1966 Chevy El Camino Big Block And Turbo 400 Trial Fit - Wide Load
Droppin' Heat Into The El Camino
From the January, 2009 issue of Chevy High Performance
By Sean Haggai
Photography by Sean Haggai
At first glance you might assume that getting a big-block to fit into our project El Camino would be a cinch. Originally you could order a '66 El Camino with the 396ci option with stock iron exhaust manifolds and manual steering; and believe it or not, it fit like a glove. However, when you add aftermarket rack-and pinion-steering, a stock oil pan, 2-inch headers, and a Turbo 400 transmission, space becomes scarce in this A-body. Our motor swap took us a tad longer than we had expected. However, the outcome surely outweighed our efforts. If you're wondering why we didn't make it easier and drop in a small-block, we put aside those thoughts way before we ever started this project. Besides, our big-block already made serious power on the cheap and we couldn't let the motor live out the rest of its days on the dyno. If you remember in "Budget Stomper" (Feb. '08), our combination was good for 701 hp and 702 lb-ft on nitrous. In our eyes, it was a perfect match to throw into the El Camino. After all, it is a truck and it's going to serve the magazine at hauling around dyno-mules and parts, track days, and even duties around the house.
To get the big-block fitted for its new home, we started by doing a little homework on the motor mounts and frame brackets. Since our sled was originally outfitted with a six-banger that was backed by a three-speed stick, we went ahead and ordered the complete big-block conversion kit from Ground Up. As we began shoehorning the new motor in, we soon learned that the stock style oil pan was preventing us from clearing the center crossmember. To clear extra space, a new pan specifically designed for clearance on Chevelles was ordered from Milodon and swapped in. Also, the original transmission crossmember will not work for our new Turbo 400 transmission because the 400 is longer than the original. We're happy to report, though, that we're currently in the works with Monster to build a new off-the-shelf transmission crossmember for this type of application. Nevertheless, we did get the motor in with the headers and the transmission bolted right up, and that in itself was a big accomplishment. Follow along as we get this beast rolling!
What We Did
Shoehorned the big-block and trial-fit the transmission into the El Camino
This bad boy is almost ready to be fired up and driven
Before we could do anything,...
Before we could do anything, we test-fit our Doug's 2-inch big-block headers onto the engine. We made sure to do this so the headers wouldn't collide with the sides of the engine block and to ensure that we had adequate clearance for the transmission. We also bolted on our new motor mounts using three 9/16-headed bolts with lock washers.
Since the El Camino originally...
Since the El Camino originally came with a six-cylinder, it was necessary to replace the old frame brackets with the big-block units we also picked up from Ground Up. Reaching the holes in the bottom of the frame and through the lower A-arm is difficult, but it's possible with a little patience.
We couldn't go without a flexplate,...
We couldn't go without a flexplate, so we had the guys at Monster send us their branded unit. We made sure to face it the right direction, with the contoured tabs facing outward. Using ARP bolts, we fastened it down with Loctite to 65 ft-lb.
We opted to remove the hood...
We opted to remove the hood for this portion of the project because there is no way to gain access with the engine hoist. We used a scribe to mark the factory locations of the hood hinges, then removed the lid.
We had been keeping our fingers...
We had been keeping our fingers crossed, hoping the factory-style oil pan would clear our crossmember. However, the sump was too large and hit, not allowing us to lower the engine fully into the mounts. To fix this we ordered a new pan from Milodon designed specifically for Chevelle A-bodies.
We initially thought we could...
We initially thought we could lower the drivetrain into the engine bay as one unit. We soon met with disappointment, as the combination is too wide and too long to fit together. Make note: The motor and transmission must be installed separately.
At this point, it was best...
At this point, it was best to slide the transmission under the car before the motor went in. We used a flat wooden board to help slide the transmission underneath the car, then picked up each end of the transmission and placed a hydraulic jack under it for stability. We shimmied the tranny up and laid it on top of the transmission crossmember.
Since our transmission will...
Since our transmission will not bolt up to our factory transmission crossmember, we measured all the factory dimensions and sent them to Monster, where a new crossmember is being fabricated for this application.
Next, we could finally hook...
Next, we could finally hook up the engine hoist and swing the motor into the bay, but first we had to lay in our headers. We secured the headers to each side of the engine bay with bailing wire.