Serpentine belt systems are either loved or hated. We hear some Corvette owners say they would never install a serpentine belt system on their V-belt-equipped engines. They say that if one belt fails at least one belt will remain intact so they can drive to the next exit and get a belt if necessary. The serpentine belt system would be dead in the water with no accessory or that all-important water pump if the belt breaks. The logic is sound, but the real truth is serpentine belts last longer and don't require the service that the V-belts do.
When V-belts slip on the pulleys, heat builds up, deteriorating the rubber that rides against the pulley. If you look closely at a serpentine belt, you'll notice there are reinforcement cords that reinforce the outer flat part of the belt. These cords are not on the sides of the V-belt. A rubber compound is relied on for traction in this area. As the V-belt traction area rubber wears away, the belts loosen and dry rot from the heat. Sure they worked for years, but we don't rely on drum brakes to stop us anymore either.
Serpentine belts allow more pulley surface contact area, and they're thinner with the traction surface closer to the reinforcing cords, which help dissipate heat quicker. It's a rare occurrence when a serpentine belt breaks. The only broken belt we've seen is when an accessory is falling off the car, obviously creating severe belt misalignment. Serpentine belts typically start to dry rot and crack on their inner surface after 50,000 miles, but keep going many more miles before finally failing. You have to just plain neglect all the obvious signs of impending failure to allow the belt to be destroyed.
Another underhood breakthrough is the automatic belt tensioner, which keeps the serpentine belt tight at all times. Belt tensioners are designed to get tighter as engine rpm increases, applying maximum traction when it's needed most. The fact that you can run on either side of the serpentine belt also simplifies accessory placement. You don't have to tighten the serpentine belt annually as it just keeps adjusting itself. Every now and then while driving, you may hear a belt squealing. Not that long ago it was commonplace when we relied on V-belts.
Is it time for you to upgrade your shark Corvette and enjoy the benefits of Edelbrock's super cooling water pump and possibly a serpentine belt system? by now you have to know that's where we're going with this article. There are many options today when it comes to aftermarket serpentine setups, and some are very good. We wanted to limit the cost, so we used all the accessory drive components from the '90 Corvette donor engine that eventually became our 383 powerplant.
Another issue to determine before you get too far is what A/C compressor you will be using. Luckily, the '90 Corvette donor engine also had a Nippondenso compressor, which is very reliable. GM started using the Nippondenso A/C compressor in 1988 on the Corvette, and it was used until 1996. This limits the availability of the accessory brackets to '88-'91 Corvettes. The '92-'96 LT-1 A/C compressors can be used with the '88-'91 accessory brackets, but the '92-'96 LT-1 accessory brackets won't work. There are always donor engines, cars, and swap meet possibilities though when hunting the pieces. The best possible situation is a donor car and/or engine. This way all the hardware is there before you start.
Let's face it; the TPI engine is not a hot seller anymore so you can find some pretty amazing deals on complete engines. Camaro accessory drive systems use long water pumps and R-4 A/C compressors, which have a terrible reputation, so it's best to hold out for the Corvette pieces. Plus, if you can find the complete engine from the '88-'91 Corvette, you'll have the roller camshaft, a one-piece crankshaft rear main seal, and better sealing valve covers to make a major upgrade to the entire engine compartment.
Three areas of concern that require technical expertise would be the power steering, A.I.R. pump elimination, and A/C hose connections. The power steering pump requires a pressure hose with metric fittings and a close elbow to miss the P/S pulley. We used an '82 Corvette P/S pressure hose from Corvette America and modified it to connect to the pump. The '82 Corvette P/S hose has a metric O-ring-style fitting at the pump and flare fitting at the P/S control valve, so it has all the right connections. We also added a Lefthander Chassis P/S reservoir on the inner fender for fluid retention just like the '90 Corvette. The power steering requires some custom plumbing, but its well worth the effort.
We made our own custom A.I.R. pump eliminator with an aluminum plate and an idler pulley from our local NAPA. We kept one eliminator plate and spacers for a future install, so we have the necessary templates and dimensions to replicate the design. Since we were using the newly designed 130-amp MSD alternator, the eliminator plate was designed to connect to this alternator. An '88-'91 Corvette alternator can also be used, but requires a wiring modification, or your original alternator will work if the A.I.R. eliminator kit is used. Of course, if the original A.I.R. pump and bracket is used, the eliminator is not necessary. We saved a thousand dollars minimum using the OE accessory drive pieces instead of using a complete kit from another manufacturer.
We also decided upgrading our original water pump might be a good idea since we needed a replacement anyway. We looked at a few possibilities, but we settled on the Edelbrock high-performance aluminum pump because it was a direct fit, and it's a quality piece. Edelbrock's Victor Series super cooling water pump uses a 31/44-inch shaft and heavy-duty bearings to turn the CNC machined cast-iron impeller. This configuration easily outflows the stock water pump.
The entire accessory drive system has proven reliable over many miles, and cooling has not been an issue whether we're in traffic or climbing steep grades. Over the long term, these C3 upgrades have proven to be beneficial and cost saving, not to mention the increased efficiency of the Nippondenso A/C compressor.