Tech Projects

Project Firebolt: The LSX Turbo Tacoma (Part 1): The Master Plan and Engine Arrive

(Image/Tom Tharp)

Four years ago, I embarked on a journey with Summit Racing to build my dream car.

Since high school, I had been fascinated with big engines in little cars, but more specifically, the all-around thrilling performance of a V8-powered roadster. Many of you came along for that ride here on OnAllCylinders and YouTube, which made the build so fun and rewarding, which it remains even today.

Project Thunderbolt doing what it loves, carving up the curves on the world famous “Tail of The Dragon” in Deals Gap, NC. (Image/Tom Tharp)

But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that while owning and driving an LS3-powered Miata is like having your own personal roller coaster, it’s not terribly practical on a daily basis.

What if we could capture the V8-powered-roadster spirit of Project Thunderbolt and pour it all into something much more useful—like a truck?

I mean, wouldn’t it be awesome to have a vehicle that can offer the same kinda thrill as a 500-horsepower Miata, but with more daily driven utility?

Well, that’s just what we’re gonna do… Introducing Project Firebolt!

The platform for this build is my 2002 Toyota Tacoma.

This clean and unsuspecting 2002 Toyota Tacoma Stepside is about to receive a substantial power increase. (Image/Tom Tharp)

Just like Thunderbolt, I searched long and hard for the right vehicle to start with and I found this one-owner, low-mileage truck for sale locally and which was bought new at a dealership right down the road.

So here’s the plan:

I want to start with a running, but well broken-in, Gen 3, 5.3L iron block V8 engine.

To breathe new life into this old beast, we’ll freshen it up with a host of simple, but proven upgrades. This will give us a solid foundation for a big old turbocharger pumping in the boost that these engines welcome with open arms.

To complement our power-making efforts, we’ll have a supporting cast of proper air, fuel, and exhaust items. Backing up our boosted 5.3L will be a built 4L80E transmission, and further out back will be a Ford 8.8 differential to put the power to the ground.

So that’s the plan for Project Firebolt.

Over the coming months we’re giving this Radiant Red Tacoma some serious pickup by feeding it a big helping of tire-scorching, turbocharged V8 heat under the hood!

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