It's been some time now and we've been toying with the idea of finally getting the big-block between the framerails for good. Along the way we have hit some snags here and there for sure. Our initial trial fit revealed fitment issues with the headers and valve covers, and there was no means of fastening the transmission to the factory crossmember.
Traditionally, Chevelle frames (including convertibles) have an open design which makes for an easier transmission crossmember swap or modification. On the flip side, our El Camino's frame is boxed which makes for any modifications to the crossmember more difficult. Currently there are no aftermarket crossmembers available for an El Camino. Additionally, our RHS 320cc aluminum cylinder heads have a raised exhaust port (0.500 inches) creating a different angle once the headers are installed. Add in the larger set of 2-inch primary headers from Doug's Headers and you can see the fit is a squeeze.
Luckily though, we got in touch with Fab-tech in Chatsworth, California, and these welding pros are responsible for the likes of Al Jimenez's hustling 7-second second-gen Camaro. They design and build a lot of heavily modified street machines, so it seemed only natural to get them involved to line up our drivetrain with precision accuracy and design the perfect transmission crossmember to hold everything in place.
To get the job handled, we hauled our El Camino over to their neck of the woods and brought them everything they needed to drop in the drivetrain. First, we bolted up the engine to the transmission and fastened the torque converter to the flexplate. Once we positioned in the engine/tranny combo, owner Jaime Voorhees checked measurements for the new crossmember. We polished off the install by adding polygraphite engine and transmission mounts from Performance Suspension Technology and secured the bulk of the components in place with fasteners from Totally Stainless, including bolts, washers, and nuts. We also installed our Doug's Headers and to finish off the install, the Fab-tech gang made sure to measure up for our Denny's driveshaft. We'll illustrate a full "how-to" in an upcoming issue.
With everything all ready to go and the El Camino on the racks, the install took a better portion of the day. In fact, the Fab-tech team had the motor and transmission installed with the new crossmember before noon. Once the motor and transmission were set, we even show what to look for when measuring for the perfect driveshaft. Tag along as the gang from Fabtech gets our big-block and TH400 combination to fit our A-body El Camino.
What We Did
Fitted the El Camino with a complete drivetrain and measured for a custom driveshaft
We get the big-block and Turbo 400 to fit with a little fab work
To gain a better perspective...
To gain a better perspective of what we were in for, as well as a better illustration of the install, we headed over to Fab-tech in Chatsworth, California. It was there we rolled the El Camino onto the racks and manifested a plan of action. First, we would drop in the motor and transmission. From there Fabtech could measure and determine the best means of fastening down the transmission, which would then allow them to get the dimensions for our Denny's driveshaft.
Before we could install the...
Before we could install the engine, we fastened our new set of engine mounts from PST. These mounts are constructed out of Polygraphite, making them stronger than the standard OEM replacement style and still offer the factory mounting locations. Using our Totally Stainless bolt kit, we fastened the set down with a 3/8-inch socket.
With the hood removed for...
With the hood removed for better access, we mated up the engine and transmission and attempted to lower the combination into the engine bay. We learned that with the deeper aftermarket oil pan from Milodon, and added girth of the Turbo 400 transmission, the whole package could not be lowered in as one unit.
To clear our Master Power...
To clear our Master Power brakes booster assembly, we opted for a set of "clearance" valve covers from Moroso. These valve covers have the same exact fabricated look that we like, however the exhaust sides of the covers are clearanced to fit in tighter engine bays.
Once again we lowered in the...
Once again we lowered in the engine between the framerails, lining up the frame mounts to the PST engine mounts and slid in our bolts. Note: We left the engine mount bolts loose until the transmission was set in place with the new crossmember.
Next, we lifted the car up...
Next, we lifted the car up so we could slide the transmission from underneath. From there we placed a hydraulic jack underneath the transmission pan and lifted the transmission up to meet the engine block dowels. Once lined up we fastened our 7/16-inch bolts to hold the combination. At this time we were still using the stock crossmember to hold the setup until we could build our new piece.