Many vintage pickups and delivery trucks came with inline-six or early V-8 engines. While they worked well in their eras, they are far outclassed by modern powerplants in either carbureted or fuel-injected versions. Swapping to one of the later V-8s-along with an equally up-to-date manual or automatic transmission with overdrive-can dramatically improve drivability, power, and fuel economy. But there are some fitment hurdles to overcome.
To learn more about typical swapping problems and solutions, we contacted more than a dozen professional builders and suppliers. They told us not only which trucks were the most popular to build (and therefore have the greatest supply of parts available), but also general and specific areas that deserve close attention as a truck owner sets out to make a power change.
No surprise-and brand loyalties aside-all of our experts pointed to Chevrolet as the current favorite among classic truck builders. Whether because the vintage Ford market has been depleted or because so many early Chevrolets remain untouched, the consensus was that build-up parts for the '55-59 and '67-72 Chevys are the hottest sellers presently. However, the '60-66 Chev-rolets and '53-56 Ford models continue to be very popular, and some of the later Blue Oval trucks are also beginning to be recognized for their customizing potential.
Up until '59, most truck frontends were equipped with straight axles, so their engines were nose-mounted and the transmissions used bellhousing mounts. In order to swap in a newer engine, many manufacturers now build separate crossmember engine and transmission mounts to allow later powertrain and drivetrain components to bolt in to these straight-axle trucks. Many companies also supply tower mounts for swaps into trucks that have been further updated with independent front suspensions, such as the popular Mustang II units.
From the '60s up to '72, most trucks used side engine mounts, with some carrying small-block V-8s and others positioning six-cylinders. For a conversion from a six-cylinder truck to a V-8, companies such as No Limit Engineering offer mounts that bolt into the chassis and use OEM rubber side mounts on the block. A variety of suppliers also offer universal Dodge mounts for the 318- or 360ci engines, but there aren't many vintage Dodge trucks being built currently. Even so, the newer 5.7- and 6.1L Hemi engines have sparked engine-swappers' interest.
Chevrolet small-block engines continue to reign as the king in engine swaps. Chevy engines are not only plentiful but are also shorter and narrower than Fords, so they fit well in all truck types. In fact, most of the manufacturers we spoke with offered mounts for any of the Chevy engines. Whether for small-block or big-block, the Chevy engine mounts use basically the same bolt pattern, although there are some variations.
"Everybody ends up installing a Chevy motor because it's cheaper," said Frank Strianese of The Car Shop in Springville, New York. "You can buy crate motors inexpensively with most of the parts to install them. Or if you buy a [donor] car that's already running, it makes the transplant relatively easier, because all the little parts are there. If you simply purchase a stand-alone crate motor, you have to buy your converter and all the engine sensors. But if you get a crate motor complete with the oil pan and the intake and everything, life is much easier. Even with the big-blocks like the 454ci, the H.O. comes with the water pump, balancer, flywheel, valve covers, intake, and oil pan. All you need to add is your carburetion and exhaust system."
Still, Brent Van Dervort of Fatman Fabrications in Charlotte, North Carolina, said a Ford in a Ford has merit. "I don't know why anybody would put anything but a 351 Windsor in anything with a Ford label on it," he said. "You get the inches and the torque without the weight and the hassle. To me, it's just the perfect Ford engine. Of course, we're seeing a lot of 4.6s coming along. When we build a brand-new chassis, we're seeing a lot more up-to-date motors-a lot of Chevy LS1s and 4.6 and 5.4 Ford motors. When you get into a brand-new chassis, you get into a lot more of the electronic motors."
Among the manufacturers we spoke with, the field was rigidly divided as those who advocate carburetors versus proponents of fuel injection. The carburetor fans pointed to their ease of installation and maintenance, while the EFI supporters noted their increased fuel economy, better drivability and increasingly common tuning support.
"We see 60 percent with EFI in our shop," said Rob MacGregor of No Limit Engineering in San Bernardino, California, "but carbureted is probably still the industry standard. You can definitely get more performance out of an EFI motor if you know how to tune it, and most of our customers are pretty tech-savvy. They're not afraid of laptop tuning. We also make gas tanks with fuel pumps in them for the classic pickups, and those are for the EFI guys only. A lot of customers know us for that, and so we might just draw in more of the EFI crowd than other shops."
Mopar fans have undoubtedly noted the absence of Chrysler product to this point. There simply aren't that many vintage Dodge or Plymouth trucks being built. But at least one of our sources believes Mopar trucks may soon be on the rise.
"We see more and more Chrysler stuff every day," said Mark Campbell of Street & Performance in Mena, Arkansas. "Chrysler is putting 220,000 Hemis into new cars this year. A year or two ago, you could hardly find a used Hemi because it was worth so much to rebuild a wrecked truck, but now the trucks are old enough that if they get hit very hard, they're totaled. We've got a mount that will work for a 318, 340 or 360, and it will bolt to the Hemi and bolt right back into the factory 318/360 motor mount."
In fact, Campbell believes the availability of Hemi engines could bring Dodge trucks into the limelight. "There hasn't been a high-dollar Dodge pickup just because there hasn't been a lot available for the Mopar guy," he noted. "Those trucks are the least expensive to buy, and now that you've got the Hemi motor, you're going to have a lot of guys building them. Plus the new 6.1 Hemi puts out 425 hp. With a cam change on a 5.7, you'll pick up 45 hp. I think you're going to see a lot of Dodge pickups."
There is a good selection of transmissions available to back up new V-8 engines. For the Chevrolet contingent, the 700-R4, Turbo 400, and even 4L60 transmissions are the choice among our experts. Since the 700 and the 4L60 use essentially the same mounting points, most companies carry crossmembers for them. The Ford AOD is also a commonly used transmission. But the universal element among all of them is overdrive.
"I'm a big believer in any kind of overdrive," said Van Dervort. "The way they run on the interstates today, 85 mph is poking. To keep the rpm of the engine within range, you really need an overdrive. The AOD and the 700 are equally good, though they won't take huge horsepower."
Said James Ries of Classic Perfor-mance Products in Buena Park, California, "Generally speaking, we try to put our customers together with a motor and transmission crossmember kit with the appropriate pads to mount it. Despite all the IFS kits and other higher-end components we sell, that's still the bulk of our business. You might see more independent front suspensions in California, but across the U.S. it's still the standard V-8, automatic, and straight axle."
Jim Donovan of Chassis Engineering in West Branch, Iowa, said his company is seeing an even split between the 700-R4 and the Turbo 350-but he is also starting to see the newer 4L60 being selected. "The 700-R4 and the 4L60 use pretty much the same mounting points, so we sell one kit for both," he said, then quickly added, "Manual transmissions seem to be coming on strong. Most guys stick with the Muncie four-speed, but we see a lot of the T-5s." Others in the group agreed, noting the venerable Doug Nash five-speed and the Tremec Six are also enjoying a refreshed popularity. Truck-builders have rediscovered the joys of rowing their own gears-though with another set of obstacles to overcome in swapping. "That brings in clutch pedals and linkages and additional space considerations," said MacGregor, "but the sportier feel of the stick seems to be coming back."
Our experts were all very generous with their time, and they were genuinely interested in giving customers the best service possible. Larry Burchett of B Rod or Custom in Knoxville, Tennessee, said good customer service is the key to any swap. "Purchase your parts from companies that have reliable tech support," he advised. "You have to provide some aftermarket add-on parts after you've purchased your engine. To me, it's more important to have tech support than to save $5-because you're going to spend $20 on support if you're not careful."
Several of our sources spoke about specific problem areas that deserve special attention. "One of the biggest problems we run into is exhaust," said Mike Partridge, president of Advance Adapters in Paso Robles, California. "Check on headers, because the exhaust manifolds on Chevys-especially when you get into Gen III engines-dump out and the blocks are real wide, so you run into frame-rub clearance issues. Making sure the customer has something workable is our biggest concern. Before you physically mount your engine in place, make sure you have clearance, either with the manifolds or with some type of header system. The same situation exists in checking for distributor, hood, and suspension clearance. But exhaust clearance is the one we really stress."
John Lawrence of Brothers Trucks in Corona, California, also pointed to exhaust and steering as points of concern. "In the '47-59, whether you're going to run headers or keep the stock exhaust manifold, you've got to be careful of the steering-box clearance," he cautioned. "Occasionally, you have to route a steering column or a steering shaft around the crossmember. The best thing to do in that case is go to power steering. The power-steering kits move the steering box from the inside to the outside of the frame to eliminate any clearance problems. Then you can run any headers or manifold you would like."
Fatman's Van Dervort also counseled against overbuilding any vehicle. "This is an opinion, so I'll turn on the 'Opinion Alert' lightbulb here," he said. "Many people get into the trap of trying to build an Ultimate Vehicle, and they build something so ultimate it won't even operate-and it's beyond their mechanical ability to maintain. So unless you know what you're doing, you can get into a lot of trouble with exotic engines. The problem with a big-inch motor is that you've got to run it like a diesel. You know, 3,500 rpm is redline on those things if you want them to stay together."
For MacGregor, clearance is the key to a good swap. "If a guy is doing an engine swap on a '59-or-older truck, he's probably also doing an IFS swap, a tilt column, and things like that. The adapters for that stuff are pretty common-place through companies like Borgeson, Flaming River, and ididit. But with tighter clearances in the earlier stuff, it's a little trickier. When you get into the Ford realm, almost all the Ford engines are front sump and need to be converted to rear sump if you're going to IFS, in order to clear the rack and the crossmember. We use Canton, Milodon, and Hamburger pans. With the change in oil pan comes a change in pick-up tube for the pump and any additional mounting required for that, such as main-cap studs, as well as the dipstick tube and the dipstick. That all has to change with the oil pan."
At the bottom line, all our sources agreed that any swap is possible. The key-with any custom truck project-is to plan ahead and consider every system before settling on a final course. As Van Dervort said, "We can mount anything in anything. I've put big-blocks in Metropolitans. That doesn't mean it's a good idea, but we can do it."
Street & Performance swapped an LS1 engine with a 4L60E transmission into Jim McKown's '77
Street & Performance offers LS1 engine-swap motor-mount adapter plates for early Chevys. T
Advance Adapters offers universal motor mounts. The company says the mounts will weld in t
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This Mopar 400ci engine in a Ford chassis is located with tubular side-mount motor mounts
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These polyurethane engine mounts are from PerformanceOnline.com. The company says these mo
PerformanceOnline.com offers engine mounting brackets for '47-59 Chevy (shown) and '48-64
Exhaust clearance is often another high hurdle for swappers to overcome. Companies such as