Values and trends have always been the heart of ACC, but “value” is a loaded concept.

Dollars and cents may run the market, but owning classic cars and trucks is supposed to be fun, and a lot of that fun comes from actually getting out and using the cars we covet. In that sense, value is more than just a number. That factor has been a major theme of ACC since the beginning, from our “Snapshots” features through our “Wrenching” columns.

But while original Mustangs, Chevelles and Challengers are the same as they ever were, the world around them is changing, and car people are too. That’s what brings me to this month’s “Readers’ Forum” question: Are modern-engine swaps good for the classic-car hobby?

Newer and better?

When the LS engine came out in 1997, it changed the old-car world. Here was a small, light pushrod V8 that made more than respectable power, shared some fundamental dimensions with the small-block that came before, and was ripe for modification.

In the 22 years since, GM has built millions of these things in a variety of displacements and outputs, and the aftermarket has embraced them fully, offering everything from internal parts through complete-swap bracket-and-wiring kits for a variety of older cars.

These engines run cool. They don’t tend to leak, and they’re dead reliable. And on top of all that, they can make ridiculous horsepower without many changes from stock. It’s no wonder they’re the go-to powerplant for just about any old car in need of modern motivation — especially those that came from the smogger era, when power took a back seat to emissions and insurance regulations.

Now, with the availability of LS power swaps, smogger-era cars and trucks are on the same level as the unregulated muscle that came before.

A Corvette with a bed

I speak from experience here, as I’m nearly finished writing a book for CarTech on building and modifying 1973–87 Chevrolet and GMC trucks (available in the fall at For the book, I built a 2003 6.0 LS engine and dropped it into a 1979 Chevrolet C10 pickup, along with a bunch of other aftermarket parts to reconfigure the truck’s driving characteristics.

I picked up the truck in September for $1,650 in completely original shape, with a yawning 350 and SM465 4-speed better suited for a dump truck. The suspension was bouncy and the brakes were so-so — just about what you’d expect for a C10 of the era. The best part of the truck however, was the rubber truck bed mat.

Driving this thing was like a time warp, but it wasn’t exactly fun, made less so by having to take off my belt, wrap it around the clutch pedal, and pull to get it to return from the floor. Cross-town traffic was a learning experience with that setup.

Now, thanks to parts from RideTech, Holley, Lingenfelter, Baer, Summit Racing and more, the bouncy suspension has become firm and direct, the brakes are instant, and the 6.0 engine I built makes gobs of power and cruises at 60 mph in 6th gear with the tach needle just above an idle. It’s a Corvette with a truck bed.

Character lost, fun gained

Whether or not all this is good for the hobby is debatable, as it’s really no longer a ’79 C10, at least not in the way it feels or behaves. In a sense, this truck has lost some of its character and has become something else entirely.

But GM built millions of these trucks, so why worry about keeping that ho-hum OE smogger character intact? This truck is now more fun to use, and is therefore more usable. To me, that makes it more valuable. Whether or not the market would agree is another question, but we’ve seen prices on similar rigs do well at auction.

You can argue the engine swap either way, but I’ll submit this: I shot a few cover photos inside World of Speed’s shop in Wilsonville on a Tuesday, which was instructive, as their high-school shop class was in session at the time. Granted, these kids are car people already, but a horde of them dropped their projects and huddled around the truck when I popped the hood — phones out, cameras snapping. Would they have cared as much about that old LS9 350 and 4-speed?

We asked for your opinions on modern swaps for this issue’s “Readers’ Forum” section, and boy, did we get some. They start on p. 42.

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