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Restoring a 1951 Chev. Bel-Air to factory specs.

hondarulesallhondarulesall Posts: 9
edited March 2014 in Chevrolet
Can anyone tell me what the OEM engine would, or could, have been in a 51 Chev. Bel-Air, 2dr hard top?? All I know is that it was a flat head.


  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 18,658
    but I'm pretty sure it was a version of the famous
    Chevy "Stovebolt Six". This was perhaps the second greatest engine ever made by GM, it dated back to at least the mid-30s.

    Better do some research if you're going to undertake a project like that. Perhaps Hemmings can help.

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    Cast iron, OHV Inline six, 235.5 cubic inches, with Rochester model BC one-barrel carburator. Bore and stroke=3-9/16x3-15/16", four main bearings, hydraulic valve lifters, Compression ratio 6.7:1, 105hp @ 3600 rpm.

    I would definitely consider putting in a small, very mild V8 in this car, unless you want to do 'all factory'.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    That's right, not a flathead. Was the 235 optional or standard in that model? I always thought you had to wait until '53 to get the 235 standard, but my memory is hazy on this one.

    It's a car you could either rod or leave stock, since a restored stock one or a nicely done rod would be worth about the same---perhaps the rod even a bit more.

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,603
    If that Chevy came with a Powerglide (automatic) transmission, then it would have the 235 with hydraulic lifters etc.

    If, on the other hand it's a manual transmission it would have the 216 engine. These still used babbit bearings. They were pretty tough but not nearly as durable as a 235.

    And I strongly disagree with ghulet. If the car is a nice original please do not Mickey Mouse it up by stuffing a V-8 into it.

    If you really want a V-8 buy a car that came with one in the first place.

    BTW...I just love those old Chevys!
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    How about one of the Jimmy sixes? What were they, 270 and 302? There was also a 261 truck version of the stovebolt.
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    My bad, I didn't realize the 235 was a 'Powerglide only' engine (until 1952; in '53, the 235 was standard across the board).

    The standard engine: OHV 216.5 cubic inches, cast iron block, bore and stroke 3-1/2 x 3-3/4, compression ratio 6.6:1, four main bearings, solid valve lifters, and Stromberg, Rochester or Carter one-barrel carbs used in mixed production. 92hp at 3400rpm.

    I guess I can see the merits of keeping the car, including the engine, completely stock, if you value originality above all else, including drivability. I can't help but imagine, though, spending more money redoing the weak stock engine as opposed to just dropping a crate V8 (a quiet, mild one; I'm not talking about a monster BB with headers and a hood scoop here) in it and having reasonable highway performance. After all, stock, we're talking about 92 gross horsepower (unless it is a 235/PG, in which case it's 105hp) in a 3215 pound car. I personally don't see the harm, especially in a car that isn't super valuable or terribly dependant on originality for value, in giving it some extra power. Of course, if you do go with a V8, some other things might need changing or upgrading (brakes, steering, suspension, transmission and/or clutch), so keeping the six might just be easier in the long run.

    I would keep the body and interior bone stock in either case; stock early '50s Chevies are rare compared to the chopped/frenched/overpainted/tuck-and-roll varieties, which seem to be a dime a dozen.

    Just my four cents. Good luck either way. Let us know how you progress.
  • Hi everyone, thanks a lot for the useful info. At this point I am not sure what route to go. The car has a 283 bored 60 over, with 4 speed manual. The motor is cooked, and I think seized. (had some water leak into intake manifold while it was in storage!) I have pulled the heads off, and had them machined, and ported with new sodium filled valves etc. But now I am not sure if I want to keep the mill in it or not. Need to figure that one out before any more time and money is spent on the bottom end.
  • You are right about the need to upgrade other things with a V8... when the 283 was in its prime, the rear end blew out several times. My Dad used to street race the car on the long praire highways in central Canada. He went through quite a few diffs. I believe it sports a Ford 9" now, but am not positive on that one.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,603
    The first post said "restoring the car to factory specs".

    It's already been ....well...I'll be nice...."modified".

    The "factory specs" went away long ago.

    So at this point it doesn't really matter.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    I had already suspected but anyway, the car isn't all that valuable or interesting so if the owner wants to modify it, I don't see the harm. It was a mass produced Chevrolet, not a rare domestic or foreign performance car, for goodness sake. It was built to be a utilitarian vehicle for the working man, like a Model T. No harm to history if you change it, seems to me. The whole hot rod industry in America was built on the idea of re-using ordinary cars and making something special out of them. They didn't chop Deusenbergs and Packards, but Fords.

    If the modification is tasteful, he gets a more useable car, and if he keeps the exterior reasonably stock, people get to appreciate the styling history of that model as well.

    So all are served and it's a win-win all around.

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  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Posts: 1,711
    Andy mentioned that the Chevy Stovebolt Six was perhaps the second greatest engine GM ever made. If that is the case, then what is GM's greatest motor of all time? And, while we're on the subject, transmission?
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    Andy will have to speak for himself, although I think the consensus is that it's the small block Chevy.

    The more interesting debate is what's the second-greatest GM engine. Andy says the stovebolt, and based on longevity you could make a case for it. First came out some time in the '30s and its last year as a passenger car engine was 1964 IIRC.

    I'm not a big Chevy fan but my vote would go to the Chevy big block. Lasted longer than any of the other big blocks and the big port versions were the hairiest of GM's production big blocks.

    Third is more wide open. Pontiac? Maybe the Olds line-up from 1949 to the last of the 455s?
  • As you can see, it will be a lot of work. Removing the modifications, will not be too tough of a challenge, it's the rest that will take effort. Returning the car to original factory specifications, or as close to as possible, will be the ultimate goal.
  • You say the '51 Chev "...isn't all that valuable or interesting..." It may not be either of those to you, or to anyone else out there for that matter. Not the case for me though. This particular car was purchased brand new in 1950, by my Great Grandfather, and has been passed down through the family line. It is quite valuable, and very interesting to me.

    When you say it was "mass produced" and "not a rare" car you imply the old cliche that they are a dime a dozen. That may be true where you live, but not where I live. There are quite a few 55's, and 57's around, and even a couple 56's. But only one 51. In fact I have only ever seen one other in my whole life. I saw it at a classic car show in a really small town somewhere between South Lake Tahoe, and Placerville California. I have been to many classic car shows, and never before had they been graced with a 51 Bel-Air, it was good to see. It sure made a nice sunny day in beautiful central California, a whole lot better.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,603
    1951 Chevys were quite plentiful and aren't really anything special I suppose.

    Still, for me, they are cars that I remember from my youth fondly. I grew up in a " Chevy Town" and just love those old Chevys.

    The only modification I would make would be to split the manifold and add a nice set of glasspacks. Nothing sounds sweeter than a six cylinder Chevy with a set of duals.

    However, hondarulesall, I know that Chevy is very dear to you since it belonged to your great grandfather. Still, the cost of putting it back to stock will FAR outweigh it's value.

    This will be a VERY EXPENSIVE labor of love if it's even possible. Hopefully it didn't get butchered too badly.

    In my hometown most of these got turned into lowriders and one by one, they slowly disappeared.

    Hard to believe they are more than fifty years old!
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,603
    Shifty, did you catch the fact it's a Bel-Air?

    Those were the nifty two door hardtops. Not that many were produced. Not like it's a four door sedan as most were.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    Yeah, sure, I caught that. But I think it would make a much niftier modified car that you could actually drive somewhere than putting back a 216 engine with anemic power and babbitt bearings and 15 lbs working oil pressure and splash (oil dippers, no full pressure) lubrication.

    My goodness, I'm not advocating destroying the car. Everyone will see the same car on the outside and it will be safer and faster modified anyway.

    Of course sentimental value cannot be replaced. I'm only saying the car itself was a very ordinary piece of work with no outstanding technical or styling features. It doesn't have to be preserved in its original state, especially the cranky engine. The Smithsonian won't sue you and car collectors worldwide won't weep in anguish if you put in a V-8, it's okay to do it on a car of this type (if you want).

    Going back to stock is going to be a huge amount of work and when you're done, you'll have to live with very limited performance on modern roads.

    This is why the modified 50s Chevy market is booming right now. People want power steering, disk brakes and the ability to go 70 mph.

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    ...a Chevy would be one of the coolest cars to have. I never really liked the Fords from the '49-54 timeframe. The '49-50 or so were more modern-looking for the time, but just not classically handsome like the Chevy. They were also some serious rusters, too. The later Fords, while they had a few more modern features like integrated rear fenders, were just kinda dowdy looking.

    Same for the Plymouth. The '49-52's aren't ugly, just kinda dowdy, compared to a Chevy. And the '53-54 were just too stubby, having a roofline of near DeSoto or Chrysler proportions, but on a smallish Plymouth chassis.

    As for 6-cylinder engines, how would a 250 inline compare to that older 236? I'm sure the 250 would be plenty durable, and a bit more modern, as well.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    A modern six with seven main bearings and full pressure lubrication would be a big step forward.

    Personally I'm okay that it has the 283 and four speed. It's a very "period" hop-up in that lots of people were doing it in the '50s and '60s. The swap also makes the car a lot more fun than the stock drivetrain--probably transforms it.

    However, I can see how someone like Isell who has an emotional attachment to these cars would want to keep (or re-create) the original driving experience.

    The '49-54 Chevies actually weigh more than the '55-7s, even with the same drivetrain. I think it was Andre who mentioned that the pre-'55 Chevies were the last built to stand up to dirt roads.

    My impression of the differences between the low-priced Big Three in those days is that the Ford V8 was the hot rod, Chevy had the build quality and Plymouth would run forever with minimal maintenance. Of course by the early '50s the flathead V8 was obsolete. There seems to have been a fair amount of interest in hopping up the Chevy, and more interest in the larger Jimmy sixes.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    Cadillac became a very popular choice for hot rods and track specials before the Chevy 265, as it was one of the first of the post war short stroke V8s (like the Olds Rocket 88).

    Regarding the '51 Chevy, I don't see where it makes any more sense to bring it back to original specs than it would to take a modified Ford Model T bucket and turn it back into a Model T roadster.

    Sure, if it were already completely original and in good original shape (the proverbial "old lady car"), then maybe, as a 2 door hardtop, you could justify a parial street restoration of an already sound and clean car....but to undo all the damage done from the V8 installation, and to track down a 216 engine, and then all the paintwork, etc.....well, personally, I don't see the wisdom of this type of project. The car's significance doesn't justify it.

    However, if you were born in the back seat or something, well, you can throw common sense out the window and enjoy yourself, since you probably aren't into any kind of monetary or status/awards payback.

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  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    If you're talking about GM engine greats then sure, Cadillac was a highly regarded engine throughout the '50s, generally considered the best all around engine, but it fell by the wayside in the '60s.

    In the early '50s the Cad and Olds were two of the most modern (and two of the largest) engines but that was when even many mid-range makes were still getting by with small displacement engines dating from the '30s.

    By the late '50s Pontiac in particular had caught up in size and was much more performance oriented.

    The Ford flathead accounted for most of the hot rod movement into the mid-'50s but the Cadillac and Olds took it to the next level. The Chevy small block's contribution was to bring cheap reliable high performance to the low-priced three.
  • Mr_Shiftright and isellhondas... You both bring up some very excellent points. While the Bel-Air has sentimental value, (semi-mental value as a friend puts it), I definitely was not born in the back seat. Removing the V8 implant and un-doing the "damage" done by it is probably just me dreaming too big. As for the rest of the car, however, it is in amazingly great shape. The only rust spots are on the front bumper, and the rear end/filler panel, between the rear bumper and trunk opening. The bumper is only a couple surface spots and is repairable; all it needs is to be stripped, and re-chromed. The end panel is a different story, you can poke your finger through it. I have a line on an aftermarket replacement, made out of aluminum. I also have some friends keeping an eye out for one at car shows and swap meets in Washington State and around Portland OR. There are a lot of classic car events in those parts. Believe it or not, the rest of the car has no rust, or dents!! And get this... it is the original paint job! Probably does not quite shine like it used to, but it still looks great. And all of the chrome accents are complete and intact. The only things that have been changed are the engine, trans and rear end. Still has the original interior, steering wheel, and even the radio and antenna. It really is a beautiful car, I really love the look of the split windsheild and back glass.

    Since this message is getting longer than anticipated, I am going to leave you with a query... As I mentioned before, the 283's bottom end is seized, I have completly rebuilt the heads, but have yet to pull apart the bottom to see if it is even salvagable. If I stay with the V8, and the 283 turns out to be nothing more than a boat anchor, what would you recomend I put in its place??

    Sorry it's so long, but again thanks for your help and advice.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    Probably the ubiquitous 350 crate motor and TH350 transmission, but I wouldn't build it too strong, as you'll tear the guts out of that old car. Keep it at standard compression and all stock intake, cams, carb, ignition,etc, and it will still have plenty of power to motivate that old Chevy.

    Eek, rust, that's a big issue as well. Just make sure you get it all. Rust never sleeps.

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  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 18,658
    Just for the record, I think the small block Chevy has to be the greatest, based on it's versatility, longevitty and track record in racing
    of many kinds.

    The Stovebolt six follows, based mostly on it's longevity and it's reputation for indestructability.

    Third place? I dunno, the OHV, high compression
    V8s from '48-'49 (Cadillac & Olds) were superb motors for their day but a previous poster makes a good case for the big-block Chevies, still in service today.

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,595
    I don't know quite where the Stovebolt got a reputation for durability. I think they are pretty fragile old things. I suspect it came from the fact that they made it so long, but length of production doesn't always mean the engines are the best. I'd say the 230 was better all around.

    Chevy small blocks had a good racing record in some areas of domestic racing but not much of anything in international endurance racing. Still a mighty fine engine considering how simple and cheap it was.

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  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Posts: 1,711
    But the Chevy small block is still a durable and reliable engine, depending on the year, I presume?
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    ...the 305 in my Mom's Monte Carlo had 192,000 miles on it when it got totaled, and, aside from leaky valve cover gaskets, was still running well.

    I'm about to get my Granddad's '85 Silverado, which has a 305-4bb, and (I think) about 120-130K miles on it, so I'll let ya know how it holds up!

    For the most part, I think the Chevy smallblock is okay, but it just depends on who you talk to. Any Ford or Mopar guy is going to tell you it's a POS. Actually, any Pontiac, Olds, or Buick guy will tell you the same thing!

    It might be fine, built up for racing, but in stock form, and Olds engine of similar displacement is usually more durable, and has better low-end torque. I believe Pontiac engines could take more of a bore before they started getting unreliable. For instance, the Chevy 400 smallblock they had for a few years in the '70's was pretty well-known for premature self-destruction, while a Pontiac 400 was pretty solid, as was an Olds 403.

    As with anything, once they start getting old, how the car was maintained and cared for is much more important than how the thing was built in the first place. You could take the crappiest Chevy smallblock and the best Ford or Mopar smallblock, but if you pamper and maintain the Chevy but dog out the other two, then obviously the Chevy is going to win out.

    FWIW though, I heard the main reason the chevy smallblock won out over the Olds, Buick, or Pontiac units in production runs was cost. The Pontiacs also ran kinda cool, which didn't bode well with emissions controls. But in the end, the Chevy engines were just cheaper to produce than the others.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    400 Chevy didn't have enough material around the cylinders to keep them round, especially if the engine overheated. It was just too much of an overbore, something like the 4.1 version of the 3800.

    The Olds 403 was IIRC just a stroked (and how) 350 with maybe a taller block to accomdate the stroke. It hadn't been bored out to within an inch of its life like the Chevy 400.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,603
    Those 216's weren't all that bad. They were actually pretty tough. It just takes an old timer who knows how to shim and adjust those bearings once in awhile.

    And, they weren't all that gutless either. I remember driving my old '52 in excess of 80 MPH with no problems at all.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    ...but I've ridden in a '50 DeSoto Custom that a friend of mine used to have. Considering that inline-6 (I think it was a flathead too) had maybe a whopping 116 hp gross, and probably weighed around 3800+ lb, it had no trouble getting around. It seems like they just knew how to gear cars back then.

    If you tried to floor it and do some 0-60 or 1/4 mile stunts, the resulting times would probably be laughable, and because of the short differential gearing, I'd guess they'd top out at what? 90-95 mph? Still, in everyday driving, it definitely wouldn't hold up traffic!

    A 6-cyl Chevy wouldn't have as much hp, but wouldn't weigh nearly as much as my friend's tank either, so I'd guess performance would be at least equal, if not better.

    I guess also, considering the interstate hadn't been invented yet, there really weren't too many places back then you could go 100+ mph anyway!
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