Engine heat. It's been an operational bête noir in the Corvette world for decades, and it doesn't take an advanced degree in thermodynamics to understand why. Take a big V-8, shoehorn it into the tight engine bay of a slope-nosed performance car, stir in a heaping helping of WOT, and even the best-designed factory cooling system is going to have trouble keeping the temp-gauge needle from twirling toward crimson.
In the case of our '96 coupe project car, the problem was further exacerbated by our penchant for aftermarket speed hardware. Starting with the installation of a high-stall torque converter, our C4's operating temps have been on an upward trajectory into the danger zone, and the recent addition of a pair of thick-decked TFS cylinder heads helped not even slightly. Factor in the suffocating curtain of ambient heat that descends over central Florida each summer, along with the fourth-gen Vette's, ahem, "unique" approach to airflow management (more on that anon), and it was clear that curative ministrations were in order.
As we've often done in the past, we consulted David Walker of Zip Corvette for a recommendation. After reviewing Zip's arsenal of cooling-system upgrades, Walker sent us an aluminum Direct Fit radiator designed specifically for our C4 (PN RA-170, $499.95). The Direct Fit unit uses a two-row design (as opposed to the factory single-row layout), theoretically doubling cooling capacity, and it features welded aluminum end tanks in place of the crack-prone plastic tanks on the stocker.
But perhaps the most appealing aspect of the Direct Fit radiator is reflected in its name. Unlike most aftermarket replacements, the Direct Fit is engineered to drop directly into the stock mounting position, with no cutting or fabricating required. In fact, the most time-consuming portion of the installation involves the removal and replacement of the factory shroud, making this a job you really can perform in your driveway or garage in just two to three hours.
You'll note that we said "you" and not "us," since this author's last adventure in cooling-system maintenance ended in minor scalding, major mortification, and a Lake Titicaca–size puddle of antifreeze on the garage floor (don't ask). Embracing our mechanical limitations, we enlisted the services of local Corvette tuner AntiVenom, whose expert techs quickly carried out the job while pretending to still like us. Follow along now as we take you through the process.