The 2020 Holley LS Fest was one of few major car shows that soldiered on through the dreadful coronavirus pandemic. This year was the tenth anniversary of the show that celebrates the “LS swap the world” mantra. I made the quick trip up to Bowling Green, Kentucky for the festivities, and arrived just in time for torrential rain to begin. Dodging in and out of tents, tree groves, and pavilions, I fired as many shots with my Canon 6D as I could while avoiding the heaviest of the rain. Despite how bad rain is for car shows, photographers will selfishly tell you that rain makes pictures of cars look really cool.
I once saw a meme that said, “LS swap the earth. It’s better and more reliable.” People take that to heart. Throngs of Chevy pickups of all generations dotted the hills surrounding Beech Bend Raceway. Classic Camaros, Chevelles, and Tri-Fives lined up for hours on Beech Bend’s infamous entrance road. Other GM products got similar treatment. I spotted one ’65 Pontiac GTO rumbling away in traffic. It was black like mine, but the similarities stopped there. I talked to the owner as he waited to move up in line, and he said it had an LSA under the hood. Given the aggressive cam lope I could hear from the exhaust, it wasn’t a stock LSA either.
Mazda RX-7s and twenty-year-old BMWs are relatively common imports to receive a heart transplant. However, if you can dream it, you can do it with an LS engine. A Subaru WRX? Sure. Oddball British sportscars? Yep; the tiny Lotus Europa shockingly has room for a longitudinally mounted LS and transaxle. A terrifying concept indeed. Only slightly less frightening was a clean Toyota MR2 with a transverse LS squeezed under the hatch. There was even a steampunk Volkswagen van with an LS plopped right in the middle of the cabin! None of those came close to the slammed Mitsubishi/Dodge Raider with side pipes and a rumbling V8 under the hood I caught leaving the show.
LS Fest is not limited to vehicles with engine transplants. It is open to vehicles born with the engine as well, and also allows the current LT family of GM V8s. There were plenty of 4th gen F-body Camaros and Trans Ams ready to rip up the quarter mile, fifth and sixth gen Camaros prepped for autocross, and scores of C5, C6, and C7 Corvettes ready for anything the owner threw at them. Chevy’s newest crown jewel – the C8 Corvette – made a few appearances as well. Factory LS power is worldwide, as dearly departed Holden produced some serious muscle Down Under. Australia represented with rebadged Commodores and Monaros (Chevrolet SS/Pontiac G8 and 2004-2006 Pontiac GTO, respectively), and even a couple Holden Utes.
All that performance is nice, but I personally wouldn’t LS swap for power. I would LS swap for reliability. Give me all of the dreadfully unreliable British luxury cars with an indestructible General Motors V8. I don’t only mean a modern take on the classic small block Chevy in a Jaguar XJ. How does a classic Rolls Royce with a modern, fuel-injected American V8 moving the lumbering giant down the road sound? I ask, because there was an example of such a lumbering giant at the show.
Rain of course put a halt to the drag racing, but autocross continued. The drivers fighting the rain for the tight turns on the autocross pad showed a level of bravery I simply do not possess behind the wheel. Puddles of water multiple feet deep on the edges of the track undoubtedly added to the pucker factor. Even cars not racing were struggling. I saw one C5 Corvette attempt to get back onto the pavement, but it was unable to get enough traction on the wet, muddy grass and high centered on the raised asphalt. Fortunately, there was no obvious damage to the car.
After a couple hours, a thoroughly soaked set of clothes, and a mostly ruined pair or red Converse, I called it a day. The 2020 Holley LS Fest was my first time at the now famous show. I will be back.