is why our first phone call was to Mike Knell at Jaguars That Run (JTR). Mike has performed literally dozens of V8 S-10 engine swaps and has written a book that details all the major ambushes you will face when doing your swap. Knell sent us the book, and after reading it thoroughly, we began lining up the parts we needed. Plus, Knell offers a great deal on the combination of his book and an engine mount kit using factory 2.8L V6 mounts.

Another company we will be working with on Project Sten is Painless Wiring. The Painless kit allows us to retain the factory computer while also eliminating the VATS (vehicle antitheft system) portion that requires that special ignition key with a coded chip. Tuned Port Induction Specialties (TPIS) is also working with us and supplying one of the company's hydraulic roller cams-but also tuning expertise. Dart will supply a pair of cylinder heads, while we found a MagnaFlow catalytic converter that is California legal. We'll have to jump through a bunch of hoops to build this truck, but by the time we're finished, we should be able to run 13s, scorch the pavement in the autocross, and still be able to pass all the smog tests. Who knows, it might also be fun to drive!

The Sten gun was an inexpensive 9mm submachine gun used by British and Commonwealth troops in WWII. The term is an acronym created out of the names of its two creators, Major Reginald V. Shepherd and Harold Turpin, and from the British Enfield rifle. The Sten gun was easily serviced and had a high rate of fire, but was less than aesthetically pleasing.

SOURCES
MagnaFlow Performance Exhaust
22961 Arroyo Vista
Rancho Santa Margarita
CA  92688
800-824-8664
http://www.magnaflow.com
Painless Performance
2501 Ludelle Street
Fort Worth
TX  76105
817-244-6212
www.painlessperformance.com
Dart Machinery
353 Oliver Street
Troy
MI  48084
248-362-1188
http://www.dartheads.com
Jaguars That Run
Livermore
CA
925-462-3619
http://www.JagsThatRun.com
Global West Suspension
655 S. Lincoln Ave.
San Bernardino
CA  92408
877-470-2975
909-890-0759
http://www.globalwest.net
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2 comments
Sullivision
Sullivision

Where is this project? I have a 91 S10 and have been planning the same modifications. It was like you went into my head and wrote my plans. I have wanted to put a TPI motor into the truck ever since I put one into my 68 Camaro (Paxton supercharged 406 DFI computer). But this motor needs to be a little tamer, just as you proposed to do. I have begun to order parts and have read the book and purchased the engine mounts from JTR. I plan to complete this project over the next 24 months and being an adult engineering student (almost done 4 classes left) the summer is precious for making progress. Please make some updates!

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