While our ’63 Nova hardtop project is being worked on at the body shop, we thought it would be a good time to start fitting some components that we will need for an upcoming V-8 conversion. In last month’s article “Master Blaster” on page 36, we mentioned that the radiator in our ’63 sprung a pinhole leak after getting it shot with soda at Cal Blast; not a bad leak, but enough to make us start looking for radiator options. The 50-year-old copper/brass, single-row radiator that the car came with was showing its age, and frankly, we were surprised it was even able to do its job when we were blasting down SoCal’s freeways. Plus, the corroded stocker would in no way cool the terrible behemoth of a small-block we plan on putting together for it.
We contacted the cooling experts at Flex-a-lite for one of their Flex-a-fit radiator and fan combos. Although Flex-a-lite offers radiators for a lot of specific applications, they didn’t offer one for ’62-65 Novas. Fortunately, Flex-a-lite offers a few universal setups that we thought could work in the Nova’s small engine bay. The smallest universal offered is PN 5118, and features a 221/2-inch overall width, which we can confidently say will fit perfectly in your early Nova ... that is, if it has a V-8 (see sidebar). The aluminum, two-row core measures 17 inches and efficient 1-inch tubes surrounded by aluminum fins dissipate heat like no one’s business. But what makes Flex-a-lite’s line of radiators truly unique are their end tanks. A channeled design that doubles as a mounting solution, as well a cooling enhancement makes Flex-a-lite’s line of radiators a great upgrade for simple hot rods and high-powered street cars. The T-channels on the outside of the tanks help dissipate heat more effectively, but there are also additional fins on the inside, further increasing the surface area and cooling system efficiency.
Oftentimes people stray from universal fit performance parts, but thanks to Flex-a-lite’s versatile mounting solution, it makes upgrading your ride’s cooling system, even if there isn’t an application offered for it, a breeze.
We were hoping that the PN 5118 Flex-a-fit radiator combo would simply drop right into place and bolt on, but it turned out that the stock I-6 is actually a bit too long to allow both the fan and radiator to fit in the engine bay; that’s why we do the mock-up. However, never fear six-banger brethren, the radiator itself, PN 5100, will fit perfectly once you remove the stock steel radiator fan. You just need to run a pusher-style electric fan on the outside instead of the puller fan on the inside. The V-8 should be about 3 inches shorter, which will give us adequate room to run the complete 5118 setup with the puller fan and shroud in place.
When it comes to radiators in the high-performance world, aluminum is the only way to go for the best cooling possible. Copper/brass radiators are, simply put, inferior to aluminum in virtually every way. The size-to-cooling efficiency ratio, weight, and longevity of aluminum surpassed copper/brass ages ago. If you want a numbers-matching resto, then by all means go with what’s period correct, but if you want a high-performing system, you’ll need an aluminum radiator. This shot shows the billet aluminum radiator cap fixture, which we thought was a trick feature.
We opted for the smallest unit in Flex-a-lite’s line of universal fit radiator combos; however, for larger cars they offer a 38-, 335/8-, and 31 5/8-inch Flex-a-fit radiator/fan combo.
The fan used in the 51118L radiator/fan combo is listed as PN 118 and measures 16x161/2x33/16 inches. It draws 18.5 amps of current to move 2,500 cfm of engine-cooling air.
Here’s the cooling package from Flex-a-lite we’ll be running on the Hellion Nova. Besides the Flex-a-fit setup, we will also be running Flex-a-lite’s Trans Life heavy-duty transmission cooler (PN 4110), as well as their trick overflow tank, and variable fan speed controller.
We totally dig the billet aluminum overflow tank (PN 32013) for its easy mounting and O-ringed, unscrewable cap. Flex-a-lite offers two lengths, 13 and 17 inches for larger capacities.
Here’s what’s cooling the temporary six-cylinder, a single-row, copper/brass setup from 1963. Since we don’t currently have a gauge in the stock dash, we’re not sure what temps it was running at.
Removing the stock radiator is a matter of two hose clamps and six bolts.
As you can see here, the Flex-a-fit radiator is pretty close to the same width as the stock unit. It’s just a whole lot thicker with the fan in place. For folks who want to use this setup for their six-banger, see sidebar on the previous page.
The end tanks themselves are actually designed to enhance cooling by utilizing fins internally, which increases the surface-to-water contact, aiding in the cooldown process.
Flex-a-lite made removing the fan/shroud setup incredibly easy with just four fasteners; we had to separate the two to make it fit with the six-cylinder.
Once we removed both the electric fan and the factory unit, the 5110 radiator fit nicely underhood. When we drop in the V-8, we’ll move the fan back inside the bay as a puller.
This shows the T-channel mounting solution the Flex-a-fit radiators come with. These allow the installer to slide an L-bracket to any position along the side of the tank, making mounting the system very easy.
Flex-a-chill is a cooling system additive that reduced temps by up to 20 degrees; it improves system life, and it has a lower pH value so it doesn’t harm aluminum components.
We used these trick Gator Clips to mount the Trans Life transmission cooler. It’s a very secure way to mount the cooler since it grabs the tubes at their strongest points, while keeping adequate distance to airflow over all surfaces.
We also ordered a 16-pound vented radiator cap with a Flex-a-fit radiator, which comes with an aluminum cover.