The Trials and Tribulations of Installing a GMC 302 engine into a 1950 3/4 ton Chevrolet Pick Up
by Joel Baumbaugh
Background: About 5 years ago I “upgraded” the engine in my truck from a 216 to a 235. Lately I have felt that I wanted/needed a little more torque (especially while the bed is full of something heavy) and while one option was to rebuild and re-cam my 235 and another was to install a Chevy 350/400 (or 700R), the “popular” literature said that I could also install a GMC 270 or 302. Just to be “different”, I decided to go the latter route.
The Source: I wanted a “running” engine that I could just drop in with a minimum of trouble. The engine I found for my project was a 1959-1962 GMC engine from a School Bus. The bus had been converted into a “camper” and had then caught on fire and burned beyond repair. At first glance, the outside of the engine looked kind of rough. I checked the compression (all cyls. were at 160 lbs./sq.in), looked at the plugs (all light brown), listened to it run (no strange noises) ‘ the oil pressure was 55-60 lbs./sq.in. at idle and the rocker arms/valve area was pretty clean of sludge. Short of pulling the pan, this was as far as I could go. I bought it, brought it home and cleaned it up.
Problems/Solutions: The engine had a LOT of bus-type accessories that I did not want/need. The “massive” front Crank Pulley (the damper pulley assay) had a three-groove pulley ‘ “way” too long! After careful measurement I found that I was able to replace it with a single groove pulley off of a 235 (I replaced the front seal at this time). The water pump shaft was “very” long as well and sported a 2-groove pulley. I removed the pulley and ground/cut the pulley shaft back. The water pump on this engine did not seal against the block and/or head. This one was bolted to a thick steel plate which held a tensioner (for a double groove pulley) which weighed about 30 lbs. (weight I did NOT want) and was bolted to the front of the block. I found a rear plate (and gaskets) for the water pump from a place here in town that rebuilds water pumps. Bolting the water pump directly to the block saved me another ½ inch in engine length. The owner also sold me a flange to press on to the shaft so that I could bolt a new water pump pulley onto the pump (the original Chevy is shaft diameter is ½ inches and the 302 is 3/l8 inches). To find a pulley which would align with the bottom crankshaft pulley required a number of trips to local junk/wrecking yards. I finally found one that was the perfect depth (I’m not sure if it was originally from a Chevy or not). I had to enlarge the center hole to make it fit the GMC shaft.
The 302’s “bus” generator weighed about 80 lbs. I found that the 235’s generator mounting flange’s bolt-holes fit perfectly! However, I “did” need to reverse it and then elongate the mounting holes so that I could slide it forward to align the generator pulley groove with the crank and water pump pulleys.
The carburetor that came with the engine was a joke. It even had a governor on it. I had the option to purchase a better 2-barrel carburetor or to step up a little bit and buy a 4-barrel manifold. I did the latter. I had a (gasp) Ford ‘Autolite’ carburetor in my garage (about 400 CFM) from a ‘289’ which I bolted up to the manifold and it works GREAT! – Especially with the stock low-performance camshaft. I also at this time “upgraded” my carburetor linkage. I went to an off-road dune buggy place and purchased a new accelerator pedal and a push-pull cable. Configuring the carburetor linkage from the stock pedal to the new manifold/carburetor would have been a nightmare otherwise.
Radiator: The 302 engine “is” 1 1/2 to two inches longer than the 325 (which is longer than the 216). This means that the radiator no longer fits into its original location. I tried to modify the radiator mount to put the radiator inside. Don’t even try. The radiator needs to mount on the front of the mount. This means that you will have to borrow your neighbor’s “Saws-All” with a metal cutting blade and cut away the top and front cross bracing on the radiator support, the lower front wind deflecting metalwork at the bottom (behind the grill) and drill 6 new holes in the mount for the radiator. The upper support that contains the hood latch will need to have a rectangle cut in it to fit the top of the radiator in it as well. I now have about 2 inches clearance between my water pump pulley and the radiator. I use an electric thermostatically controlled (pusher) fan in front of my radiator. It’s quieter, doesn’t rob the engine of power (better mileage) and the water pump may last longer without the fan blades. Note: My friend and neighbor has a 1951 GMC. I have measured his engine compartment. From his bellhousing to the radiator flange he had 4 more inches to play with, so I’d bet that he originally had a longer GMC engine (he runs a Chevy 235 now), and that he could make the conversion to a 270 or 302 without any cutting being necessary.
Front Mount Yes the 302 engine “is” 1 1/2 to 2 inches longer than the 235. The front mount on the Bus’ 302 was a weird set-up which caused the engine to sit at an angle (like a Chrysler slant 6). This saved some height in the bus’ engine compartment. However, after removing the bus setup spacers, I found that the two bolt holes on the mount (on the bottom of the timing cover/block) were at right angles to the block and aligned perfectly with my truck’s original 216 mount so I was able to exchange them and everything was level ‘ no oil pan removal required! I then drilled two (new) holes through the truck’s cross member, put in longer frame-mounting bolts and added some extra rubber padding (cut from a truck mud-flap) to keep the mount from rubbing on the frame and so far its worked ok.
Rear: The bus engine I purchased was coupled to an automatic transmission. That meant that it had a flex plate (that the converter bolted to) instead of a flywheel. The flex-plate (with the old ring-gear) was MUCH larger than the flywheel I would need. I found a flywheel from a GMC 270 that fit. Although the flywheel’s diameter and the number of teeth are the same as the 1955-1959 Chevrolet, the crankshaft bolt pattern is different between the GMC’s and the Chevrolet’s. The flywheel bolts are different as well (1/2 inch dia. instead of 3/8’s”). Although I tried using an impact wrench, a gorilla on steroids must have put on the old flywheel bolts. I broke a socket and finally had to remove 3 of them with a chisel. The 3/8″ GMC flywheel bolts are not available ANYWHERE. I went to an industrial bolt supply place and bought six more grade 10 bolts. I had the heads machined thinner (like the originals) as otherwise they protrude into the pressure plate/clutch plate area and will cause binding problems. I then carefully shortened the bolts (watch those threads ‘ I put a tap on the inside of the bolt and then backed it off to remove the burrs) to match the original length as they otherwise hit the block behind the flywheel (close tolerances here…).
The pressure and clutch plates and throw-out bearing match those of a Chevy 1955-1959 10- inch set. The 302 had a roller bearing pilot bearing instead of a oillite bronze bushing. I replaced it with another roller bearing and the transmission (its a Saginaw off of a 1969 Camaro) fit in just fine.
I used my original bellhousing off of the 1950 Chevy. The old GMC one was slanted to match the front motor mount. The starter location in the GMC bellhousing was for a larger diameter flexplate and would not work. The GMC starter had the wrong number of teeth to work on the 10″ flywheel. The starter which (I found) works, was a 12 volt 9 tooth (for a 164 tooth flywheel) from a 1955 Chevrolet and works great.
Oil and Water lines: There is an oil line on the front of the block up to the head. This supplies the oil to the rocker arms. Leave it alone. I tied (T’d) into it and put on a 100 PSI oil pressure gage as my Chevy gage only goes to 30 lbs. This engine NEEDS an oil filter. If you block off the oil supply line on the driver’s side of the block you will not get ANY oil pressure in the engine. I “T’d” into the pressure side and connected up my original oil pressure gage (it’s a stretch, but it reaches). Yes, it’s always pegged on 30 lbs., but gives me a warm fuzzy feeling when I look down. The head has an external water line that goes to the thermostat housing. Leave it alone. You can put a “T” in and hook up your temperature gage (with an adapter), but I put mine further down on the block (there’s a fitting there), because it was always showing “cold” on the gage. Be careful of that temperature gage line. It cost me close to $50.00 the last time I had to replace it. The radiator hoses clamped right up although the GMC diameter on the lower radiator hose is one step smaller.
The 302’s distributor had a governor on it and was centrifugal advance only. The bottom of the distributor was different than the Chevy, but my Chevy distributor “guts” bolted right in. I was able to put in a spring kit (the GMC centrifugal advance springs were so thick that they could have been used for front struts on a Honda) and I now have vacuum advance as well.
The GMC fuel pump leaked so I replaced it with a Pep Boys electric fuel pump. I couldn’t find a replacement anywhere locally, so I guess I’ll have this one rebuilt for a “spare”.
I had a split cast-iron exhaust manifold on the Chevy 235. I “may” get a header for this motor in the future, but in the mean time I had the muffler shop split the 302’s three-inch header pipe into the two existing exhaust pipes.
And, how is it?
Well, pretty good. I have a LOT more torque. This means that I can get up to freeway speeds without wishing for bike-pedals for a little more push. I have 36″ tires on 6″ Chevy rims on the back so I’m only turning 2,800 RPM at 60 mph. The larger tires had made the truck a little “logy” getting started with the 235 ‘ now it “steps right out” from a light. I haven’t checked the gas mileage yet. I was getting 17 mpg City and 20 mpg highway with the old 235. I’d guess that I’ve lost about 2 mpg with this engine/carburetor combination.
Future When this old engine is due for a rebuild, I’ll probably buy some “lighter” pistons and a little hotter (than stock) cam. The pistons will help the engine “rev” faster, be easier on the bottom end and will probably result in higher gas mileage due to their weight difference and the higher compression. The cam will help volumetric efficiency and give me a little more torque and higher end. Of course I’ll have everything balanced ‘ IMHO it’s worth the extra money.
I hope that this story helps someone else. Remember the 270 and 302 are “basically” the same engine so I imagine that your situation will be pretty similar to mine no matter what you find. It took “6 hours” using hand tools to remove the old engine and 4 days to put back in the new.
Since the project above, I decided to rebuild the 302 as it was burning a little oil. I bored the cylinders out .125 thousands (it’s now 320 cubic inches), put in a “Patrick’s” M4F camshaft, and put in “Venolia” 10.5×1 forged pistons. I had everything balanced of course. I had to find and purchase another head as the old one had a crack in it (hence the oil burning). When I got the new (used) head, I pulled out the valves and cleaned/smoothed up the intake and exhaust ports/passages which were pretty rough castings, and then put in new late-model exhaust valves (I went to 1.5″) and hardened seats for unleaded gas, and I’m using Chrysler “440” valve springs. I’m now running a “Holley” 600 CFM carburetor (vacuum secondaries) with “Fenton” cast-iron headers. When first started up on a dyno (and not really broken in yet) it recorded 286 hp and 362 ft/lbs torque; not bad for a “street” engine; At this time I also put in a T-5 GM transmission from a ’91 V-8 Camaro (the V-8 transmission has better bearings to handle the torque) with a tail-shaft from a S-10 Pick-up (the shifter was almost in the same place) – so now I have a 0.74 overdrive. At 75mph (a fender-slapping speed for the old pick-up) I’m only turning 2,100 RPM; I had a new driveshaft made as the transmission yoke splines on my old one looked worn.
So far, I’m pretty happy with my set-up. Happy “wrenching” everyone;. ..jb