Now that Summer is officially upon us, keeping your Tri-Five Chevy’s engine from boiling over could become an issue if your hot rod’s cooling system isn’t up to par. It happens. The cooling system in many classic cars is typically not given much thought until the engine overheats. Luckily, an overheated classic doesn’t need to be a problem you encounter. Thanks to the folks at Danchuk Manufacturing, an easy radiator upgrade can ensure a cool and smooth-running ’55, ’56, and ’57 Chevy.
Adding an aftermarket radiator to a Tri-Five can bring about various decisions that need to be made. For instance, do you want a downflow radiator that will fit in the OE location, or can a crossflow unit be retrofitted. The primary factors that will determine whether a downflow or crossflow radiator is right for your vehicle is predicated by personal taste and the space under the hood.
While downflow radiators are taller rather than wider, crossflow radiators are usually wider than they are tall. Because of the added width of a crossflow radiator in a Tri-Five, many times, the unit is mounted in front of the core support, and modifications are needed to complete the install. You will also need to decide whether a brass and copper radiator is for you, or will an aluminum cooler be a better choice?
When comparing copper/brass radiators to those made of aluminum, it’s important to consider the materials used and their advantages and disadvantages. A common misconception is that aluminum transfers heat more efficiently than copper. This is simply not true. If only speaking of copper and aluminum as simple materials, copper will transfer heat more efficiently. Unfortunately, copper is too soft to be solely used to build a complete radiator. Because of that, zinc is added to copper to create a brass alloy which helps the radiator get its rigidity.
Brass is a much stronger material and is very suited to build radiators. However, brass does offer less efficient thermal conductivity than simple copper. In fact, brass even offers roughly half the thermal conductivity of aluminum. While copper is a better heat transfer material, by combining copper and brass in a radiator’s construction, yields nearly equal heat transfer capabilities of an aluminum radiator – when talking only about the materials used to build the radiator.
Why Aluminum Is Better?
It is true, an aluminum radiator can cool better, but as stated, that is not because of the materials used. Rather, the improvement comes about because it can be made to cool more efficiently. An aluminum radiator cools better than a copper/brass radiator, is because the aluminum is more rigid. This affords the ability to create larger cooling tubes in the radiator core to route the heated coolant through the radiator. For example, an aluminum radiator with two rows of 1-inch tubes has the equivalent cooling capability of a copper/brass radiator with five rows of 1/2-inch tubes.
Aside from the thermal-property differences of the radiators, there are also a few other important advantages gained by using an aluminum radiator. Two primary factors to consider when evaluating why an aluminum radiator might be a better option than a copper/brass radiator in regard to overall vehicle performance and cooling ability, are the structural strength (we already discussed), and weight reduction. Aluminum radiators are much lighter than copper/brass radiators.
For many, any weight reduction is a must-have aspect to an upgrade to their vehicle’s performance. Depending on the amount of weight reduction, an improvement in acceleration, braking, and fuel economy can be had. In the case of a radiator, it is minimal, but nonetheless evident. A properly constructed aluminum radiator provides high-efficiency cooling, is lightweight, and has a longer life expectancy when compared to copper/brass. Three benefits that are hard to deny.
As previously stated, copper is very soft, and aluminum is much stronger and more durable. This aspect not only allows aluminum radiators to feature larger tubes which allow a greater volume of coolant to be circulated — and ultimately cooled, the strength of the aluminum tubes also allows for higher cooling-system pressures, which can actually allow a smaller radiator to cool better.
In short, aluminum radiators mark a modern advancement in cooling. Not only does the material dissipate heat at close to double the rate when compared to brass, but also reduces the overall weight of the vehicle and provides a stronger and more durable core and tube design. All these factors clearly lead to an overall increase in vehicle performance.
Going With The Flow
When thinking about upgrading radiators, an issue that plagues many Tri-Five owners, is the original (and even many aftermarket) radiators are a downflow design, not a crossflow design. With a stock 283 or 327ci engine, a downflow works fine. But, add some serious horsepower, and that old design can be inadequate.
Each design carries its own advantages and disadvantages. A downflow radiator design has the tanks located at the top and bottom of the core. The coolant enters through the top tank and trickles down through the tubes. With a crossflow design, the tanks are located on the sides of the radiator’s core, allowing the pump to push the coolant across the core from right to left. Crossflow systems are also offered in a single, double, or even triple-pass orientation.
A single-pass radiator is one that flows one way — be it from top-to-bottom or side-to-side. A triple-pass radiator is actually divided internally. Hot coolant enters the radiator, flows from one side to the other, turns and goes back to the other side, and then makes one more turn and then exits the radiator. The benefit of having multiple passes is, the coolant spends a longer time exposed to the core, which adds extra time for it to cool your engine even better.
Switching from a factory-style downflow design to a crossflow can be an easy conversion according to the folks at Danchuk. They offer a several radiator designs to fit in front of the core support that deliver crossflow capability and improved cooling. The radiator we’re featuring here is an all-aluminum, fully polished crossflow system with shrouds and dual SPAL fans.
With the help of Danchuk Manufacturing, an overly warm engine will be a thing of the past. If you’re concerned about converting from a radiator positioned behind the core support to one in front of it, don’t be. The install can be completed in a day with some simple hand tools. What’s more, once you are finished, you’ll have a truly cool-running hot rod.