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Hey guys, Fossil (Steve) here, new to the group and starting a project and have a question. I got away from rods years ago and have been dealing with vintage motorcycles as my hobby ever since. However, I have just picked up a '59 Chevy Apache truck and am getting started on it. As usually happens, I have already gotten deeper into it than I originally planned and now have everything off the frame except the bare cab. So... I now plan to go ahead with basically a frame-off build. The plan is not for a "show" truck or "trailer queen" but a nice driver. Since I am into it this far, I will do all the brakes, suspension, etc. while the frame is bare. The question for you gurus is: what year/size LS engine should I look for? I have always been "old school" and still am somewhat but I know the LS motors are so much easier to use and live with, in many ways that I feel this is what I want to go with. However, I know very little about them as far as the strong/weak points of the different models. I will probably leave the motor basically stock for reliability, gas mileage, etc. So, any thoughts would be much appreciated. Thanks
 

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I may be able to give you some broad strokes! First, glad you are paying attention to the frame/suspension. Can't build a house on shifting sands.
As you know the LS family comes in various sizes 4.8, 5.3, 5.7, 6.0 and 6.2 to name the ones you may find in a junkyard. I would opt for the 5.3 because it's very cheap compared to the bigger brothers. I would also look for a complete combo, engines and trans. Starting somewhere around 2002 they went to drive by wire and about 2006-7 went to Variable Valve Timing (VVT). The VVT has caused some problems but there is a delete kit to do away with it. I like the drive by wire and if you get one of those make sure to get the gas pedal (app) and TAC which runs the throttle body. Of course get the ECU and as much wiring as you can. Above all, get the VIN from the donor if you can. A donor engine that has 150K on it and treated decent will outlast the truck itself. To overhaul an LS is a bit pricey. If things look good just a simple cam change (do the oil pump too) will kick the HP up lots with no driveability issues. I would go with an aftermarket harness and get the ECU reprogrammed to do away with VATs, EGR and match your gear/tire size. A real pain is the fuel system. I always go with an in-tank pump, Corvette filter/regulator and run the newer style nylon lines. Do not be afraid of fuel injection, it get simple after a while. I like jumping into my '39, hit the key and drive off in any weather. No problem with altitude changes too. You'll like it.
 

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Moving to Basics Forum... The Introduction forum is not for tech questions.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks so much guys. I've been away from hot rods for 30+ years and just dealing with bikes so I know I'm in for a sharp learning curve. I hope the folk here will bear with me as I will need a lot of tutoring. My first car was a '29 model A and went from that to a '53 Willys with a 283 Chevy in high school. Then when my sons were starting into their teens (early '80s) I picked up a couple '55 Chevys and helped them with those. Been into bikes ever since, so I'm just now getting back into the cars/trucks. Still have a shop full of vintage bikes though. Anyway, I will be calling out from time to time for info/suggestions and will appreciate any help.
 

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your best route is buy a rolled/damaged tahoe. you can buy them around az areas for 800-1200 running driving, but smooshed. my last i bought was a 2006 roll over, drove it from the autcion, onto the trailer, off the trailer, pulled all the aprts, sold the rest, and ended up with nearly every part needed for my swap, only costing me a total of $300 after sellign the good parts off the tahoe.
 

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Tahoe, Silverado, Sierra, Yukon, Suburban. Really does not matter. The engine code does.. LM7 ( iron 5.3 ) is the best bang for buck, L33 ( Aluminum 5.3 ) is basically a small displacement LS2 ( Corvette/ TBSS 6.0L ) and was the Vortec MAXX engine. You'll pay more for an L33 unless you get lucky. Even a 4.8L is a contender if you consider boost. Even the LR4 4.8L makes 270hp with stock tune, they will make 300hp if you warm up the tune.
 

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Buy a entire 2500hd or 3500/3500HD truck.
Everything is upgraded from the 1500. You get better axles, 4 wheel disc starting in 01 brakes(hydroboost), stronger frame, larger engine, stronger transmission/transfer case, and 8 bolt bolt pattern for H1 rims.

Often the diffrence in prices between a running 1500 and 2500HD is not much.
 

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Tahoe, Silverado, Sierra, Yukon, Suburban. Really does not matter. The engine code does.. LM7 ( iron 5.3 ) is the best bang for buck, L33 ( Aluminum 5.3 ) is basically a small displacement LS2 ( Corvette/ TBSS 6.0L ) and was the Vortec MAXX engine. You'll pay more for an L33 unless you get lucky. Even a 4.8L is a contender if you consider boost. Even the LR4 4.8L makes 270hp with stock tune, they will make 300hp if you warm up the tune.
 

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Buy a entire 2500hd or 3500/3500HD truck.
Everything is upgraded from the 1500. You get better axles, 4 wheel disc starting in 01 brakes(hydroboost), stronger frame, larger engine, stronger transmission/transfer case, and 8 bolt bolt pattern for H1 rims.

Often the diffrence in prices between a running 1500 and 2500HD is not much.
I really liked all the comments. I'm starting a similar project with a 64 Suburban and wanted to go the LS route. Other than the engine, trans, cpu, engine wiring harness, gas pedal are thare any other parts I can use from a donor?
 

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I would not run a 4L60E with much more then 300hp. Think of a TH350 add a few solenoids/overdrive and you have a 4L60E. I think they are weaker then a TH350 and they are far more expensive if you want to upgrade one.

The great thing about a LS is that it is backwards compatible with several transmissions. A stock 5.3 off Craigslist or marketplace for $500 with the VATS removed($100) and a TH400 or sm465 makes a cheap reliable swap that bolts up. Plan on $1500 to $3000 for the complete 5.3, 400/465 swap(you doing labor) depending on what deals you find.

I do not think most rides really need overdrive. I find it real easy to get into 3 didgit speeds with overdrive. If you really want overdrive the cheap route is still a 700 or 200r4. Just make sure it is adjusted correctly. If you want some power a 4L80e is a common 4 speed overdrive that is easy enough to control. The 6 speeds can be found in a junkyard at this point and offer full control(previous were all pressure based) as the 6 speeds are fully electronic. The 6 speed controllers are obviously more expensive because of this as they can do more.

Axles are going to depend on power and the layout you want. If the wheelbase is correct then the doner axle will handle the power while often having disc and modern calipers.

From 99 to 2005 the axles that say they have a factory locker tend to "lock" faster then the ones after 2005. One of the first checks I do once something drops off the trailer is check if it has a locker or not and thats first hand experence. I believe the ABS changed which allows a slower lock and not so much changes with the differential. But I dont tear into axles unless I need to.

A 5.3 is the best LS to run just from the standpoint if you need parts you can find them easier then the others. You can find a complete good 160 to 200k wet engine (oil and coolant inside) with acessories and harness(ecm also if you ask) for $500 to $600. Having a extra wet block comes in handy if you want to run a little boost on a factory longblock(upgraded fuel system) or other power adder and push it a bit harder then you should.
 

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Quick side note on the transmission designations. On a 4L60E the first number is the forward gears, the 60 stands for 600 ft/lbs of torque it is designed to handle and the "E" is for electronic. I have not heard of many (any) problems with this transmission but anything with that many moving parts will sooner or later have some kind of problem. When depends on abuse. With a DBW throttle body just how do you adjust the TV cable on a 700R4?
 

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I have always ran the earlier drive by cable throttle body. No messing with a pedal and you still have a cable if you want to run a TV transmission.
 

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I'm personally a fan of the LQ9 which was the high-output 6.0L used in many of the luxury-type trucks and SUVs, like Escalade, Avalanche, etc. You get a 6.0L block with flat-tops, and the heads are LS6 ports with a bit larger chamber to keep compression reasonable. 345 hp from the factory, plenty of compression and flow just waiting for a cam swap

LQ4 is the same thing with dished pistons and still good, but not quite as capable in stock form.

The 5.3L has become the ubiquitous cheap LS swap assembly. They can be cammed, turboed, whatever for cheap.
 

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Once again, thanks for the input guys. This project will be kept fairly mild, HP/peformance-wise. I would like something that runs/sounds good but still has good manners and gets decent gas mileage. From what I am picking up here, sounds like the 5.3 has my name on it. Not sure about the tranny yet.? What vehicles/years am I most likely to find this engine in? Just so I can narrow my search.
 

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Once again, thanks for the input guys. This project will be kept fairly mild, HP/peformance-wise. I would like something that runs/sounds good but still has good manners and gets decent gas mileage. From what I am picking up here, sounds like the 5.3 has my name on it. Not sure about the tranny yet.? What vehicles/years am I most likely to find this engine in? Just so I can narrow my search.
I concur. Find the SPID sticker with the RPOs (glove box, door jamb) and look for LM7. That is the run-of-the-mill vanilla 5.3L that has been used in millions of trucks and vans.

99-07 full size trucks and vans. There are more vehicles that got them, but they are so common that you can't go to a junkyard without tripping over a dozen of them.
 

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As far as transmissions go, the easy button for automatic is whatever trans was behind it. Usually it's a 4L60E. Fine transmission for a driver truck. If you don't want the electronic trans, you could do an old school GM auto. TH350/400/200-4r/700r4 will all bolt up but you'll have one bolt hole missing on the trans and one bolt hole missing on the block. Many have done it and it doesn't seem to affect much. You just have 5 bolts holding in on instead of 6. IMO, if you're getting the 5.3L from an automatic truck, it makes sense to just keep the electronic auto. If you were to go non-electric transmission, it's more work than just keeping the "E". You would have to reflash or reprogram the ECM for a manual transmission application so it ignores the transmission and doesn't look for feedback from trans sensors.

Manual options are out there. T56 from an LS will bolt on. Not the best ratios for a heavy vehicle, but a good deep gearing (like 4.10 or 4.56 depending on tire size) will make a better match. T5s and the Muncie 4 speeds can be done as well with the added expense of some aftermarket adapting/clutch parts.
 

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I have always ran the earlier drive by cable throttle body. No messing with a pedal and you still have a cable if you want to run a TV transmission.
If it comes with a 4L60e, all internal parts are the same as the 700r4 so why would a guy need a TV cable?

OP: look for a 6.0 liter. Everything is the same size, it will come with a 4L80e, get something around 2004, drive by wire is terrific, it comes with virtually free cruise control. It's worth the price of admission for the 6.0 liter. I did the 5.3 and it's OK, but 6.0 would have been great.
 

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I suggest you try the drive-by-wire system first. I personally detest it and have spent really good paychecks deleting it on two vehicles. Zero accelerator pedal feel, somewhat common pedal logic box failure, and there is always a lag between what your foot does and what the throttle does. For me, DBW feels like playing one of those race-car video games from the 80s. Not saying Pugsy is wrong, just personal preference.

Keep in mind, swapping between DBW and DBC is not always a choice you can make on the fly. Do research on the ECMs you might encounter. DBW trucks use the throttle itself as the IAC, which means the ECMs often don't have the driver for IAC at all. If that's the case, you can't just swap for a DBC throttle and add an IAC. Some ECMs have all of the above... often times the vans have ECMs that are pretty much ready for whatever you throw at it, including DBW, DBC, and even the ability to add the flex fuel sensor and let it burn E85.

Do a googles for GM ECMs if you plan on trying other configurations. You should be able to net yourself a donor that can have the throttle be either/or in case you change your mind.

And not all 6.0L came with the 4L80E. Many, but it's not guaranteed. The 6.0 LQ9 that I pulled from an Avalanche 1500 had a 4L60E behind it. Many of the 6.0L vans had 4L60E even in the 2500. The LQ9 that I currently have was complete with ECM... but I have to get a different ECM so I can use a cable throttle because it lacks the IAC driver.
 

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OP: look for a 6.0 liter. Everything is the same size, It's worth the price of admission for the 6.0 liter. I did the 5.3 and it's OK, but 6.0 would have been great.
I haven't priced them out recently, but I can buy 5.3 LM7s all day for $250-400. The last 6.0L I bought was north of $1000. I do agree, and I prefer the 6.0L for the bigger bore, but if he's just looking for a cruiser and wants a cheap buy-in, I don't see an issue with a vanilla 5.3L
 
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