Soon after people started swapping LS engines into old Chevys, the problem of drive systems came up. One of the first aftermarket companies to come to the rescue was Vintage Air with their Front Runner serpentine drive system. They’ve been offering this compact LS install solution for nearly two decades and have, over the years, managed to make what was a really good kit even better. Today’s Front Runner kits feature parts that look great, but more importantly will hold up to hard use. Vintage Air does this by using suppliers such as Detroit Speed, ARP, Sanden, ATI, Dayco, and others for some of their components. The kit has also evolved along with industry standards. For instance, Vintage Air recently made the switch from their previous GM CS130-style 140-amp alternator to the much-improved internal fan “hairpin” style 170-amp alternator found in many modern muscle cars. The most important advantage of the hairpin-style alternator is the design produces a much-improved current output at idle and low-rpm operation.
Two major benefits of the Front Runner system are its strength and compactness. Their truss-type mounting system won’t flex out of shape during hard driving and manages to arrange a water pump, power steering pump, A/C compressor, alternator, and tensioner into the smallest package possible. This really helps when trying to fit an LS engine into a car with a tight engine bay. There’s also a third benefit ... it looks damn good. The kit is offered in three configurations: power steering with pump, power steering without pump (so you can use a remote reservoir power steering pump), and no power steering. They offer the kit in a black hard coat as well as a bright machine finish that includes chrome pulleys and polished compressor and alternator. To make life (and the photography) easier, we installed most of the kit on the 440-inch RHS LS engine for our Track Rat project before dropping the engine into place. So, let’s take a look at how to fit a lot of performance into a fairly small footprint.
1. First up, we installed the six stainless studs (8mmx1.25x130mm) into the six holes as shown, making sure to dab a little antiseize onto all of the stainless fasteners. This is especially critical with working with aluminum blocks and heads.
2. With the studs in place we could then slide on the GM water pump gaskets and the LS-style water pump. The water pump requires a 1997-’03 LS1-style thermostat (not included) and the little ear on the housing needs to be ground off. You can also spy the ATI Super Damper. This was installed when we dyno-tested the engine, but it came packaged in the Vintage Air kit.
3. While the Front Runner support bracket for the power steering pump would clear a stock LS timing cover it did hit part of the Comp extended timing cover we were using on our RHS block. We simply had to trim back part of the timing pointer boss, which we weren’t using anyways, and the Vintage Air bracket was able to be bolted in place.
4. We then installed the driver-side Front Runner support bracket using two 10mmx1.50x70mm bolts. It’s important to just loosely install the fasteners to allow for some movement until all the brackets are on and aligned. Again, we made sure to use antiseize on all the 12-point stainless ARP fasteners supplied in the kit.
5. Then it was time to slide on the T-6061 aluminum main support bracket with the appropriate spacers per the instructions from Vintage Air. Again, we only hand tightened all the various nuts and bolts.
6. Next, we installed the Sanden SD7B10 compressor using two 5/16-inch bolts and nylocks. We also used two 0.297-inch thick aluminum spacers (red arrows). The two bolts were then torqued to 25 ft-lb. Since we’re not hooking up the A/C system yet we kept the compressor sealed and left off the A/C fittings supplied by Vintage Air. Later, the system will be charged with 1.8 pounds of R134a.
7. We’ve had our kit for quite a while waiting on install and recently Vintage Air replaced their previous 140-amp, external fan alternator with then new, super-slick 170-amp, internal fan unit shown on the right. The new single-wire “Hairpin” alternator puts out 120 amps at idle. The Front Runner kit includes a 4-gauge charge wire that is critical to proper alternator operation. A good, clean ground plane is also essential. If in doubt, install a ground wire between the alternator mount and the engine block.
8. The water pump pulley was secured by four 5/16x3/4-inch stainless bolts and then torqued to 22 ft-lb.
9. Vintage Air offers pulley kits with several different power steering options, from no power steering to packages complete with reservoir. Our kit came with a high-end Detroit Speed Type-II aluminum pump with an integral reservoir. After mounting the DSE pump to the bracket using two 5/16x2.75-inch bolts (torqued to 28 ft-lb) we used an installation tool to mount the billet six-rib serpentine pulley. The flow rate of the pump is just over 3 gpm at 1,500 rpm, so check what your rack requires and, if needed, Vintage Air offers flow control valves to change it. If you choose to use your own power steering pump, the shaft must be 0.664-inch OD.
10. We secured the 170-amp alternator in place using an M8x1.25x40mm from the rear and a 3/8-16x3.25-inch bolt from the front. Once the alternator was in place we could go back and torque all the Front Runner fasteners (22 ft-lb for 5/16 and 8mm bolts/studs and 37 ft-lb for the 3/8 and M10 bolts).
11. The Vintage Air kit includes small aluminum spacers to use in various spots of the kit. When to use the spacers depends on which part you’re installing, and is clearly called out in the installation manual.
12. We secured the crank pulley to the ATI damper using three 3/8x1.25-inch ARP bolts (with washers) and then torquing them to 25 ft-lb.
13. We then lined up the spring-loaded Dayco OEM tensioner and spacer using the locating dowels and secured it with a 3/8x3.25-inch stainless bolt. Torque the center mounting bolt to 21 ft-lb. Do not use a washer here since it will cause the beauty cover to not fit. To install the Dayco belt, a 1/2-inch drive ratchet or breaker bar was inserted in the hole and used to rotate the tensioner clockwise until it stopped.
14. Once the engine was installed in the car, the A/C compressor and tensioner beauty covers were bolted in place using the supplied fasteners. On these we used a small dab of blue thread locker.
15. Here you can see the Dayco drive belt properly installed and the beauty covers in place on the A/C and tensioner. Besides looking great, the biggest benefit of the Front Runner drive system is how compact it is. It protrudes from the face of the block less than 7 inches and is under 21-inches wide.
Stuff You Will Need:
12-point SAE sockets
12-point metric sockets
Power steering pulley installation tool
Proper tools to remove (if necessary) and install crank damper
1997-’03 LS1 thermostat assembly
Photography by Steven Rupp