Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Installing Vintage Air’s Frontrunner Accessory Drive System


The article featured on this page is from the May 2011 issue of Auto Enthusiast Magazine

Putting the cool out front and the problems behind

Story Chris Petris

Under-hood accessories have come a long way from the couple of aftermarket valve cover choices we had available early on.

This really dates me but, when we were dressing up early small-block Chevrolet engines many years ago, it was typical to stop by the local plumbing store to pick up stainless steel pieces in our hunt for engine dress-up pieces. Those were the days when you had to be inventive, adapting pieces from multiple vehicle makes. Today, we have multiple choices of shiny stuff to make things both shiny and reliable. Good looking is one thing but reliable is what concerns those of us who drive our cars.

This car had multiple V-belts with dated accessory drive components like all GM cars of the era. We really wanted to get rid of the poor- performing, vibration-prone GM R4 A/C compressor. Before the R4 compressor, GM used their corporate A6 compressor, which was a very reliable but power-robbing heavyweight.

GM alternators have been very reliable with a few voltage control system changes. Internal voltage regulator alternators with one wire are the most popular today. When you are thinking about making engine swaps and wiring changes, one-wire alternators make things simpler.

What would fit our application?

Corvettes, street rods and custom-built vehicles are restrictive in the engine compartment area. Early street rods, for example, have narrow engine compartments requiring accessory drive components to be inside the hoodline. GM also used long and short water pumps, depending on vehicle configuration.

Short water pumps were used on all V-8 Corvettes until 1996. All other GM car lines dropped the short pump in 1968, changing to a long water pump. Fuel-injected engines pose another concern if you decide on dumping your carburetor and intake manifold. Many OE accessory drive components will not allow clearance for the fuel-injected throttle body. We also want to get rid of the multiple V-belts that require extra work and frequent belt servicing. Serpentine belts appear to cost more but in reality they are no more expensive than buying multiple V-belts. The really great thing about serpentine belts is reliability. They typically don’t leave you on the side of the road like V-belts can.

So what makes sense? Do we hunt the local junkyards for possible accessory drive pieces? There are very few serpentine belt accessory drive systems available at the salvage yards any more. If there are any complete systems available, most salvage yards do not want to part them out; they go with the complete used engine package.

Swap meets are another possible place to find accessory drive pieces. Like the salvage yard, finding all the pieces in one place is difficult. Then who knows if all the pieces are correct until you get out in the garage on a Saturday morning. Accessory drive systems typically use proprietary hardware that is equally difficult to find. So it is possible to find used accessory drive systems but you may find yourself paying as much in aggravation, fuel and time spent hunting (if not more) for the entire system.

Our choice was the Vintage Air Front Runner accessory drive system. The Vintage Air Front Runner system will fit just about any Chevy engine application you can imagine. We have accrued many miles on numerous Vintage Air Front Runner-equipped vehicles with excellent results. The Front Runner accessory drive is a well thought out system with easy to maintain components. The system is easy to install with three main billet supports to keep everything in place. Vintage Air supplies a new Stewart reverse rotation water pump to assure adequate coolant flow. The compact Front Runner places all the accessory drive components within the side dimensions of inside the engine block area.

We were able to use the Front Runner on a fuel-injected 510 Donovan big-block Chevy in a 1968 Corvette. The Front Runner accessory drive fit easily in the tight engine bay with plenty of room for the twin electric fans.

Once installed, the Front Runner serpentine belt tensioner works flawlessly, maintaining a tight belt under all rpm ranges. The billet main support locates the A/C compressor and alternator for perfect belt and pulley alignment. Billet supports on each side are used to maintain the power steering pump and tensioner alignment. The side billet supports locate off the main support, making for easy installation and pulley alignment.

The highly polished pieces look really great too. The A/C compressor is a high-efficiency Sanden SD7 unit. Sanden A/C compressors are proven reliable and will save you dollars on fuel. The chrome plated 140-amp one-wire alternator cleans up the engine compartment and simplifies the wiring chores.

As we mentioned earlier, the system is an easy install with typical hand tools. We had to get out the 10mm, 3/8- and 7/16-inch 12-point sockets to install some of the ARP supplied hardware. You may need some outside help in two areas when it comes to converting the A/C hoses to the Sanden compressor. The best policy is to have a local auto A/C shop evacuate the system if necessary. They can save the refrigerant for installation after the hoses are made and installed. Vintage Air has all the necessary hoses and fittings to make the Sanden compressor connections.

We also had to get out our power steering pulley installer. There is no way to get around this installer; hammers will do irreparable damage. Time to move on with the install so follow along as we get the job done.


1 The two nut trick works well for installing the studs. We used two 3/8-16 nuts, tightening them together, then the outer nut is used to tighten the studs into the engine block.

2 GM small blocks have open threaded holes going into the coolant passages for the water pump. Here we are applying Teflon thread sealant to the stainless steel threads to avoid coolant leakage and thread seizure.

3 We installed the water pump pulley before the pump is installed on the engine, per the instructions. We recommend checking the bolt tightness once the belt is in place to help hold the slick pulley.

4 Vintage Air supplies the heater inlet tube that must be used to clear the accessory drive supports. We found that it is important to align the wrench flats on the inlet tube so they are parallel with the support.

5 We always coat paper gaskets with Permatex Aviation sealer on both sides of the gasket. The sealer is always pliable, filling any voids and preventing leaks.

6 The water pump is installed as an assembly onto the ARP-supplied stainless steel studs. The pump fits tight on the studs, requiring you to move the pump back evenly to seat it on the engine block.

7 Vintage Air recommends using Never-Seize on the stainless steel fasteners to avoid thread galling. The A/C compressor and alternator are installed on the main support before installation on the engine.

8 We first installed four supplied spacers, then the loaded main support onto the four studs. This is when you need to look at the heater hose fitting. Make sure it is not going to interfere with the support.

9 Our crank pulley is then installed using the supplied hardware. Vintage Air provides SAE washers for many of the fasteners. Be sure to use them. The washers allow proper tightening and prevent material damage.

10 We did have to get out one of our specialty tools. A power steering pulley installer is used to properly install the pulley. Many auto parts stores sell and rent the required pulley installer.

11 The power steering pump is installed on the support bracket, then the assembly is installed. Vintage Air has machined the support so the lower spacers fit into the support. This helps ease assembly while keeping everything lined up well.

12 We ordered Vintage Air’s power steering steel tube assembly to ease installation. Here we are double flaring the O.E. power steering hose and line assembly to install on the tube assembly.

13 We had to remove the tensioner pulley per Vintage Air’s instruction sheet to install the retaining nut into the tensioner assembly. Before the tensioner assembly is installed, the lower radiator hose should be installed.

14 The retaining nut taps into the tensioner assembly. Make sure it fits squarely before putting any pressure on it. Vintage Air mentions that you may have to file the edges to get the retaining nut started properly.

15 Once the pulley is bolted back in place, the assembly is installed on the engine. We got ahead of ourselves here, as the beauty cover should not be installed until the belt is installed. The beauty cover hold-down screw goes into the tensioner square drive used to move the tensioner, allowing for belt installation.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Installing A Radiator In A Corvette

The article featured on this page is from the May 2011 issue of Auto Enthusiast Magazine.

Permanent Puddle Fix - Installing A Radiator In A Corvette

Any year Corvette can have high power and reliably low temps!

Story Earl Duty

A radiator leak can disrupt anyone’s schedule, plus create major engine problems for any given vehicle. And, of all the places you wouldn’t want the radiator on our 1960 Corvette to start leaking, just a few hours before a scheduled 150-plus mile “Fun Run” tour in Kingman, Arizona.

Truly one of those “this can’t be happening” situations, this was a worst case scenario. We had hauled the little guy all the way from Ohio to Kingman in anticipation of another great run, only to pull into the line-up of participants and see those dreaded wisps of steam emitting from under the hood, accompanied by the inevitable puddle of coolant on the ground.

After allowing the radiator to cool down, an inspection revealed numerous pinholes (and metal disintegration) at the radiator neck, allowing pressure (and coolant) to bypass the seal on the radiator cap. This time, as our luck would have it, we were within walking distance of an auto parts store where a five-minute epoxy kit saved the day.

We scraped off as much of the decayed aluminum as possible with a small screwdriver, cleaned the area as best we could with towels, and right there on the main street in town, mixed the two-part epoxy. While the epoxy was still in liquid form, we quickly applied it to the damaged area … and waited. Roughly 10 minutes later the epoxy became rock solid and provided enough of a seal to get us through the Fun Run tour.

Additional leaks on the ’60 Corvette have progressed to the point that five-minute epoxy is no longer an option. Radiator replacement time is at hand.

The project started, as would any radiator replacement, by placing a proper drain pan under the vehicle and draining the remaining coolant from the old unit. While the coolant was dribbling into the pan, my assistant Bob helped me extract the four bolts holding the fiberglass hood and we carefully sat it off to the side out of harm’s way.

With the hood off, it opens up lots of uncluttered working space for any and all items such as the upper hose, cooling fan bolts, radiator fan shroud, etc. The four bolts holding the fan blade to the water pump were removed, and the fan and clutch assembly lifted away from the pump. This gave us even more room for an easy removal of the water pump pulley, the upper fan shroud and upper radiator hose. After accessing the four lower shroud bolts to include three center screws (holding both sections together), we removed the lower shroud and lower radiator hose. At this point in the game, two additional support screws were all that were left for releasing the old radiator from its mounting.

After the radiator was out of the car and on the floor, our next step was to remove the four bolts, nuts and washers that kept the radiator mounting brackets secured to the side tanks of the old radiator. With those bolts out of the way, we carefully pried the side-mounted brackets off of the radiator. They would be cleaned and reinstalled on the new unit including new nuts, bolts and washers.

With the side brackets attached to the new radiator and our drain petcock in place, a reversal of the removal prepared us for many more miles of trouble-free cruising America’s highways and byways. For added life to the new radiator, we treated the cooling system to a power flush, new coolant, a new radiator cap, and a much needed new thermostat and gasket.

1 & 2 Our radiator was a flawless combination of exact reproduction, precision fit, and perfect aluminum welding.

3 & 4 This section of the old radiator almost spoiled a Kingman, Arizona, Fun Run. Compare the difference between the old unit and the new piece. Which would YOU rather have protecting your Corvette engine’s temperature?

5 With the hood off, accessing the four bolts holding the radiator fan and clutch to the water pump was an easy task.

6 The fan and clutch were removed by simply tilting the unit back towards the engine, and then lifting it up and out.

7 Next came the fan belt and water pump pulley.

8 After removing the upper radiator hose and six bolts holding the fan shroud to the front clip, our upper shroud was removed.

9 There were four bolts securing the lower shroud to the frame. Also included in attaching hardware for the lower fan shroud (under the front torsion bar) were three small screws keeping the right and left sections together.

10 After removing the lower radiator hose and the remaining attaching bolts at both sides of the radiator, Alexander lifts the old unit free from the car.

11 After extracting the old radiator there remained before us a gritty, grimy, empty cavity that was cleaned and spiffed up before we installed the new unit.

12 Our local parts store had in stock the necessary brass fittings for the new drain cock and extension.

13 It was necessary to remove the side rails from the old unit, and they in turn were attached to the new radiator with new nuts, bolts and lock washers. A reversal of the removal procedure rewarded us with a neat, clean, leak-free installation.