Describing a Honda S2000 as a sleeper may be a bit of a stretch, since even in bone-stock form, it's a hard-core sports car with a 9,000-rpm screamer of an engine. Still, its 2.0L, naturally aspirated four-banger isn't exactly a torque monster, so it's not the kind of powerplant that'll win you many stoplight-to-stoplight contests.
Of course an AP1 converted to AP2 styling, OE wheels and all, is hardly flashy compared with the winged and slammed S2Ks we often feature. And when you consider that this AP1, once a derelict shell of a car with a blown motor, now has an extra four cylinders and 3.7 liters of displacement under the hood, its status as a sleeper starts to come into clearer focus.
Dropping a V8 into an S2000's engine bay will inevitably whip the legion of Honda purists out there into a frothy VTEC lather, an irony not lost on Import Muscle's co-owners, Allan Tarrant and Jason Kovach, who've been elbows deep in the Honda scene for well over a decade. In fact, Allan still owns (and plans to be buried in) his DC2 Integra GS-R, a car that had one of the first JRSC kits on it back in the late '90s and is now boosted by a Full-Race GT30 turbo kit.
So don't go thinking Import Muscle is run by a couple of good ol' boys who think a pushrod V8 makes everything better. These guys simply saw an opportunity to breathe new life into one of the purest RWD sports cars of all time, giving it an entirely new character thanks to the addition of an LS1 out of an '04 Pontiac GTO. And they haven't just dropped a V8 into this car for their own sick and twisty V8 fantasies; they've made it easy for you to do the same, thanks to their detailed installation guide and complete swap kit to go along with a growing list of supporting mods.
Truth be told, we actually featured Import Muscle's original V8-swapped S2000 in the Jan. '11 Engine Swap Special issue, a battered old mule of an AP1 Jason found in OKC, but the car you see here is Allan's, an '01 Silverstone Silver roller with a serious case of rod knock that he found on Craigslist in late March 2012.
OK, so at this point you're probably asking yourself two questions: How costly and difficult is this swap, and how does it affect the S2000's handling and driveability? According to Allan, "In terms of cost, this swap is typically cheaper than going with a turbo, and it offers better reliability. It's also a great alternative to the 2JZ swap, with parts being far cheaper. In terms of difficulty, our installation kit has improved dramatically in less than a year. We have eliminated much of the welding required in the original design. Today, most of the parts are machined aluminum to very exacting standards and can be bolted in. The only welding that is still required is the motor mounting plates to the framerails."
That said, Allan and Jason make it abundantly clear on their website and in their installation guide that this is not a newb-friendly swap. "We try to be as up front as possible about the fact that there are aspects of this installation that will require someone who is an expert troubleshooter. We provide details on the electrical aspects, but since there are many different LSx V8 variations, we've focused our kit on two motors: the LS1 from the '99-'02 F-body and '04 GTO. The kit will physically work with all motors in the LSx family, since the blocks are the same, but each variation can provide certain challenges. Use of any other motor will likely require swapping certain accessories."
A common misconception when it comes to LSx V8 swaps is that you're adding a ton of weight to the front of the car, but that's simply not the case. Because of the simplicity and compact design of a pushrod V8, an LS1 only adds 100 pounds to an S2000, a difference you're unlikely to feel in the corners, at least not compared with the power delivery given the huge increase in torque. As Allan put it, "The hp/tq differences do change the attitude of the car quite a bit. It's still quite controllable and puts the power to the ground very well, but just like any car with tons of torque, you do need to be careful.
Overall the car remains extremely well balanced. Anyone who has driven or ridden shotgun in one of these cars is pretty much sold instantly. I certainly don't want to take any credit from an amazing guy like Carroll Shelby, but in the end it's sort of like his original recipe: small, lightweight car plus V8 power."
Although Allan has kept his Silverstone Sleeper otherwise very stock looking, he actually put a lot of work into the AP2 interior and exterior conversion. The original paint was rough when he bought it, so it has been resprayed for extra freshness, and all-new badges, console, door panels, and front bumper were also needed. The OEM AP2 exhaust tips are definitely sleeper approved, especially when you hear that distinctive LS1 snarl blasting out of them through a custom MagnaFlow exhaust and mufflers. The only thing that even hints at the 5.7L monster under the hood is the GTO black leather and aluminum shift knob, since the interior is otherwise fully stock and fully functional, from the digital gauge cluster to the HVAC and stereo systems.
The brainchild of a couple of buddies with a love for Hondas and V8 torque, Import Muscle may have stumbled upon one of the more controversial swaps out there, but according to Allan and Jason, there are signs within the S2K community that it's becoming more widely accepted. "It's been frustrating at times, especially with the Internet, where folks can be extremely judgmental and rude. We were constantly on the defensive, it seemed. But we've noticed acceptance has gone up drastically in the last year or so. Case in point: Both Jason and I posted build threads on S2Ki early in the project, and those guys can be pretty rough sometimes, but we were pleasantly surprised by the reception. Most folks really admired the work and many of them asked great questions."
It's pretty obvious where we stand on V8 swaps, given the LS3 we stuffed in our S13 project car, and given how feasible and affordable Import Muscle's swap kit makes stuffing an LSx motor into an S2000 (AP1s being shockingly cheap these days), we're not surprised the Internet "authorities" have come around to Allan and Jason's way of thinking. And as far as sleepers go, what could be cooler than wiping that snide look off the face of the redneck in the pickup truck next to you at the stoplight as you leave him in the dust with the sound of a gnarly V8 in his ears? Now that's the right kind of sleeper wake-up call!
Specs & Details
'01 Honda S2000
Engine Modifications Import Muscle V8 Swap Kit; '02 Camaro exhaust manifolds, alternator, A/C compressor, and rear-sump oil pan (required for Import Muscle kit); K&N cone filter; MagnaFlow high-flow cats; custom exhaust and mufflers; Godspeed aluminum radiator; carbon-fiber radiator cooling plate; Optima Red Top battery
Engine Management '04 Pontiac GTO ECU
Drivetrain T56 transmission ('04 Pontiac GTO)
Wheels, Tires & Brakes OEM 17'' AP2 wheels; Falken 225/40R17 (f) and 255/45R17 (r) Ziex 912 (street) and Nitto NT01 (track) tires; Russell SS brake lines; Hawk HP+ brake pads
Suspension Import Muscle front sway bar relocation brackets, bolts, and modified endlinks
Exterior AP2 front bumper, headlights, rear bumper, spoiler, taillights, and exhaust tips
Interior Black/Red AP2 interior, center console, and door cards; '04 Pontiac GTO shift knob
Special Thanks I'd like to thank my wife for putting up with my car addiction all these years, my best friend and business partner Jason, good friend Randall, Chris at Hunters Performance, and both Greg and Sam at 3D Machine.