As hot rodders, we’re driven to seek out new and innovative ways to make our cars perform better. Regardless if you’re updating your ride, taking on an engine swap, or involved in a complete build, one of the main areas to focus on is how your engine manages its front accessory drive system. Typically, this meant reusing old mounting brackets for components combined with a number of belts to undertake their duties for A/C, power steering, fan, and alternator.
We’re here to tell you that the engineering team at Vintage Air has developed one of the tightest accessory drive packages available on the market today with their exclusive Front Runner system. Starting back in 1998, they developed and began testing the Front Runner systems using their own personal cars as testbeds, logging thousands of miles to prove its rock-solid reliability before offering it to the public. The systems’ clean, cutting-edge design offers a game-changing main truss bracket engineered to become an integral part of the engine’s block. This provides improved clearances all around the front of the engine to create a super-compact component package. The new platform design also eliminates any harmonic vibration, which could eventually lead to the failure of a typical engine drive bracket.
Vintage Air offers their Front Runner engine drive systems for Chevy small- and big-block applications as well as the LS-series V-8s. They’re packed with features to improve your performance and come ready to install with everything you’ll need to take on the conversion.
Highlights include their exclusive main truss bracket with all mounts and pulleys, ARP polished stainless hardware, Stewart high-flow aluminum water pump offering up to a 41 percent increased flow over the OEM pump, Sanden SD-7B10 compressor with O-ring adapter blocks, and Dayco Performance serpentine drive belt and OEM tensioner. There’s also a new 170-amp Proline alternator standard with every Front Runner drive system featuring a single wire Hairpin design with internal fan. The alternator is also available for separate purchase should you wish to upgrade an already existing system. All systems also include a high-efficiency Detroit Speed Inc. aluminum TC-style (transverse bearing compact pump) power steering pump with integral reservoir.
A choice of finishes includes bright (machined main truss) with polished and chrome components, chrome (machined main truss) with chrome components, black (black anodized main truss) with matching components, or black and chrome (black anodized main truss) featuring chrome compressor and alternator with black anodized pulleys and brackets.
Let’s follow along as Peter Newell, owner of Competition Specialties in Walpole, Massachusetts, takes us through a step-by-step system install on a twin-turbo Chevy small-block destined for one of his custom builds.
1. This freshly painted Chevy small-block was a perfect subject for the installation since it was being prepped to go into a newly completed twin-turbo 1968 Camaro at Competition Specialties in Walpole, Massachusetts.
2. Vintage Air’s Front Runner engine drive system comes complete with everything needed to handle the installation, including all hardware and the serpentine belt. The system pictured here features black anodized components with chrome A/C compressor and alternator.
3. Vintage Air recommends you apply a good quality silicone around the coarse thread ends of the water pump mounting studs. For this application, we chose Permatex Ultra Grey to handle the job.
4. Peter Newell of Competition Specialties applied silicone to each stud’s coarse end then threaded them into the block, making sure they protruded exactly 4 5/8 inches from the face of the block. As the instructions specify, be sure to use antiseize compound on all of the stainless hardware.
5. The next step was to install the water pump pulley onto the water pump. Note that the pulley is asymmetrical and that the side of the pulley stamped with the part number must face the water pump. Use the supplied four stainless bolts and torque them to 22 ft-lb.
6. Newell used a 7/8-inch wrench to secure the 45-degree, 5/8-inch heater hose fitting into place on the water pump. Remember to apply a coating of silicone to the threads.
7. A coating of silicone gasket sealer was then applied to both sides of the new water pump gaskets to prepare them for installation.
8. The water pump was then slid into place on the mounting studs and pushed toward the block.
9. The supplied main bracket spacers were then slid onto the mounting studs.
10. With the power steering bracket upside down on the bench, two provided stainless bolts have their threads coated with silicone and set in place followed by two power steering standoffs with their shoulder ends toward the bracket.
11. The power steering bracket was then set in place starting with the top of the bracket sliding onto the lower driver-side water pump mounting stud. The stainless bolts were coated with antiseize then screwed into the engine block and torqued to 30 ft-lb.
12. To prepare the A/C compressor for installation, Newell first bolted the provided #8 and #10 A/C compressor fittings onto the compressor using stainless bolts from the kit. The bolts were torqued to18 ft-lb.
13. Follow up by installing the compressor to the Front Runner main bracket using the supplied spacers with one each between the main bracket and the compressor’s upper front and lower front mounting tabs.
14. Complete the mounting of the compressor to the Front Runner main bracket with the stainless bolts, AN washers, and Nylok nuts. Torque to 25 ft-lb to complete the installation.
15. The 170-amp Proline alternator was then installed to the opposite side of the Front Runner main bracket using the provided spacer with stainless bolts and then torqued to 24-28 ft-lb.
16. The completed Front Runner main bracket assembly was then slid onto the water pump mounting studs.
17. Secure the Front Runner main bracket in place using the provided stainless bolts, nuts, and AN washers as well as Nylok nuts. Don’t forget the antiseize compound!
18. The belt tensioner bracket required the installation of a provided dowel pin. Since it was a press-fit, the dowel pin was set in place by carefully using a hammer.
19. Next, the belt tensioner bracket was installed onto the passenger-side water pump mounting studs. Newell followed by placing the tensioner standoffs between the engine block and the belt tensioner bracket. He secured all in place using the provided stainless bolts and nuts with a light coating of antiseize. Note that the tensioner standoffs fit into a counter bore area on the backside of the bracket. Torque bolts and nuts to 30 ft-lb.
20. The belt tensioner spacer will need to be located to the backside of the belt tensioner. There are two possible dowel pin locating holes, depending if you are running with or without power steering. Here, the minus is for non-power steering and the plus indicates power steering (our application).
21. The belt tensioner with spacer (set for power steering) was then secured to the belt tensioner bracket using the supplied stainless bolt, stainless washers, and Nylok bolt. Torque to 30 ft-lb.
22. The crankshaft pulley was then mounted to the harmonic balancer using the provided stainless bolts and torqued to 25 ft-lb. It was then secured to the crankshaft snout with a hat washer and stainless hex bolt. Torque to 85 ft-lb.
23. To mount the power steering pulley onto the Detroit Speed Inc. TC-style power steering pump you will need just the right tool since this is a press-fit mounting. Use K-D Tool PN 2897 or equivalent to accomplish this. Trying to hammer on or using a hydraulic press will destroy the pump! The supplied instruction and installation manual provides a clear measurement of the pulley on the pump shaft. Vintage Air has even uploaded a pulley installation video on YouTube if you are not sure of the process.
24. The optional Hardline Pressure Tube from Detroit Speed lets you neatly route the power steering line around the reservoir with a banjo fitting attachment direct to the pump for a clean, low-profile look.
25. The power steering pump was then secured in place with the supplied stainless bolts with torque set to 28 ft-lb.
26. Newell then installed the black anodized clutch cover to the front of the A/C compressor with the provided flat head socket bolts to add some extra class.
27. To complete the installation, use a 1/2-inch drive ratchet or breaker bar on the tensioner and rotate it clockwise to the tensioner stop. Then route the provided serpentine belt around the crankshaft pulley, power steering pulley, and over the alternator and compressor. Slide the belt under the water pump pulley and you’re ready to roll.
28. The completed installation fuses a crisp, clean look that is fully functional to bring new life to your small-block Chevy. Vintage Air’s Front Runner serpentine belt system includes everything you’ll need to complete the transformation in one kit.
Photos: Chuck Vranas