By now we can all agree, the late model LS swap into classic muscle is a good thing. The LS platform is more refined than its older siblings, not to mention more powerful, smoother, and more fuel efficient. It allows you to build a car that still has its muscle, but is better suited for daily use.
More and more companies are supporting LS swaps with motor mount plates, engine management, headers, and fuel systems. Needless to say, the LS swap is no longer exotic. One thing that is typically overlooked until the motor is in the hole is the cooling system. The LS engines have different inlet and outlet locations and sizes, as well as other needs.
We are slowly working on a 5.3L LS swap into a '66 Chevelle. With the engine and transmission installed, it was time for us to figure out the cooling system. Instead of fabricating a bunch of one-off parts to hook the LS to our crummy old factory radiator, we contacted the craftsmen at Be Cool Radiators for an LS-specific unit.
Here is everything we ordered from Be Cool to keep the temp down on this Chevelle. We ordered a bolt-in aluminum radiator that has both ports on the passenger’s side for an easy hook up to the LS water pump. Because of the port orientation, Be Cool made it a dual pass unit so the water goes through the entire radiator, not just straight down the passengers side tank. For airflow we opted for the dual 11-inch fans with stainless mounting brackets, since this car will see a lot of hard use followed by sitting still. An aluminum vented recovery tank will catch any coolant that might expand past the Be Cool cap. Lastly is a 5-gallon pail of Be Cool’s Be Coolant to fill the system once we are ready.
The company has a full line of LS Swap Modules for most of the popular GM muscle cars that are designed with the proper fans for the year, make, model, and engine application to achieve maximum cooling in the space provided. The Modules are made to mount to the factory core support in the OEM location, and have both the inlet and outlet on the same side and size to match the configuration of the LS's water pump. It even has a port designed to hook up to the steam lines, something only the LS has. If you have an odd vehicle, they will happily build you exactly what you need in the company's custom shop. We are dealing with a pretty common vehicle so they had our application sitting on the shelf.
At the heart of the radiator is an all-aluminum core with two rows of 1-inch tubes. The radiator is a crossflow configuration designed as a dual pass. Fred Militello at Be Cool explains what dual pass means. "In a dual pass, the coolant passes through the radiator twice (designed with a baffle built in the tank to flow that way) and the coolant in the tubes is exposed to the air longer before returning to the engine. With a single pass system, the coolant travels one time though the radiator before returning to the engine. This keeps the radiator smaller, yet still yields more cooling. An added benefit of the crossflow/dual pass design is it eliminates that long, ugly upper hose, and helps give your engine compartment a clean, sanitary look.”
The second part of the module will be the fans, and Be Cool doesn't skimp out here either. The module features dual 11-inch electric fans that are of OE quality, and assembled onto a shroud assembly. The fan assembly mounts to the radiator by a set of killer stainless steel brackets. No rinky-dink plastic push-throughs here; the brackets put the weight of the fans on the strongest part of the radiator, not the delicate fins of the core. The fans come with a ready-to-go wiring harness, with high-quality weather resistant relays for a simple hook-up.
The last piece of the cooling system puzzle is the coolant and Be Cool has that as well. According to the company, "The Be Coolant is an Extended-Life, Super Duty Coolant and Antifreeze that is compatible with all colors of coolant and all types of radiators. It comes already pre-mixed 50/50 with deionized water, and features a new-generation earth-friendly, biodegradable, propylene glycol formula that protects cooling systems and aluminum components down to 26 degrees below zero (F). It has a boiling point of 267 degrees (F) @15 PSI. Best of all, Be Coolant doubles the radiator's warranty to two years."
Now its time for us to see how this new Be Cool Cooling Module fits into our '66 Chevelle.
1a. The core features two rows of 1-inch tubes along with a high efficiency fin design for maximum cooling. The unit we are installing with the shrouded dual 11-inch Hi-Torque fan package will cool up to 700 H.P.
1b. That is plenty of capacity for our stock 5.3, and allows us to upgrade our engine later without needing to upgrade the cooling system.
2. All Be Cool radiators are manufactured in the USA at the company’s Michigan facility. After assembly, each unit is pressure tested, cleaned, and then all components are packaged and shipped in one box, along with an easy to use instruction booklet and a Be Cool owner’s manual.
3. Before we installed the radiator, we made sure all the factory nutserts were clean and ready for hardware.
4. Be Cool uses these trick stainless brackets to mount the dual 11-inch fan assembly to the radiator. Each bracket has three slotted holes that hold the provided carriage bolts. The bolts line up with pre-drilled holes in the fan’s shroud assembly.
5. Once all the hardware is loosely installed the brackets are pulled outward like so.
6. Then the fans are dropped over the core and the brackets slid inward, locking over the core perfectly. Then all we needed to do was tighten the Nylok bolts.
7. With the fan and radiator joined, we dropped it into place and mounted it to the core support in the factory location with factory hardware.
8. As you can see, Be Cool made the radiator perfect for the hole in our core support. The side tanks line up with the opening, so there is no wasted core. The polished fan mount brackets add a little sparkle and also protect the core from things like dropped wrenches and such.
9. Next it was time to string the wiring. The fans come with a pre-made harness that has the proper plugs for the fans and weather-resistant relays. A wiring guy owns this car, so he is lengthening the harness to get his relays inside the car under the dash. This is a personal thing, but all the items can be wired up in the engine compartment and the relays mounted there as well. The fans draw 33.0 amps at 12 volts, so we will most likely need a 125 amp alternator to support the fans and other items in the electrical system.
10. The owner decided the best place for his relays is behind the instrument cluster. The rest of the wiring is hooked up according to Be Cools simple and easy instructions. Trust us, Be Cool prints a great colored schematic so we won’t confuse you with our stuff any further. One key point to know is what controls the fans. In an LS conversion you can use the fan leads that come out of the factory or any other engine controller to turn the fans on and off at the right time.
11a. Now for the hoses. We had no clue what hoses would work for us, so we used an old school trick to find out.
11b. With a coat hanger we made templates that would follow the lower part of the hose.
12. We took our templates to our local parts store and politely asked the sale person if we could go in back with him to find hoses that match our wire templates. He was nice enough and we found matches. The upper hose (PN 22153) is from a ’95 Cavalier with a 2.2L and the lower (PN 20687) was, believe it or not, for a ’72 Camaro with a 350. The LS has smaller port sizes than older vehicles like the ’72 Camaro, but we cut off the part that is expanded for that so it worked out great. We also got some hose for the recovery tank and hose clamps.
13. Here are the hoses once we cut them to size and tightened up the clamps.
14. Lastly we needed to plumb the steam lines. Our motor has the back two blocked off so we will just run the front from here..
15 ... to the port on the radiator. This can be done many ways, but we think we will bend up a nice piece of hard line that will run under the upper radiator hose and out of sight. What are steam lines you might ask? GM engineers designed the LS heads with small ports at the front and back to let trapped air exit and keep the heads cooler. Later, GM started blocking off the rear two and just plumbed the fronts to the radiator or radiator hose. No matter if you block off the back two or not make sure to utilize at least the front set to let the trapped air out.
16. The vented recovery tank has a nice mounting bracket on it so all we needed to do was find a hole in the core support to use.
17. We are not ready to fill the system just yet, as you may have noticed there is no intake manifold on the engine. We will give you an update once we get the car running. Be Cool has very detailed instructions on how to properly fill the system and its too detailed to fully explain here, but here are a few things to note. Jack up the nose so the radiator is the highest point in the cooling system. Fill the radiator with the engine off. Wire the fans to run all the time, and if so equipped turn the heater on high. Then start the motor with the radiator cap installed in the loose position. Run the vehicle until the thermostat opens. When the fluid suddenly drops in the radiator, add an additional 2-3 quarts. You may need to repeat this cycle, but once topped off the second time tighten the cap. After a few heat cycles check the level one more time and you should be good.