COAL: 1979 Chevrolet C-10 – My First Engine Swap!


[Not mine. This one was from the Lambrecht Auction.]

I always wanted a truck like this. I think a lot of “car guys” idealize these trucks. Near as I could tell, the only option on this truck was the “Gauge Package (without tachometer)”. Manual steering, manual brakes, 250c.i. straight six, three-on-the-tree. If a truck like this doesn’t make a man out of you, nothing will.

Some of the memory is a bit fuzzy on this one; the year was 1989, or maybe 1990. It was the first time in my life that I had enough disposable cash to buy a “fun car”. I’d always idealized this sort of stripper truck, so $650 cash in hand, I bought one. To say it was in rough shape would have been an understatement, but it went, steered, and stopped, so I figured I could take care of everything else myself.

The test drive was quite literally the first time I’d ever operated a column shifter. It was fun, what can I say? Who doesn’t like a brand-new automotive experience?

I was actually able to drive it “right out of the box”, so I did. I drove it around for a couple months. Sadly, the column shifter was shot, and it would bind and jam. Rather than fix it right, I cut a hole in the floor and installed a $20 floor shifter kit. I never did get the reverse lights working right, and I missed the three-on-the-tree, but at least it shifted a lot easier.

One day, I took it to work on the highway. After a bit, somebody started jackhammering on something under the hood. I dumped the clutch and coasted to the side of the road. Popping the hood, the problem became quite obvious. One of the rod caps decided to quit the circus and exit through the side of the block, leaving a fist-sized hole. So much for the “bulletproof” Straight-Six Chevy!

Well I dragged it home, and thought about what to do with it. I was living in a mother-in-law apartment out in the sticks at that time, and my landlord had a circa 1970 C-10 rotting out back. It had a small-block engine of indeterminate origin; he seemed to recall it was a 307. He told me that if I could get that engine to run, I could have the whole truck for free, as long as I got rid of the remains.

Well, I’d never even pulled an engine before, much less swapped an 8 for a 6, but I figured I really had nothing to lose but my time, so I dove right in. First I got that derelict small-block running, which took not much more than some fresh gas, some carb tinkering, and a points and timing adjustment. So far, so good!

Well, anyhow, by combining bits and pieces of both sets of motor and transmission mounts, I was able to set that small-block in to just the spot the factory intended it to be. It was actually easier than I expected, by far! The only real bear was the clutch linkage, but with enough hardware-store bits and pieces, I got everything to work. I was fairly proud of myself for the whole deal.

Well, life happened, and I wound up needing to move on in a bit of a hurry. I only had the wherewithal to take one vehicle with me and it had to be my daily driver. I handed the title and the keys to my landlord, and walked away. Regardless, it was a fun truck and a fabulous learning opportunity.