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Project LS13 Road Trip - The Ultimate Torture Test

A long road trip finds the weaknesses in our LS13 project car.

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Shortly after completing Project LS13, I was slapped in the face by a personal situation that meant I would need to relocate from sunny California back to my hometown, Toronto, Ontario. There was no way I would leave my newly built S13 behind, and instead of shipping it 2,500 or so miles, I decided it would be really smart (actually stupid) to drive it back. I'm a sucker for punishment, and driving an untested and virtually unproven engine/chassis setup would prove to be quite the hell ride.

There was one issue, though: I had yet to pass my CARB approval due to the whole adjustable fuel pressure regulator situation. I had no time to rework the fuel system before the trip, so I decided I would fix it shortly after. What a mistake that would prove to be.

Before I left, though, I had to prove to myself that Project LS13 would, in fact, pass California smog standards. I persuaded a buddy who owns a smog shop to let me run the test, and not only did the LS3 blow way below what a stock KA24DE 240SX would, but the numbers produced were right up there with today's cleanest cars. I had the exact results but lost them in transport, so you'll have to take my word for it.

My findings confirmed what I suspected, that this swap not only makes almost four times the power of the stock engine, but it's also better for the environment!

With the LS13 and my old Integra DC2 project car both packed to the brim with my belongings, I set off on the 34-hour road trip. I would pilot the 240 while my poor brother drove the bone-jarring, track-prepped DC2. Bear in mind we left in the middle of August, and these cars both lacked air conditioning. Driving through California was fine; I kept a close eye on the engine temperature. I had a plug-in scanner with which I could monitor all the engine's vital signs, and it came in very handy providing precise readings.

As we crossed the state line into Arizona, temperatures were already soaring well into the 100-degree-F range. Thankfully, the engine's temperature was hovering around 215 degrees F, which seemed well within the operating range. Unfortunately, it wouldn't last long. About 200 miles outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, I watched the temps start climbing and nearing the maximum 235 degrees F that I had been told was the upper crest of the engine's operating temperature. Before I could pull over, the motor suddenly died, and I coasted onto the side of the road.

After some quick diagnostics, the fuel pump turned out to be the culprit. With the scorching heat beating down on both black cars, there was little we could do but call for a tow truck and hope it would be fixable in the nearest town. Before I did just that, my brother told me to try it one more time. About 30 minutes had passed since we'd been sitting roadside. Like an omen from God, our prayers were answered and the fuel pump resurrected itself and we forged ahead.

We stopped at the next gas station to fill up, and when I opened the gas cap, a huge whoosh of pressure hissed out. I didn't think much of it then-gas expands when it gets hot, so it must be normal. Back on the road it was getting past 110 degrees F. However, the car ran solid for another three hours but quit shortly thereafter; It was the fuel pump again. This time we were just miles away from Flagstaff, and I wasn't going to keep driving with a fuel pump that would keep dying on me. I called up the local Pep Boys and they just so happened to have a stock S13 pump.

After waiting for the engine to cool, we drove to the Pep Boys where a parking lot fuel pump swap session commenced. It was at this point that I realized I had a big problem on my hands. When I pulled the Deatschwerks pump, it was so hot that I could barely touch it. I checked the fuel and it was like sticking my hand into a boiling pot of water-it was way too hot. Something wasn't right, but exhausted and worn out, I couldn't figure out what.

After replacing the fuel pump, we decided to keep driving. By now the searing heat had passed and nightfall came shortly thereafter. The car ran superbly during this time-no hiccups, no abnormal engine temps. But why was the gas so hot? Could the sun be heating it up that much?

That night at the hotel, I couldn't sleep. The problem racked my brain and I needed to figure it out before the next 14-hour leg of driving. That's when it dawned on me: The fuel system I had set up was a traditional return-style. Fuel runs from the tank to the regulator, where some of it goes to the engine but most of it is routed back to the tank. This is not a problem unless you have two OEM cats nestled less than 5 inches from the lines. Despite the lines' being wrapped in heat-resistant material, the fuel was no match for the crazy temperatures in that area.

This was the perfect storm: 110 -degree-plus-F temperatures, scorching-hot catalytic converters, and nonstop driving meant the recirculating fuel would eventually get so hot that it would boil, rendering the fuel pump inoperable. Once the system could cool off again, the pump would come back to life. If only I had figured this out before deciding to drive across the entire country.

Knowing the issue was great and all, but there was still the problem of how to fix it, and aside from tearing apart the entire fuel system, there wasn't much I could do. Instead, frequent stops to fill up the tank with fresh (and cold) gas were a must, and some hood spacers would hopefully provide a bit more airflow to the backside of the engine bay.

Slowly but surely, we trekked on, and Project LS13 forged ahead trouble free. The driver, on the other hand, didn't fare so well. It was white-knuckle driving from that point on, as I was anticipating the next mishap.

Thankfully it didn't happen, and the rest of the trek, albeit much longer than anticipated, was trouble free. I felt somewhat proud of myself (and my brother who endured all the headaches with me, not to mention the fixed Recaro bucket seat he sat in for the entire trip). Sure, this trip was out of necessity, but what better way to test one's ability to build a vehicle from the ground up than to torture-test it with a grueling road trip such as this.

Despite the hiccup with the fuel system, which will be addressed in the next issue, the rest of Project LS13 performed flawlessly, and for that I can't help but be thankful.

The poor Deatschwerks fuel pump looks like it’s been to hell and back, and that’s partly true. The excessive heat it endured meant it needed to be retired for the rest of the trip.

Desperate to get some more airflow into the rear of the engine bay, we installed a stack of washers to space out the hood.

Rain couldn’t be a more welcome sight. A cool engine was a happy engine.

Battered but not broken, Project LS13 gets a well-deserved break after making the 2,600-mile journey home.

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