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S10 V8 Swap: Project Sten - Part V

We Actually Drive CC's Long-Suffering S-10 V8-Swap Truck

By , Photography by

Perhaps I should start this installment of Project Sten with a confession. The idea of a cheap, V8-powered S-10 pickup sounded great. But once I got into it, we ran into multiple issues/dilemmas/snafus all of my own making. First was the choice of a TPI engine. I thought this standard small-block route would be less expensive than a used 4.8L or 5.3L LS truck engine. That decision wasn't necessarily wrong, but the cheap part of this project has completely vaporized in a cloud of essential emission and small parts that were accompanied by an oversized price. It wasn't the individual cost as much as when you add it all up; these little parts accounted for a substantial hit. My biggest blunder was not purchasing a complete, used TPI engine with the wiring harness and computer. Instead, because I already had a TPI manifold and a willing small-block, I had what I thought was most of what I needed. That's when all those essential small parts began to wag their fingers at me. Worse yet, because we live in the People's Republic of California, where the state awards Prius drivers with green laurels to wear on their heads when they drive, we had to build this truck to meet the existing smog rules for a '90 305 Camaro, which is the engine we were claiming was sitting between the framerails. I didn't take into account the rather complex smog component arrangement used on a speed-density TPI Camaro. But that was only the beginning.

Good intentions and enthusiasm always follow the purchase of a new project. The key to a successful project is maintaining that enthusiasm over the long haul. It may sound strange, but right out of the gate, I'll admit that I really didn't want to rip into this little S-10 truck. After purchase, the little four-banger S-10 immediately rewarded me with 22 mpg, so it was difficult to go back to a 15-mpg fullsize truck when driving a minimum of 70 commuter-miles a day. So I drove Sten for almost a year before the project could wait no longer.

All was going well until we got to the engine buildup that ran in the Oct. '11 issue. Work was progressing slowly, but we stuffed the engine and transmission in the truck and were forging ahead. That's until Car Craft reader Dennis Adams, a GM technician and accredited California smog inspector, commented that the engine couldn't be smog-legal because the heads on Sten's engine were not equipped with exhaust cross-overs. The factory TPI exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) valve uses this exhaust cross-over as the source for exhaust gas, so clearly Dennis was correct. I screwed up. I quickly reorganized and pulled a dusty pair of used late-'80s heads from under the bench that had the magic combination of both exhaust cross-overs and the centerbolt valve cover pattern. After rebuilding the heads with new guides and springs, I torqued them in place on the engine only to discover these castings used the vertical intake manifold bolt angle on the center four intake manifold bolt holes, and the stock TPI manifold pattern didn't match. After more gnashing of teeth and cursing that would make a Marine drill sergeant proud, I purchased a pair of Dart iron heads with the correct exhaust cross-over and fitted them with new valves and Comp beehive springs just to get back to where we had been about four months prior. This is just one reason why this project has taken longer and why starting with a complete TPI engine would have saved me all kinds of time and grief.

Then we decided to tackle the most challenging part of the buildup, which was the part that I held the least enthusiasm for completing—the wiring. I found a company called Bluestar Wiring Diagrams on the web that sold me a schematic of my four-cylinder S-10 that we used to mark each connector to the engine and compartment. Then we had to decide on which ones to keep, such as the starter circuit, power to the interior, and the alternator charging circuit. At least with the alternator, we got lucky since our 350 used the same CS130 alternator, so the charging system was a simple plug and go. We trimmed all the old four-cylinder wiring and then began routing the new Painless harness. This was slightly easier since '90 305 and 350 engines were speed-density controlled and did not use a mass airflow sensor (MAF) sensor.

While the Painless harness looks intimidating, it was one of the easiest things to make work. The work entailed routing the wiring to make the engine compartment look presentable and routing the main harness through the body, while keeping away from the passenger-side exhaust manifold. We also used a slick Earl's firewall grommet to minimize heat intrusion into the passenger compartment.

Tim Moore did a fantastic job of routing the exhaust work down from the cast-iron manifolds to the California-legal catalytic converter from Summit Racing. At first, we were going to plumb the tailpipe all the way to the rear, but then Tim suggested pushing the tailpipe over the framerail and exiting the exhaust through the box on the passenger side. The cut in the body is perfect—we'll finish that effort with a stainless steel bezel at a later date. With our new Optima battery relocated to the bed and a new Powermaster starter in place, we were ready to fire this rascal.

After all this work, it was a bit of a shock when the engine finally fired. Of course, we had to first repair a shorted wiring harness when we accidentally squeezed an injector hot lead to a direct short under the fuel rail. But once we overcame that hurdle, the engine fired right up. We still had a few emission harness connections to complete, which was why the check-engine light on the Painless harness illuminated, but these will be easy fixes once the connections are made. The hydraulic clutch also gave us trouble, until Mike Knell suggested a fix he remembered reading about in a Chevy service bulletin. We compressed the hydraulic plunger, and the system worked. We're still not sure exactly how this works, but it did.

The most recent hiccup was the throttle linkage. We found what we thought was the correct TPI Camaro throttle cable (that is now discontinued) only to discover it didn't match our throttle body. We had an ACCEL 1,000-cfm throttle body that worked with the cable, but it isn't California emissions legal, so we contacted TPIS, and the company is sending us a stock but larger 52mm throttle body (up from 48mm) that will work along with one of TPIS's airfoils.

Once we hit the street on our first couple of test drives, the truck ran fine. The latest swap was to add a power-steering box to the truck. The truck had been originally equipped with manual steering, but we discovered that Summit Racing offers a rebuilt version of the '88 Monte Carlo SS steering box for a budget price, so we popped for one and a new rag joint, as well as a new power-steering hose, also from RockAuto. After bleeding the power-steering system, it worked like a champ, and now we have a very quick 2.5 turn lock-to-lock steering box for our planned autocross assault.

Our next adventure will be to submit our humble Sten to a California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) Referee to inspect our emissions equipment work and either boot us to the street to try again, or bless our work with a pat on the back and the necessary paperwork to allow us to register the S-10 as an emissions-legal V8 swap. Next, we have a very cool idea for a rearend swap that you will want to read. It's both inexpensive, a great idea, and plenty durable, too. So stay tuned.

Parts List

Description PN Source Price
Camaro Y-pipe 40579 Summit Racing $88.97
Camaro catalytic converter 80544 Summit Racing 185.97
Summit V-band clamps 694300 (2) Summit Racing 36.97 ea.
Dart SBC heads, bare 10021070 Summit Racing 553.62 (pr.)
Summit 1.50 exhaust valves V8008-8 Summit Racing 64.97
Summit 1.94 intake valves V8000-8 Summit Racing 64.97
Comp beehive valvesprings 26915 Summit Racing 192.97
Painless engine harness 60103 Summit Racing 426.97
Earl's Firewall grommet 29G008ERL Summit Racing 28.97
Flowmaster muffler, 3-inch 943050 Summit Racing 101.99
Flowmaster pipe kit 15902 Summit Racing 89.99
Powermaster starter 9100 Summit Racing 124.97
Optima battery 9004-003 Summit Racing 179.97
Steering box, '88 Monte SS 27-6550 Summit Racing 119.97
Vapor can purge connector PT245 RockAuto 11.09
Diverter valve conn. (green) PT248 RockAuto 14.74
Diverter valve conn. (white) PT249 RockAuto 15.84
Knock sensor 42062 RockAuto 25.79
Fuel pump relay 212307 RockAuto 13.07
Power-steering hose 357190 RockAuto 22.79
GM, F-car throttle cable 10163822 Weseloh Chev. 27.00
Lower radiator hose T-fitting See website Stealth Conver. 25.00
Heater hose restrictor HHR1 Stealth Conver. 10.00
TPIS 52mm throttle body 1.TB151 TPIS 279.95
S-10 V8 conversion manifold JTR-S10 Summit Racing 28.99

Back Stories
Project Sten has been languishing on the back burner way too long. To refresh your memory, we've included the previous installments. As you can see by the article dates, the first thing we had to do was blow the dust off Project Sten.

Installment Issue Date Description
Project Sten, Part I Mar. 2011 Project goals, purchase truck
Project Sten, Part II Oct. 2011 350ci TPI engine build
Project Sten, Part III Nov. 2012 Engine, trans, clutch, cooling
Project Sten, Part IV Dec. 2012 Seats, wiring, and hydraulic clutch
Junkyard Builder Mar. 2013 Fuel pump upgrade

SOURCES
Flowmaster Inc.
100 Stony Point Road
Suite 125
Santa Rosa
CA  95401
800-544-4761
http://www.flowmastermufflers.co
m
Jaguars That Run
Livermore
CA
925-462-3619
http://www.JagsThatRun.com
Comp Cams
3406 Democrat Road
Memphis
TN  38118
800-999-0853
http://www.compcams.com
Tuned Port Induction Specialties (TPIS)
952-448-6021
http://www.TPIS.com
Summit Racing
Akron
OH
800-230-3030
330-630-0240
http://www.summitracing.com/
DMP Fasteners
888-672-6587
http://www.dmpfasteners.com
Dart Machinery
353 Oliver Street
Troy
MI  48084
248-362-1188
http://www.dartheads.com
Optima Batteries
5757 N. Green Bay Ave.
Milwaukee
WI  53209
888-867-8462
http://www.optimabatteries.com
RockAuto
Madison
WI
866-762-5288
http://www.rockauto.com
Painless Wiring
http://www.painlesswiring.com
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30 comments
Roger Perry
Roger Perry

28 years serving the city of Newark Delaware , Newark main street , by the university of Delaware

Brian Whitt
Brian Whitt

I have a 88 S10 with a brodix headed 406. Custom Comp roller cam, Mass Flo EFI and a 175hp NOS Sniper kit. Power goes thru a built 700r4 with custom 10" 3000rpm stall into a Currie prepped 9" rear with 3.50 gear and Detroit Locker and Moser 31 spline axles. It is hung on a Chassis Engineering 4 link utilizing airbags and drag shocks. Inside is a Dakota Digital dash and Vintage AC. Wiring is by painless. Gear selection is handled by a re-gated vintage Hurst Slap-Stik. Exhaust is Advanced Adapters and Magnaflow.

Mitch Farrell
Mitch Farrell

Full comp valve train not installed cause I'm broke^

Mitch Farrell
Mitch Farrell

1998 halfton Chevy, vortech supercharger vortech heads and a bunch of bolt on's. Works all right

Tony Basile
Tony Basile

No tpi for me. Swapped an early 350 and t400 into a 84 TransAm.. 13.8-1 on e85 running high 10's NA. Street car!

James Fisler
James Fisler

427 in a 65 Malibu would be nice, I know one was built at the factory

Cawdy Karsten Nielsen
Cawdy Karsten Nielsen

Due to living in motor restricted Denmark, i am only swapping the broken 4.3 with another 4.3 to make my s10 4x4 haul the racecar this summer.. Maybe next winters project will be the 350 Tbi swap, when it is registered..

Larry Fogle
Larry Fogle

There just is not any challenge in that is there? Same builds since the beginning, bet you can do that in your sleep.

David J Miller
David J Miller

have one in my driveway done as late 50's high school hot rod.... fun cruiser

Cody Myers
Cody Myers

Wish I could do that to mine, 4.3 does good but god how I would love a V8

David Sides
David Sides

I think the hot tub I was in last night might have been a time machine. Is it 1986?

Dan Murphy
Dan Murphy

I put a '69 Corvette 327 in a '70 Camaro that came w/ a 250 6cyl and 3 speed trans. THAT was a fun project.

Jeff Gruber
Jeff Gruber

i did a lt1 swap in a 1981 Malibu ran the gm hot cam it runs great and gets great mileage it even handles a 150 shot of nitrous pretty well

Tarry Brumfiel
Tarry Brumfiel

How bout doing a feature on our Clear Valve covers.Clear Vue Concepts.

Cory Bailey
Cory Bailey

Cool now run it off an ls computer and tell us the gains. Doing a TPI 283 or 305 for mpg in my k5.

Thomas Cain
Thomas Cain

I have a 84 s15 I am putting in a 30. Over 400 sbc vortec is more limited tpi will make much more power and no shity plastic intake gasket to break liki vortec

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