The AC Ace would probably be little more than another entry on a list of obscure British cars if it hadn’t been for Carroll Shelby’s decision to buy them in bulk and stuff Ford motors into them, creating the legendary AC Cobra. While most BangShifters have a love of American iron, sometimes the power which moved that American iron can work magic when stuffed into an import. Many foreign cars are front wheel drive transportation appliances, but there’s a couple of them that are just about perfect for V8 swaps. With enough room under the hood, rear wheel drive, light weight, a great chassis, and a price close enough to the bottom of the depreciation curve that you don’t need factory Ford backing to play at being Shelby and swap a V8 into an import to turn an old beater into a world beater.
11.) Mazda RX-7: Many of these found their ways into the hands of owners who have no idea how to maintain an engine that replaced the pistons with weird puffy triangles, so it’s not too hard to find one with a blown engine. The rotary is much heavier than you’d expect a 1.3 liter engine to be, so small block doesn’t really upset the weight balance as much as you might expect.
10.) Porsche 924: Porsche enthusiasts never really gave this much respect, and the Audi-sourced four didn’t give it enough power to take it from them. Doubling its cylinder count can accomplish that without too much effort.
9.) Datsun Z cars: Datsun may have turned the sports car world on its ear by coming out with a straight six in a swoopy little sports car in an era where Japanese cars normally had boxy styling and four cylinders. Even when they were new, however, many hot rodders weren’t satisfied with six and stuffed in American V8s.
8.) Jaguar XJ series: The company that first pioneered the Chevy V8 swap into this car goes by the name of Jags That Run. Not all engine swap candidates are featherweight sports cars; a big V8 in one of these sedans makes a great turnpike cruiser.
7.) Nissan 300ZX: The ’80s era 300 doesn’t have the classic looks of the earlier Z car or the high tech of its successor, but they can be found for next to nothing. While not as popular a swap as many of the other cars here, and there’s not the same level of aftermarket support, a good fabricator could get a V8 into one on a shoestring budget.
6.) MGB: The Buick / Olds / Pontiac 215 bolts into these cars with factory parts, as MG themselves did a short run of this swap and they made plenty of spare parts. You could also grab a modern day descendent of this engine out of a Land Rover if you’re willing to stretch your definition of an American V8 to something designed in America by a company that later sold the tooling to a British company.
5.) Volvo 240 / 740: They’re boxy but good… and about the last car anybody expects to be hot rodded. Stuff a small block in one and you’ll have the perfect sleeper.
4.) BMW 750i: When this V12 luxury car first came out in the late ’80s, it had two engine control units, one for each side of the engine, along with two more computers for the drive by wire throttle and transmission, all held together by a primitive network system. When you spot an add on Craigslist for a $1500 750i (and you will if you look long enough) that “needs minor electrical work,” read that as, “Needs swapping in a hot smallblock and a transmission that people can actually work on.”
3.) Porsche 914: They’re getting rarer, but this one is still the only mid-engined import out there that’s both affordable and has enough room to readily fit a V8 behind the driver.
2.) Nissan 240SX: The first generation fastback has one of the best combinations of low frontal area and low drag coefficient of any production four seater. It’s no wonder you will see these at Bonneville powered by almost anything imaginable.
1.) Mazda Miata: They may look tiny, but there’s enough room under your hood for either a Ford smallblock or an LSx motor. Watching a Miata drive past while hearing a Corvette-like soundtrack may make you wonder if you’re in a badly dubbed movie, but nobody’s just going to think “Oh, what a cute little roadster,” after seeing what happens when you mash the loud pedal in one of these.
Matt Cramer is the author of the just released book: Performance Fuel Injection Systems: How to Design, Build, Modify, and Tune EFI and ECU Systems. Look for it on the shelf of your favorite automotive book seller or click the link to score a copy on Amazon.com