With any car we build, restore, or modify, there are certain temptations we must avoid to ensure that the end product conforms to the performance and aesthetic standards we set at the beginning of the project. So while it may be tempting to install a high-powered engine in our '71 C3 at the outset, the fact is that the car itself won't be ready for a big-inch powerplant until we perform some basic upgrades. Adding incredible power to an otherwise factory Stingray is usually a recipe for disaster-since the engine will outperform the other parts of the automobile-so, as you've likely noticed, we're improving various portions of our car's systems to ready them for an upgraded powerplant. Last month we installed an aluminum radiator and other cooling system components to ensure our C3 doesn't run too warm, and this month we'll be upgrading the fuel system with some high-performance components from Summit Racing Equipment.
In stock form, a properly maintained C3 fuel system is generally adequate if your engine isn't making more than 300 horsepower or so. Start adding components like a longer-duration camshaft, an aluminum intake, headers, and a big carburetor, however, and the system's shortcomings quickly become apparent. Although the previous owner of our project car had replaced the fuel tank and sending unit, and added an electric fuel pump, there were other issues with the car's fuel system that needed to be addressed before we could rely on our Stingray to perform like it should. A couple of issues ago, as we readied our car for the road, we fixed a couple of fuel-related problems and replaced some leaking lines. This month we'll go through the car's entire fuel system, greatly increasing its capacity to deliver fuel while making it more reliable as well.
Carbureted C3 Corvettes like ours came with an engine-driven fuel pump that draws gasoline through a line to the pump and then provides pressurized fuel to the carburetor. The main problem with this style of system is the difficulty it has sucking gasoline the six or so feet from the fuel tank to the pump. If the pump can't pull enough fuel, it can't provide a pressurized fuel supply to the carburetor. Once the carb's float bowls run dry, the engine will run lean, and eventually stop running altogether. Though commonly called "vapor lock," the real name for this problem is fuel starvation, and it can have many causes, including clogged fuel filters or lines, corroded pick-up units, trash in the tank, or inadequate supply-line diameter.
Of course, the most common cause of fuel starvation is a fuel pump that's not rated to provide as much gasoline as the engine is using. This is generally what happens when you add a more powerful engine to a car without upgrading the stock pump. The car will run fine during normal driving, but once the throttle is opened, the pump simply won't be able to keep up with the engine's fueling demands. You can get away with this for a while if you don't drive too aggressively, as the carburetor's float bowls provide a buffer for the fuel system. As you apply full throttle, the bowls will drain, and assuming you let off the gas before they drain completely, they'll refill while the car is idling or cruising normally. Since Corvettes were made for aggressive driving, however, it pays to upgrade the fuel-delivery system, especially if you plan to increase the engine's output like we do.
Although adequate fuel delivery can often be obtained by installing either a large electric fuel pump or a high-volume mechanical unit, we'll actually be doing both. Installing a Holley electric fuel pump at the rear of the car, near the tank, will provide a constant stream of pressurized fuel to the high-volume Holley engine-driven pump we're also installing, thereby allowing the latter to do its job of sending pressurized fuel to the carburetor. Though this dual-pump method is slightly more costly than simply upgrading one unit, the redundant pumps will provide the best possible fuel delivery while also making the car more reliable. If one pump happens to fail, the car can still be driven on the other one, rather than leaving us stranded.
With our plan in place, we called Summit Racing Equipment and ordered a Holley "red" electric fuel pump, to install near the tank, along with a high-volume Holley mechanical pump for the engine. We also ordered a roll of 3/8-inch-diameter aluminum fuel line, which we'll use to replace the stock line in our car. Additionally, we'll be installing one of Summit's billet fuel filters and replacing our rubber fuel lines with NHRA-legal-and much safer-braided hose. While we're at it, we'll also swap the air filter to a high-flowing K&N unit, also from Summit.
Performing this type of work isn't too difficult with the right tools and knowledge, but if you're not sure you can do it, we definitely recommend taking the car to a professional, as fuel-related problems can quickly lead to fire-related problems. All told, we had our new parts installed and our system replumbed in about eight hours. While the new fuel system may be overkill for the warmed-over 350 that's in the car now, it'll certainly be adequate for the high-horsepower mill we plan to build for Project C3 Triple Ex!