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Power for Pennies: How To Score a 500HP LS Engine for FREE

So you want to go fast and you want to swap a V8 into your ride but your budget is short. You can get that 500HP V8 and keep the wife happy. All it takes is some ingenuity and a little manual labor but the end is result is nothing short of awesome.

Your first step will be to select a viable donor. For my selection I focused on Chevy 2500 HD Vans which can come equipped with the LQ4 6.0L V8 which is very similar to 6.0L LS2 but with an iron block. The LQ4 produces 325hp and 370 ft-lbs in this application in stock form.


After scouring the auctions I was able to find a lightly wrecked 2003 Chevy Express 2500 RWD with the correct motor I was looking for. This van was found at an insurance auction nearby. It was sold as run and drive and I hoped for the best. Once it arrived we were able to drive it around the lot and found it to be in great condition.

  • Cost of Van at Auction: $1300
  • Auction and Transport Fees: $475
  • Total Cost: $1725

Now you may be thinking $1725 is not free and this is where the labor starts. The van was stripped down and all parts that were in good condition were inventoried, marked, priced and photographed. The parts were then placed on forums, craigslist, and ebay. Once some of the initial parts were stripped it was time to get to the engine.


Once all the broken parts and accessories from the front were removed we start to see the engine. Since the engine goes far under the cab in the van it is a 3 person job to get everything pulled out. We pulled the engine and transmission out together to save time. Once the engine was out we started inventorying the remaining parts and started selling off some of them. At this point some parts were sold which started knocking down the cost of the van.

  • Starting Expense: $1725
  • Items Sold:
  • Doors: $325
  • Brake Booster: $75
  • Taillights: $40
  • Radiator/Condenser and other Misc Aluminum Pieces: $32
  • Front Brakes: $80
  • Transmission (4L80E): $450
  • Driveshaft: $20
  • Rear Differential Assembly: $300
  • Expense left after initial parts sale: $403

Things are looking up as most of the costs for the engine have been recovered and it is now time to start to disassemble the engine. There were some carbon deposits but overall the engine was in good shape. We have it a bit of cleaning and decided to start selling off the parts we were not going to use in order to regain further funds.

  • Starting Expense: $403
  • Cylinder Heads (317 Casting): $180
  • Truck Intake and TB: $50
  • Oil Pan: $40
  • Water Pump and Fan Clutch: $30
  • Fuel Rails and Injectors: $40
  • Catalytic Converters: $280
  • PROFIT left after second round of parts are sold: $217

The block is now cleaned up and its time to start the build. First item up was to purchase some LS3 Heads. These were sourced used for $280, needing some work. The heads were sent out to a local shop where they had 3 valves replaced and were milled and worked over at a cost of $120. To go along with the heads, we picked up an aftermarket cam on the forums for $140. In order to finish out the package, a top end set of LS3 intake, fuel rail, and injectors was purchased for $240. The remaining pieces were an LS2 throttle body ($140) and a car oil pan ($105).

  • Starting Profit: $217
  • New Part Expenses: $1025
  • Expense left after current step: $808

At this point the engine is starting to be fairly complete and all that is left are small odds and ends for the application that it is going into. We rounded up the remaining parts of the van that were left and started selling them off to get closer to our zero mark.

  • Starting Expense: $808
  • Blower Motor: $20
  • Airbags: $50
  • Instrument Cluster: $35
  • Dash Wiring and Fuse Box: $50
  • Seats: $60
  • Partition: $75
  • Muffler: $20
  • Current Expense after present sale: $498

We are now in the last stages of the build/scrap process. The motor has been put together with the LS3 top end along with the milled heads for higher compression. The cam that was installed will provide great top end power and this motor is ready to produce 500hp on an engine dyno. In order to finish out our sell off, we take the van and all remaining metal parts to the scrap yard. Once we are at the scrap yard, we remove the wheels, spindles, and steering box and rack to sell separately. For our grand total, the results are below.

  • Expense before visit to scrap yard: $498
  • Wheels and Tires: $180
  • Spindles: $40
  • Steering Equipment: $75
  • Scrap sale of Van shell and remaining parts: $344
  • Total profit after all parts were sold off: $141

In the end, the remaining $141 was used for funding for more parts on the project car so we broke even and we had a very powerful motor left over. As a plus, the van came with some metal shelving in the back so we got some new shelves for the shop.


Bozi is the founder of Hoonable.com and creates articles on everything from engine swaps to late model car restorations. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or drop him a line at Hoonable!


See More from my series on LS Engines:

Speed on A Budget! Build a 400hp Chevy LS Motors for Under $1200


My Latest Project. LS2 6.0L V8 Legacy GT RWD

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