Over the years, the cooling system on any Corvette will no longer work as well as when it was brand new, due to a number of factors. Corrosion builds up inside the radiator and within the engine. The rubber hoses and lines will start to fray and flex, and at the least expected moment, they'll usually spring a leak. Furthermore, the factory radiator is not as efficient as it used to be, and on cars like C4s, the lower air ducting has more than likely been bashed and torn into oblivion. The components of a system like this have certainly seen better days. Well, how would you like to see a 25-degree temperature reduction this coming summer?
C4 Corvettes were introduced almost 20 years ago, and almost nothing can go that long without being replaced. With the passing seasons the coolant has probably deteriorated the aluminum radiator (unless you've been diligent enough to flush the cooling system per the owner's manual) and caused it to corrode, and now your ride is certainly running hotter than you would like. That's the case on our subject car, a low mile, fairly well-maintained '85 that was starting to run too hot, too often. So when the electric fan stopped working, we decided to "R & R" the entire cooling system. We ordered all the components (see parts list at the end of this article) from Mid America Designs.
Though the trend in the street rod market is to install aluminum radiators in their machines to help cool them down, we replaced the '85 C4's factory aluminum radiator with an aftermarket brass. According to the folks at MAD, the brass unit will help dissipate the heat better in an average daily driver. Another obvious reason enthusiasts are using aluminum radiators are for weight savings. Of course, in a race car this is an important factor, but for a boulevard bruiser (or cruiser) the minute difference in weight saved by the aluminum radiator over a brass one is insignificant. However, as we found out, the cooler temps we got were a big improvement.
In order to make sure the complete cooling system on our '85 (which happened to be a Z51 option car with both the standard pull-through and auxiliary front-mounted "pusher" electrical fans) would perform to its potential, we also installed a new thermostat fan switch, which is designed to turn on both electric fans when the temperature reaches 180 degrees. This will ensure that coolant stays at or near this temp during those hot days in traffic. Installing the new switch in the car was a snap, but it was necessary to wire it through the OEM relay so it won't blow a fuse by turning on both fans at once.
All '84-89 Z51s came stock with dual electric fans (the "pusher" fan was available separately as RPO B4P on '86-89 C4s); the only bad side to this setup was that they came on at different times. It was never enough cooling at once, and by the time the auxiliary fan (GM described it as a "radiator boost fan") came on, the motor had built up more heat. It was an ongoing cycle that left these cars running at about 220 degrees-more than most of us want to see on the temp read-out.
Other major parts we upgraded were the electric fan motor, the water pump, thermostat, and all requisite hoses.
The factory water pump, also an aluminum component, is subjected to some of the same conditions that can corrode an OEM radiator. But unlike the benefit of switching to the brass radiator, there is no need to put anything other than an original water pump back on if yours leaks or the "impeller" is going bad. If the fins on the impeller are no longer in good condition, the pump will not circulate as much water. The less water that is circulated, the hotter the engine temperature will be, and we all know that is not a good thing. Another thing that will immediately tell you that you need a new water pump is a noisy bearing. The bearing can sometimes go bad long before the coolant corrodes the inside of the housing or the impeller. Those of you with cars that have a lot of miles on them want to be especially aware of this.