Ditch The Six: Part 1 - Swapping a 5.3 LS into a 1955 Chevy 210

With an ailing 235 six and a need for more power, the time was right to repower this Shoebox with some LS muscle.

Patrick Hill Sep 2, 2014 0 Comment(s)
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It used to be installing an LS motor in a ’55-’57 Chevy required some serious custom fabrication, wiring, and other intense work. Today, that is no longer the case. Thanks to companies like Classic Performance Products (CPP), installing any Gen III or IV small-block (car, truck, or crate variant) is as easy as retrofitting a Gen I Mouse or Rat. In fact, it might be even easier.

Our subject ’55 210 sedan left the factory with the solid lifter 235 I-6 variant and three-speed overdrive transmission. While the car was fun to cruise around in, the inline six’s lack of power was genuinely dangerous when it came to keeping up with or merging into traffic. The owner simply wanted more power—a lot more. When cooling issues with the 235 cropped up that pointed towards a cracked head, the owner knew it was time to do something.

With the plan being to drive the car from Tampa to the Holley LS Fest in Bowling Green, Kentucky, going with an LS engine seemed the logical choice. And it just so happened the owner recently came by a salvaged 5.3L/4L60E combo out of an ’02 Tahoe that would be perfect for the 210. So, we called up CPP and ordered its Tri-Five LS conversion kit, PN 5557LS1-CIK. It has everything, including headers, motor mounts, and transmission crossmember, for the basic installation of an LS engine in a Tri-Five.

For the full install, other parts are necessary. So, we’ll be splitting the install across two stories so we can better cover everything. We’ve got parts from CPP, Be Cool, Flowmaster, Lokar, Painless Performance, Chevrolet Performance Parts, ACCEL, and more to fully install the 5.3L, and we’ll highlight those parts along with part numbers, to give you the best guide possible for this swap. And along the way, we’ll show you a few tricks to make things easier.

You are right, do not know how to make coffee. We will be up, soon.

Original 235 Six Cylinder Engine 2/27

1. The car’s original 235 six cylinder might have put out 123 horsepower (gross) when new (our ’55 had a three-speed with OD trans), but in 2014 we’re doubtful it put out even 100. Realistically, 123 gross ponies is probably only 80-90 at the wheels, maybe less. Sorry, not in 2014. The owner wanted this car to be a trouble-free, drive anytime cruiser, with power to melt the tires on demand.

Grind Heads Off Rivets 3/27

2. After pulling the engine and trans, we removed the factory motor mounts to make way for the new mounts in our CPP kit. The first step is to grind the heads off these rivets in the factory frame. The mounting bolts for the new motor mounts will utilize these holes.

Motor Mount Drill Holes 4/27

3. With the rivets punched out, we used the included hardware to set the new motor mount in place, so we could mark and drill the new holes we’d need in the top of the frame. A strong drill and good, sharp drill bits make this part of the job a lot easier.

Move Front Brake Line 5/27

4. When installing the driver-side mount, you’ll need to unbolt and move the front brake line out of the way. Once the mount is in place, you can easily secure the line to the frame.

Factory Access Holes 6/27

5. For tightening the nuts that hold new mounts in place, you’ll need hands small enough to fit in the factory access holes.

Cpp Kit Mounts 7/27

6. And here’s how it looks with everything installed. Even though our CPP kit was specific to an LS engine, these mounts also work for mounting a small-block or big-block Chevy in between your Tri-Five’s framerails.

Eastwood Rust Encapsulator 8/27

7. Because we’re going to be running fuel injection, we wanted to upgrade the fuel system in our ’55. CPP offers a stock size and shape tank already modified for an in-tank fuel pump, but we decided to go with CPP’s 25-gallon EFI tank kit, PN 5557AGT-L25, to get more cruise range. After pulling the old tank, we wire brushed the underside of the trunk floor, then hit it with some of Eastwood’s Rust Encapsulator, to seal up the metal and neutralize any corrosion.

Gas Straps Cut 9/27

8. To make way for the CPP tank, the factory mounting tabs for the gas tank straps have to be cut off the floor.

Remove Spare Tire Well 10/27

9. Another modification needed for the bigger tank is the removal of the spare tire well. To cover this hole easily, we used Classic Industries spare tire well delete panel, PN TF400792. Once the well was removed, we set the front mounting bracket for the new tank in place and secured it to the frame with some clamps.

Rear Mounting Frame 11/27

10. The rear mounting flange on the tank is secured to the rearmost frame crossover. These brackets form the top part of the mounting sandwich.

Tank Frame 12/27

11. With the tank bolted to the front bracket and clamped in place rearward, we marked the frame and drilled the necessary holes for the mounting bolts to go through. Then we bolted it in place.

Front Bracket 13/27

12. With the rear of the tank secured, we moved back to the front bracket, removed the clamps, and welded the bracket’s mounting tabs to the framerails. There are also provisions to bolt it in place if you so desire.

New Cpp Tank 14/27

13. Here’s how the new tank looks once fully in place. An advantage of the CPP tank is it mounts right in the center of the car, instead of being offset in the frame (because of the spare tire well). These means with a full fuel load, the car will have better balance in the rear, equating to better handling, especially for when we eventually hit the autocross course with our 210. After we mocked up the fuel neck, we pulled the tank back out and did some frame clean up and painting.

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