Engine swap: Chevy LSx into Datsun 280Z

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swapWhile the purpose of this site remains focused on high performance driving, and the technical side of our brain spends it’s time on suspension tuning, the “what if” side of us find’s its fascination in engine swaps. Yes that’s a wild hair, and the swaps don’t always make sense – and most wouldn’t last a lap in a track event. But here’s what makes engine swaps appealing and visceral: when you see one, you immediately start to try to imagine the sounds and feeling of driving the car with its new engine. We are hooked.

We’ve covered swaps as we’ve found interesting examples, and we’ve developed our own likes and dislikes. There are early British and Japanese sports cars desperately in need of engines, later sportscars with great suspensions but in need of an appropriate engine, new sports cars that have their suspension together but are still lacking in a great engine (until the swap), and even wholly modern cars backdated with a classic engine swaps. There are swaps to cover the situation where the factory produces an example – but the car was only imported with a lame engine. Then there are the absurd: small cars with giant engines, and the classic: classic cars with even more-classic engines. The variety goes on and on forever, hence our fascination, and we’ve covered about 50 such examples in our Engine Swap category.

Besides the technical challenge of getting the engine to fit, and connecting it to the vehicle’s systems (no easy thing), there is also the matter of style. Style is subjective, and it can also be generational. Case in point is this GM LSx engine swap into a Datsun 280Z. We’ve seen this type of swap before, in fact the very first engine swap we ever saw was a Chevy small block into a similar early Z, resulting in a wildly powerful autocross car. But that swap, and many others we seen since, was performed by older “swappers” who had no interest in the appearance – the “style” – of the car. It was “just” technical. This brings us to the swap below, where the focus of the creator is not only the engine but also to make a statement. The style is his own, and is not to everyone’s taste. It’s clearly unique, generational, and says as much about the creator’s technical talent as it does about his own style, taste, and aspirations.

As you approach this car, you’re drawn to the paint job… thoughts such as “drift car” occur to you. Some might therefore dismiss it and move on. But then you notice the engine and see that there is a lot more to this car than the first impression of the eye. It’s purpose is not to destroy itself into a concrete wall, it’s built for the challenge of the swap.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

Why this particular paint job? It’s creative expression. The engine swapper is also the owner.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

It started out as a single flat color with plastidip.. when that proved problematic, it was found that a purposeful peel made it that much more unique. And it’s a work-in-progress.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

This is a 280Z, with its OEM safety bumpers removed. Ask your self what type of Z enthusiast and swapper you would be: would you just remove the ugly safety bumpers, replace them with the small JDM bumpers to retain the vision of the original creators of the Z, or would you leave the bumpers on the car that originally came with it?

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

Larger wheels and tires than original are necessary to manage the >tripling of the torque. We’d personally like to see some major suspension mods here, but as we said this is a work in progress.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

And here’s the centerpiece, a GM LSx engine.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

Chevy small-block V-8 swaps have been popular for many years in Zs, and are often described as a “natural fit”.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

You can see why: there is plenty of room on all sides.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

As well as on the steering side, where the steering shaft is often a top challenge.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

The LSx engine is also much shorter than the original inline six, leaving plenty of room up front, and keeping the overall weight balance of the car reasonable – if not improved.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

In our humble opinion, purely as an observer, some more work is needed here. An elbow off to the side and a much larger air filter is needed to fill the lungs of the V-8.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

We’re glad the swapper kept the fuel injection system… in our opinion reverting to a simpler carburetor would have been a cop-out. This engine was made for fuel injection and will always be far better because of it. That makes for a more difficult swap – and this swapper was up to the challenge of the required fuel pumps, high-pressure lines, and electronics.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

If there is going to be a fit problem, it’s going to be with the air conditioner compressor. But, again, we’ll note that it’s here and ready for use. Most swappers just ignore air conditioning and don’t bother going to this extent.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

Inside we find the TR-6060 shifter in exactly the right place.
Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

The original ergonomics of the Z remain intact, with everything in it’s logical place and the shifter and wheel falling easily to hand.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

And then we find these recovered Recaro seats, matching the overall style of the car.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

Here’s a personal statement. No functional value to the swap… but we can appreciate the message.

Datsun 280Z with GM LSx engine swap

We’re very much looking forward to seeing this car again as its evolution continues.