We always advise people to install an oil temperature gauge on any car that's driven hard at the track, especially road courses. Inevitably, once they see how hot their oil is getting, the next project on their list ends up becoming an oil cooler. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, but just because you don't know that your oil is cooking up in your engine under hard driving doesn't mean it isn't doing damage. That's the problem we had with our 2001 Chevy Camaro Z28 project car, Black Betty. We have had it out on road courses several times and thought all was good, but then we installed an oil temperature sensor/gauge and found that after a couple of laps, our oil temps were topping 290 degrees! Even running a quality synthetic oil, we would prefer to keep the temps down in the sub-240 range, so hitting 290 was forcing us to come off track to let things cool down.
We knew an oil cooler was needed, but were having trouble packaging a cooler, remote oil filter, and thermostat into the tight engine bay of the fourth-gen. Now, we've seen some guys forgo the thermostat, but that can cause other problems. For instance, when cruising around on cool days your oil can actually become too cool to flow properly in the engine. Below 160 degrees most oils are not working anywhere near their potential. So, in a perfect world you want to keep oil temps in the 180- to 230-degree range.
That's when we saw a cool new product from Improved Racing. They managed to combine an oil cooler adapter and thermostat into one very small package that doesn't even require relocating the oil filter. Needless to say, this was just the ticket for our space-challenged engine bay, so we picked one up.
To round out the oil system upgrade, we ordered some plumbing hardware and a properly sized fluid cooler from Earl's Performance Plumbing. The whole system is about as compact as possible and set us back just over $600, which is certainly cheaper than a new engine.
For the install, we gathered up our parts and headed over to Don Lee Auto in Rancho Cucamonga, California.
01. Installing an oil cooler used to be a pain since most adapters required you to relocate the oil filter. Until now you also had to run a separate thermostat to keep your oil from getting too cool and thickening up. Enter Improved Racing's new low-profile thermostatic oil cooler adapter (PN EGM-1012, $199). It features a built-in thermostat that starts to open at 180 degrees and is fully open by 200 degrees. Built from black-anodized 6061-T6 billet aluminum, it's constructed with Viton seals and is fully rebuildable by Improved Racing. Oil is filtered before exiting the cooler and the unit has a 1⁄8-inch NPT port for an oil pressure sensor or turbo oil feed line. It came with the two male -10AN fitting, O-rings, and fasteners.
02. Aside from the oil cooler adapter, here are the other widgets needed for our oil cooler install. The main player here is the Earl's Temp-A-Cure 7.75x8.25x2-inch fluid cooler (PN 22510AERL, $170). The corrugated-screen internal tubular plates add strength and increase thermal efficiency. This aluminum cooler has 25 cooling rows and is pressure-checked to 175 psi.
03. The oil cooler adapter from Improved Racing is designed to mount to the LS oil pan just above the oil filter. Normally there's a small block-off plate here held to the pan by two small bolts, so we removed the block-off plate and cleaned the area. Given that the port is above the pan and oil filer, there was no need to drain the oil from the engine. In the background you can see the LS1-style knock sensor. If you're running this type, it will be in the way when you go to run the -10AN lines out of the oil cooler adapter. Our solution was to unscrew it from the block and mount if farther forward on the engine to a boss just behind the alternator. This meant that we had to ditch the small bracket on the rear of the alternator, but it's really unnecessary. We also had to lengthen the knock sensor wire a few inches.
04. With the knock sensor relocated, we went ahead and installed the Improved Racing thermostatic oil cooler adapter. It fit perfectly and was about as unobtrusive as possible. The seal between the adapter and oil pan is accomplished by way of two Viton O-rings included in the kit.
05. For lines, we went with these offerings from Earl's. The Pro-Lite Ultra hose (PN 390010ERL, $9 per foot) is lightweight, and the nylon braid will help it resist abrasion. With an id of 0.57-inch, it will be able to flow enough oil, and it's rated to 500 psi. For fittings, we ordered four Earl's black-anodized 90-degree -10AN Swivel-Seal hose ends (PN AT809110ERL, $37 each). Like the hose, they are designed for maximum flow and have 360 degrees of adjustment.
06. To secure the cooler, we picked up Earl's new mounting kit (PN 1302ERL, $50). The kit included four vibration isolators and special ties if you want to mount it directly to your radiator. The two male -10AN fittings were included with the oil cooler.
07. Don Lee Auto's, Tim Lee, decided to mount the cooler to the core support just in front of the radiator. To get the lines back to the engine, the easiest and most direct route involved putting two holes through the front air dam.
08. Here you can see our lines routing down the side of the engine. With the catalytic converter installed, it's pretty cramped. If we had the project to do over again we would get some heat shielding wrap for the oil lines. But, given how snug to the block the adapter lets the lines be, we should be fine.
09. The lines routed through the front air dam, back over the sway bar, then straight back along the block to the oil cooler adapter. This routing used less than four feet of hose in each direction. Tim also fabricated a small bracket off the alternator so we could use a zip tie to support the lines and keep them off the sway bar.
10. It's a pretty tight spot, but the cooler fit perfectly on the driver side of the Camaro's core support, and in this location it will get tons of airflow. The Earl's bracket was sturdy enough that we only needed the two lower self-tapping sheetmetal screws to hold it in place securely. Driving around town we noticed about a 20- to 30-degree drop in our average oil temps, but the real test will be when we hit the track.
11. Since we were messing with the oil system, we decided to make the switch to the new Joe Gibbs Driven LS30 synthetic 5W-30 oil. It has a higher level of Zinc for better wear protection, and given how we drive Black Betty, we need all the protection we can get!