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Motor City Muscle: 2015 Detroit Autorama

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Photos by: the author

We select the ‘LS 10’ at the annual Detroit Autorama

For nearly 65 years, the Detroit Autorama has been a Midwestern respite from the tyranny of winter – a weekend when enthusiasts come together to ogle hot rods and solidify plans for warmer weather that may, with luck, be only a few more weeks into the calendar.

In its more than six decades, the Autorama has become one of the essential indoor events, up there with the likes of the Oakland Roadster Show. In fact, the Autorama’s annual Ridler Award, bestowed on landmark customized cars that debut in the Motor City, is one of the most prestigious in the industry.

The Detroit Autorama is also a bell weather of trends and, unsurprisingly, one of the largest to emerge in recent years is the widespread adoption of the LS engine used in everything from old-school T-buckets to late-model racecars. And while most readers of this site are used to seeing LS-powered cars in strictly high-performance, racing-oriented applications, this year’s Autorama, which wrapped up on March 8, provided a great overview of the LS’s cultural influence in vehicles of all types.

After shaking off the snow, we pounded the aisles in Detroit’s Cobo Center to track down the 10 coolest applications of LS power at the Autorama and here are our selections:

1.) 1969 Camaro “Hellfire”

Owner: Charlie Lillard

The owner’s name may not be familiar to everyone, but the car’s builder should be – it’s pro-touring pioneer and GM engineer Mark Stielow. His “Hellfire” Camaro is the latest of his LS-powered Gen 1 Camaros and it’s the most radical to date, incorporating a carbon fiber front end that reduces overall weight and improves the front-to-rear weight balance. Like his other creations, the engine is a Thomson Automotive-built 7.0L with an LS9 superchager that pegged the engine at more than 950 horsepower. It’s high-tech hot rod in every sense of the word, too, with Corvette Z06-based carbon ceramic brakes with ABS, a data acquisition system and more. It’s the pinnacle of pro-touring technology and LS integration… well, at least until Stielow builds his next car.

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2.) 1965 Impala

Owner: Don Voth

A contender for the prestigious Ridler award, Don Voth’s 1965 Impala is a Chip Foose creation that’s more C6 Corvette under the skin than vintage Chevy. In fact, Foose – a three-time Ridler winner – and his crew chopped the body’s length down 14 inches, sliced 8 inches out of the roof and stretched the Corvette chassis 8 inches to meet the big B-body halfway. Perhaps the greatest compliment is that the radical bodywork is hard to spot at a glance. The look and proportions are spot-on. A Magnuson-blown LS3 drives the jaw-dropping custom.

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3.) 1998 Trans Am

Owner: Jonathan Ojczyk

Easily our favorite late-model, track-oriented execution at the Autorama was this well-detailed, twin-turbocharged Trans Am. The built LS1 uses a Huron Speed “V2” twin-turbo system and we love the creative exhaust exits. There’s also a built Turbo 400 and the obligatory 9-inch rear axle. We didn’t get a dyno number for the combination, but we plan to track Jonathan down when the snow melts in the Detroit area and try to get some more pics and info on his bad-ass T/A.

4.) 1965 GTO

Owner: Jeff Link

The second Pontiac on our list is Jeff Link’s resto-mod muscle car, which uses the 6.0-liter LS2 powertrain from a late-model GTO – augmented with a supercharger – and even the seats and other details from a modern Goat. Purists may clutch their chests at the thought of carving up an authentic GTO, but they’re not particularly rare and the structural deficiencies of the original project material made a concours resto impractical, anywhere. Nice work.

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5.) 1956 Chevy 150

Owner: George Poteet

Premier street rod builder George Poteet scores big with this understated, LS3-powered “shoebox” Chevy. In fact, it perfectly illustrates our point about the growing influence of LS power, because it was originally powered by an old-school 427 big block and Poteet dove into the 21st century with his classic. The 525-hp Chevrolet Performance crate engine is backed by an equally modern 4L65E transmission. We love the one-off 18-inch wheels, too.

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6.) 1985 Monte Carlo SS

Owner: George & Louise Walz

G-body LS swaps are really gaining traction and with examples like this one, it’s easy to see the appeal. The Monte Carlo SS is easily one of the best-looking cars of the past 40 years and replacing its wheezy, heavy Gen-1 small block with a lightweight, all-aluminum LS engine producing about triple the horsepower is the best of both worlds. This one is powered by Chevy Performance’s 525-hp crate engine and is backed by a 4L70E trans. It’s another car we plan to follow up on with a closer look.

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7.) 1970 Camaro

Owner: Joe Matia

Dubbed “Scramjet,” this second-gen Camaro takes technology to a new level, with the majority of vehicle functions controlled via a smartphone or laptop, including the climate system, lighting, ride height, door opening and more. Naturally, such an advanced concept uses late-model engine technology in the form of an LS7 crate engine. The wheels are one-off 19-inchers.

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8.) 1956 Corvette

Owner: Brian Eggers

LS engine conversions and late-model chassis upgrades make classic Corvettes infinitely more usable and fun, and the growing trend is executed to perfection in this gorgeous example. It blends C6 elements, including the 430-hp LS3 engine, and was built from the ground up by Saginaw, Michigan-based Dynamic Corvettes, which specializes in such builds.

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9.) 1949 Chevy “Tin Woody”

Owner: Tim Kilkeary

Classic Chevy wagons like this beg to be customized and we’ve never seen one with a better stance. There’s an LS1 engine under the hood and a Ferrari-inspired interior. Better still, the wood look of the wagon is all an illusion – a fantastically detailed paint job. Style and stance are obviously the objectives with this hot rod, but like so many other modern rods, the LS family was the go-to engine source.

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10.) 1941 Willys

Owner: Dan Juliette

No, this was never a GM car from the factory, but its style and cultural significance to the drag racing world was too noteworthy to ignore. Rather than a nitro-swilling, blower-fed Chrysler Hemi engine, like they all were 50 year ago, this contemporary interpretation is powered by an LS7 engine fitted with a custom sheet metal intake manifold and backed by a 4L60E transmission. And while it may not have the ear-splitting cackle of an old Hemi, a set of SLP “Loud Mouth” bullet mufflers nonetheless give it a menacing bark. Old Willys will always be cool and with LS power, they’re more relevant than ever.

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