Of all the issues confronting the owners of custom classic trucks one of the most critical is maintaining proper engine operating temperature. Big engines, little radiators, air-conditioning condensers, and low-speed cruising can all contribute to overheating, but the major cause is often the wrong combination of components.

Overheating an engine usually comes with consequences and the hotter the engine, the worse those consequences will be. The first sign that an engine is getting hot is usually pinging and detonation or running on after the ignition is shut off. In severe cases the abnormal combustion that takes place in a hot engine under a load can blow holes in pistons and damage rings and rod bearings. Overheating can cause pistons to scuff or even seize, exhaust valves may stick in their guides, and warped heads and blown head gaskets are common catastrophes. On the other hand, running an engine too cool has its own set of problems, among them, reduced performance and corrosive condensation collecting internally.

How Hot Is Hot?
For many old school truckers anything over 180 degrees on the temperature gauge makes beads of sweat form on their forehead, but 190 degrees is probably ideal-that's hot enough to boil off contaminants in the oil and prevent the formation of sludge. In fact, while it makes some people nervous, 200 to 210 degrees with a late-model engine isn't out of line with today's lubricants. With a 50/50 mix of ethylene glycol and water (the preferred coolant) the boiling point is raised to 220 degrees.

Choosing A Radiator
As a basic rule of thumb, fit the largest radiator that will fit in your truck-you'll never regret having too much radiator, the same can't be said for having too little.

Radiators can be divided into two basic types, down-flow and cross-flow. Early trucks had down-flow radiators, but as the stylists made the front sheetmetal lower and wider there wasn't room for a traditional cooler and the change was made to the cross-flow design. The reasoning behind either is easy to see, the longer path through the core exposes the coolant to more area for more effective heat transfer.

One of the great debates concerning radiators is which is better, aluminum or copper/brass. The truth is in terms of cooling the difference is minimal-appropriately sized, a radiator made from either material will work. The real differences between aluminum and copper/brass are these: Aluminum is lighter and cheaper, that's why the OEMs use it; copper/brass is easier to repair and is less susceptible to corrosion.

One of the newest trends in aftermarket radiator construction is the multi-pass core-in other words, the coolant passes through the core one way, then is redirected by internal baffles and flows back through the core in the opposite direction. Multiple pass radiators may use double or triple paths depending on the size of the core.

Mechanical Fans
Engine-driven fans are usually criticized for consuming a large amount of horsepower-of course if you think about it from another perspective, can a 750-watt (one horsepower) electric fan move as much air as an engine-driven fan consuming 15 hp? When an engine is under a heavy load and the A/C is on an engine-driven fan is hard to beat. Of course when the cooling demands aren't as great, horsepower is being lost unnecessarily so the trick is to determine the vehicle's needs and what fan works best the majority of the time.

Rigid fans-the King Kong of cooling fans, a six-blade rigid fan will move lots of air but take horsepower to spin and they can be noisy.

Flex fans-Simple and effective, the pitch of the blades pull lots of air at low speeds then flatten out at higher engine/vehilce speeds for less drag.

Clutch fans-there are a variety of these, the major drawback for all of them is the space they require. However, they are a good choice for an early truck if they'll fit.