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Replacing a Corvette radiator

Any year Corvette can have high power and reliably low temps!

Story Earl Duty - May 01, 2011 09:00 AM

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Our DeWitts radiator was a flawless combination of exact reproduction, precision fit, and perfect aluminum welding.

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Our DeWitts radiator was a flawless combination of exact reproduction, precision fit, and perfect aluminum welding.

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This section of the old radiator almost spoiled a Kingman, Arizona, Fun Run. Compare the difference between the old unit and the new DeWitts piece. Which would YOU rather have protecting your Corvette engine’s temperature?

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This section of the old radiator almost spoiled a Kingman, Arizona, Fun Run. Compare the difference between the old unit and the new DeWitts piece. Which would YOU rather have protecting your Corvette engine’s temperature?

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5 With the hood off, accessing the four bolts holding the radiator fan and clutch to the water pump was an easy task.

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6 The fan and clutch were removed by simply tilting the unit back towards the engine, and then lifting it up and out.

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7 Next came the fan belt and water pump pulley.

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8 After removing the upper radiator hose and six bolts holding the fan shroud to the front clip, our upper shroud was removed.

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9 There were four bolts securing the lower shroud to the frame. Also included in attaching hardware for the lower fan shroud (under the front torsion bar) were three small screws keeping the right and left sections together.

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10 After removing the lower radiator hose and the remaining attaching bolts at both sides of the radiator, Alexander lifts the old unit free from the car.

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11 After extracting the old radiator there remained before us a gritty, grimy, empty cavity that was cleaned and spiffed up before we installed the new DeWitts unit.

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12 Our local parts store had in stock the necessary brass fittings for the new drain cock and extension.

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13 It was necessary to remove the side rails from the old unit, and they in turn were attached to the new radiator with new nuts, bolts and lock washers. A reversal of the removal procedure rewarded us with a neat, clean, leak-free installation.

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No matter what generation of Corvette you drive, DeWitts has a radiator to help keep your car cool — literally!

There are many companies out there that have Corvette radiators that will fit Corvettes. DeWitts is the only company that specializes in Corvette aluminum radiators and they have Direct Fit high-performing aluminum radiators for C1 to C6 Corvettes. They also have correct restoration radiators like our special high-horsepower (270hp) top-tank equipped unit. DeWitts also carries surge tanks for 1960-’72 Corvettes that are reproduced from original tooling and licensed by General Motors.

The term Direct Fit means that their radiators are designed to install into the stock mounting and use the factory connections without any modifications or adapters. They feature two-row cooling tubes with serpentine fins, and unlike the temporary fix on our ’60s old unit, they don’t contain any epoxy. DeWitts also sells copper and brass components for a correct restoration of those earlier Corvettes that used these materials from the factory.

If more performance is important over factory original, DeWitts also offers electric fan kits that complement their easy-to-install radiators, complete with shroud and wiring kit! If your Corvette’s radiator’s performance is starting to slip, you can be sure that DeWitts will have a radiator to suit your needs.

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All DeWitts aluminum radiators come with the factory appearing cast aluminum upper neck, not bulged round tubing welded to the cooling stack of the radiator.

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The first aluminum radiator (3147516) was used on 1960 high-performance (270/290Hp) Corvettes. This radiator had an aluminum overflow tank attached to the top and is therefore commonly referred to as a “top tank”. This tank was not a pressured expansion tank. The first version featured a smooth flat top and had no plastic coolant-level viewing plug. The radiator was unpainted and used a 13-psi pressure cap. In the middle of the 1960 production year, five ribs were added to the top of the tank for added strength. Shortly after that change, the plastic coolant-level sight hole was added, creating yet a third version of the radiator. The radiator part number changed to 3151116 for the early 1961 (270/315) high performance Corvettes and was used up to VIN number 1700. The only change made to the radiator was an aluminum nipple and coupling was added to the assembly. None of the original production versions were painted. Only GM service parts were painted black. DeWitts now offers this radiator in any version you need. Please specify if you want the flat top, ribs, and/or sight hole. Radiators with the sight hole will include the correct plastic plug.

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A radiator leak can disrupt anyone’s schedule, plus create major engine problems for any given vehicle. And, of all the places you wouldn’t want the radiator on our 1960 Corvette to start leaking, just a few hours before a scheduled 150-plus mile “Fun Run” tour in Kingman, Arizona.

Truly one of those “this can’t be happening” situations, this was a worst case scenario. We had hauled the little guy all the way from Ohio to Kingman in anticipation of another great run, only to pull into the line-up of participants and see those dreaded wisps of steam emitting from under the hood, accompanied by the inevitable puddle of coolant on the ground.

After allowing the radiator to cool down, an inspection revealed numerous pinholes (and metal disintegration) at the radiator neck, allowing pressure (and coolant) to bypass the seal on the radiator cap. This time, as our luck would have it, we were within walking distance of an auto parts store where a five-minute epoxy kit saved the day.

We scraped off as much of the decayed aluminum as possible with a small screwdriver, cleaned the area as best we could with towels, and right there on the main street in town, mixed the two-part epoxy. While the epoxy was still in liquid form, we quickly applied it to the damaged area … and waited. Roughly 10 minutes later the epoxy became rock solid and provided enough of a seal to get us through the Fun Run tour.

Additional leaks on the ’60 Corvette have progressed to the point that five-minute epoxy is no longer an option. Radiator replacement time is at hand. For that, we contacted our friends at DeWitts Reproductions.

The project started, as would any radiator replacement, by placing a proper drain pan under the vehicle and draining the remaining coolant from the old unit. While the coolant was dribbling into the pan, my assistant Bob Alexander helped me extract the four bolts holding the fiberglass hood and we carefully sat it off to the side out of harm’s way.

With the hood off, it opens up lots of uncluttered working space for any and all items such as the upper hose, cooling fan bolts, radiator fan shroud, etc. The four bolts holding the fan blade to the water pump were removed, and the fan and clutch assembly lifted away from the pump. This gave us even more room for an easy removal of the water pump pulley, the upper fan shroud and upper radiator hose. After accessing the four lower shroud bolts to include three center screws (holding both sections together), we removed the lower shroud and lower radiator hose. At this point in the game, two additional support screws were all that were left for releasing the old radiator from its mounting.

After the radiator was out of the car and on the floor, our next step was to remove the four bolts, nuts and washers that kept the radiator mounting brackets secured to the side tanks of the old radiator. With those bolts out of the way, we carefully pried the side-mounted brackets off of the radiator. They would be cleaned and reinstalled on the new unit including new nuts, bolts and washers.

With the side brackets attached to the new DeWitts radiator and our drain petcock in place, a reversal of the removal prepared us for many more miles of trouble-free cruising America’s highways and byways. For added life to the new radiator, we treated the cooling system to a power flush, new coolant, a new radiator cap, and a much needed new thermostat and gasket.

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