Installing A Champion Cooling Aluminum Radiator Into Our ’57 Chevy

If you’re experiencing overheating problems in your classic car, and you’ve tried just about everything from a coolant flush to an electric fan, it may be time to knuckle down and replace that old copper-and-brass radiator that’s been in your car since it was new (or close to it). Maybe the root cause isn’t a deteriorating radiator, but all those performance add-ons that you’ve installed. Now, the single-core factory radiator just can’t keep up. Either way, if you’re looking for cooling power, Champion Cooling Systems is a great place to turn.

This old radiator was ready to go.

The radiator in our 1957 Chevy was chugging along okay, but when took off for a road trip across the state last year, it got a little hot going over the pass—actually, a lot hot. We saw the temperature gauge nearly pegged,  where it usually rides comfortably at about 1/3 of the way across the face. While it keeps its cool most of the time, it is the original radiator to the car, and it’s date-stamped 1957. Since it’s that “seasoned,” it’s only a matter of time before it fails and leaves us on the side of the highway somewhere, spewing coolant. With that in mind, we talked to the experts at Champion Cooling to see what options we had to remedy the situation.

It's always good to spread your parts out on a table or something for a good visual before you start the install.

Before our install, we got the low-down on what makes Champion Cooling radiators an ideal way to keep your rig running cool. Champion Cooling builds its radiators from aluminum, and that material offers a few specific advantages: the aluminum construction is great for cooling, and they offer a limited lifetime-warranty against manufacturer’s defects. “Aluminum will dissipate heat better than copper-and-brass radiators, which are assembled with several different metals that are heat soaks, such as lead,” explained Michael Harding, director of marketing at Champion. “Also, aluminum radiators are not coated with paint, which can sometimes trap heat in the radiator.”

“We design all of our radiators in-house, and store CAD drawings for each part number. The tanks are cut on a CNC machine and then hand welded to a fully brazed core. Inlet and outlet tubes are made by a machine and seam welded,” Michael said. The street radiators are made offshore, but any custom fabrication work is done in house. The race-series radiators are 100-percent U.S. made. After talking to Michael, we were sold. With our questions answered,  we ordered our radiator, stainless-steel overflow tank, and an inline filter to keep our coolant clean and clear—or at least green and free of debris, anyway.

We started by draining and pulling our old radiator. The most important thing here is to be careful of your transmission cooling lines if you have them. Use two wrenches to make sure you aren’t twisting the lines, and carefully loosen and remove them.

Traditionally, that coolant vented to the atmosphere – or the pavement – and was never recovered. – Michael Harding

With our old radiator removed, we found a great spot to mount our stainless-steel overflow tank. “As the coolant heats and expands to beyond the capacity of the cooling system, excess is pushed out to the radiator cap and through the vent tube. Traditionally, that coolant vented to the atmosphere – or the pavement – and was never recovered,” Michael explained. “As your engine cools and the heated coolant contracts, the closed system creates a vacuum that will pull expelled coolant back into the radiator, keeping your cooling system full.”

We found a great spot to mount the reservoir on the lip of the core support. When the reservoir is mounted, it does block a small portion of the radiator, so if you are experiencing high temperatures because of high horsepower and need more cooling area, it would be best to find a different place to mount it.

It's a good idea to de-bur the holes you drill and paint the surface so that it does not rust.

With the radiator and the reservoir installed, the last thing for us to do was install the in-line filter. “The inline filter is great for blocking any contaminants or rust that might break loose from an older engine, trapping it around the mesh filter element,” Michael explained. “This allows you to see when the filter starts to fill in, and it can be removed, flushed out, and reinstalled. Even fresh builds can benefit from this filter. We’ve seen customers with a fresh build find that once they installed the engine and ran it, there was chunks of rust and debris that wasn’t removed from the block during the hot tanking process.”

Make sure that you get the flow going in the right direction. Keep in mind, the filter must be on the top hose to block debris from entering the radiator.

With the installation complete, we refilled our radiator and went for a nice long test cruise. After a few hundred miles of driving, we saw our temperature remain constant. At the end of the drive, after the car cooled down, it was clear that the filter was doing its job and collecting the gunk we do not want in our engine or our radiator.

You can definitely see that it’s starting to collect some gunk in the mesh filter.

If you’re looking for a new radiator for your ride, or have any cooling-related questions, reach out to the folks at Champion Cooling Systems, they’ll make sure you get the right radiator for your build, and answer any questions that you might have.

All said and done, we have a reliably cooler ride and a better looking engine bay.

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About the author

Kyler Lacey

A 2015 Graduate from Whitworth University, Kyler has always loved cars. He grew up with his dad's '67 Camaro in the garage and started turning wrenches at a young age. At seventeen, he bought his first classic, a '57 Chevy Bel Air four-door, and has since added a '66 Plymouth Valiant and '97 Cadillac Deville to his collection. When he isn't writing for Power Automedia, he's out shooting pictures at car shows, hiking in the forests of the beautiful Pacific Northwest, or working on something in the garage.
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