1959 Chevrolet Corvette Vette Engine - Overhauling A Friend's '59 Vette Part 2
Rob's '59 Receives A New Crate Engine While He Looks The Other Way.
From the December, 2008 issue of Corvette Fever
By Dick Moritz
Photography by Dick Moritz
Back in the days of eight-track...
Back in the days of eight-track tapes and The Beatles appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, a friend of Rob's, former Source Interlink Publisher Bruce Jones (on right) "donated" the 327 that became available when he was building a new powerplant for his "slingshot" dragster.
Back in the June '08 issue, we reported the story of Rob Sutter's long-dormant '59 and the efforts of his business partner and Rob's wife to secretly replace the way-too-radical drag race engine in the car while Rob wasn't looking.
The story is reminiscent of a popular TV series, beginning with the car being spirited away from under Rob's nose for an engine transplant, courtesy of friend and business partner Bob Yeoman. Seems Bob owed Rob big-time for volunteer work on a restomod '55 Chevy that was ultimately sold to help fund the company that Bob and Rob started together.
While the project escalated well beyond a simple engine transplant (no surprise here), Bob's original idea was to spring for installation of a crate engine in Rob's '59 so it would be fun and easy to drive. And while the project took on a life of its own, resulting in wholesale brake, steering, suspension, and other improvements, the genesis of the project was installation of a crate engine, and here's how it went.
The engine was way too radical...
The engine was way too radical to use on the street, but it was available and the price was right, so Rob seized the opportunity and dropped the engine into the newly refurbished chassis of his basket-case '59. Don't you just love the snow tire on the R/F?
All dressed up with original-type...
All dressed up with original-type cast iron intake and exhaust manifolds, period-correct WCFB carburetor, and original-looking air cleaner, valve covers, and ignition shielding, the ex-dragster engine hid the secrets of compression and cam lift that were totally unsuitable for regular street use, even though it looked quite docile. Hard starting, poor (or no) idle quality, and unhappy performance under about 4,000 rpm made this engine, and therefore car, unpleasant to drive and, as a result, it saw little use for several decades, racking up less than 1,500 miles in 30 years!
Let's see: Looking for a strong, relia-ble powerplant that will bolt right in to the '59, be dead reliable, and have enough ponies to push you back in the seat without having to search for race gas or fuel additives. Where to look? How 'bout on the GM Performance Parts website? Lo and behold, the obvious choice leaps off the screen-their 350ci, 290hp pre-emissions long block. With peak horsepower at 5,100 rpm, 326 lb-ft of torque at a street-friendly 3,750 rpm, and a compression ratio of 8.5:1 that's perfectly happy without the need for premium fuel, it was perfect for the job. Here are the specs:
GM Performance Parts PN 12499529
Horsepower: 290 @ 5,100 rpm
Torque: 326 lb-ft @ 3,750
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Block: Cast iron, four-bolt mains
Heads: Cast iron, 76cc combustion chambers
Valves (I/E): 1.94"/1.50"
Camshaft Lift (I/E): 0.450"/0.460"
The powdered metal connecting rods offer strength and durability, hydraulic lifters provide quiet, maintenance-free operation, and the heads feature a conventional 12-bolt intake manifold bolt pattern to accommodate the most popular small-block carburetor and manifold combinations.
Transplant duties went to Gardner's Automotive, in nearby Easton, Penn-sylvania, which has done a great deal of Corvette work over the years. Staffed by founder Gary Gardner, his son Craig, and grandson Kyle, the three generations of Gardners have the experience with, and love for, Corvettes of all kinds.
| DIFFICULTY INDEX ::: NNN |
|ANYONE'S PROJECT | no tools required || N |
|BEGINNER | basic tools || NN |
|EXPERIENCED | special tools || NNN |
|ACCOMPLISHED | special tools and outside help || NNNN |
|PROFESSIONALS ONLY | send this work out || NNNNN |
GM Performance Parts 350/290 hp pre-emissions crate engine
Edelbrock No. 1406 - 600 cfm with electric choke
Brass Radiator PN 241001
Tune in next time when we'll cover the front-end upgrade, including coilover IFS, rack-and-pinion steering, and disc-brake conversion.
Partner Bob spirited the car...
Partner Bob spirited the car out from under Rob's nose and had it flat-bedded to Gardner's Automotive in nearby Easton, Pennsylvania, for transplant duties. With lots of experience with C1, C2, and C3 Corvettes, the Gardner guys knew just what to do, all with the care and attention to detail worthy of this soon-to-be-special '59. Three generations of Gardners, including third-generation Kyle-a 16-year-old aspiring race-car driver and very capable mechanic in his own right-handled the engine-swap duties.
Ever so carefully, out came...
Ever so carefully, out came the drag-race motor, which may well find its way into Kyle's next race car. Fortunately, the interchangeability of SBC engine parts and accessories made for a straightforward swap.
The bellhousing, and newly...
The bellhousing, and newly resurfaced flywheel bolted right onto the new GM Performance Parts long-block with no problems, with a new GM heavy-duty clutch assembly for good measure. TIP: You can try this at home, but pay heed to the transmission type in the recipient vehicle. The good folks at GMPP don't know if their engines will end up in cars with manual or automatic transmission, so if you're dealing with a stick-shift car, be sure the back of the crankshaft is fitted with a suitable pilot bushing, and don't try to bolt up an automatic to an engine with a pilot bushing in the back of the crank; it won't be pretty.
Fortunately, a life spent...
Fortunately, a life spent mostly in a dry garage had been kind to the engine compartment, so only a light cleaning was needed to prepare it for its new powerplant. It was just about this time that the quicksand started creeping up to Bob's ankles, as he realized, with the Gardners' recommendations, that it made no sense to put decades-old accessories on a brand-new engine. And so, what started as a quick long-block swap, rapidly turned into a list of parts as long as Britney Spears' list of ex-husbands and boyfriends.
Gary Gardner and his guys...
Gary Gardner and his guys knew the original-type WCFB was not up to the task of feeding the new engine, so out went the call for an Edelbrock No. 1406 - 600-cfm carburetor with electric choke sitting on top of a new Edelbrock Performer intake manifold that Bob found at a swap meet years earlier. From there it was a simple step to a new high-performance mechanical fuel pump and some hand-fabricated fuel lines.
Our new engine dressed up...
Our new engine dressed up very nicely with a coat of '50's Chevy Orange paint and a set of N.O.S. '69-'71 Corvette LT-1 valve covers, courtesy of eBay. During disassembly the original harmonic balancer was found to have separated from deterioration of the rubber, so a new one contributed to the deepening quicksand.
It was quickly concluded that...
It was quickly concluded that the original single points-type distributor would be incapable of properly lighting the fire in this healthy new engine, so Gardner's added a Pertronix billet electronic distributor with a high-energy coil, 8mm plug wires, and new spark plugs. This setup retained an original-type appearance and, with some deft modifications, fit nicely under the original ignition shielding.
See how the quicksand deepens...
See how the quicksand deepens so fast? We're not done yet.
Since almost everything was...
Since almost everything was nearly new, the reinstallation went quite smoothly. A rebuilt starter was installed, the original tach drive generator overhauled, and the new powerplant slipped its way into its new home. Surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges was finding a somewhat original-looking air cleaner that would fit the Edelbrock carburetor and also provide adequate hood clearance. It ended up taking selected parts from each of three different factory and aftermarket air cleaners to find a combination that would work-an Edelbrock dropped base, a K&N air filter, and a '65-'67 Corvette 365hp repro air-cleaner lid with a decal from a '70 Corvette. The final assembly is an appropriate complement to the LT-1 valve covers.
The engine replacement went...
The engine replacement went more or less as planned, with a few extra parts and accessories needed to do the job properly. But, as reported last time, the new-found horsepower and torque far exceeded the capabilities of the original king pins, drum brakes, and recirculating ball steering setup. And so the die was cast for this simple engine swap to morph into a full-fledged restomod.
Gardner's couldn't bear to...
Gardner's couldn't bear to install a 25-year-old water pump, which led to new hoses, clamps, and thermostat. A scratch of the chin and a short con-versation later, it was agreed that the original radiator was risky business, so the call went out to Corvette Central for its excellent repro brass radiator. This helped ensure that we wouldn't be reporting a Corvette fever in Corvette Fever.