I've been lurking here off and on for a few years looking at other peoples V8 swaps and now that mine is well underway I figured I’d post about my experiences putting a 283 Chevy small block and T5 into my 87 Ram 50. Hopefully it will give someone contemplating a Chevy swap into their Ram 50/Mighty Max an idea of what they’re in for.
The truck: The truck is an 87 Ram 50, 2WD, 5 speed, open rear end (3.90 gears) manual steering and factory AC. The truck has a lot of family history and I ended up with it about 10 years ago when the rods started knocking. It’s got a straight rust free body and because of the family connection I stuffed it in a back shed figuring one day I’d get around to getting back on the road and eventually passing it on to another family member when I’m through playing with it. I’m an old hot-rodder so the engine swap plan always involved an American V8. Here is the truck resting just before it got moved to the main shop.
Planning: I live in Arizona (south of Tucson) at 4500 ft elevation. We get well over 100 degrees some days in the summer and I’ve seen it at 0 degrees in the winter. The plan was/is to build the truck as a 365 day a year driver capable of also making an annual vacation trip to Illinois (4000 mile round trip to a 200 ft elevation).
Believe it or not the biggest consideration on this swap was being able to retain the factory AC. This is going to be a driver not a weekend toy and summer here makes the AC is mandatory.
With the hood open and looking at the little 2 liter in there, it looks like there is a lot of room for almost anything.
It looks that way clear up until you take a tape measure out and find out the engine compartment is really short and there is not a lot of room to go forward with the AC condenser before it hits the grill. Looking at a some of the other peoples swaps with Mopar, Ford and Chevrolet small blocks, none tht I came across had AC and in most cases they had moved the radiator either under/in the core support or in front of it. I’ve built/owned Mopar, Ford and Chevrolet small blocks over the years and properly built I like them all, so brand was not a big consideration for me (although I would have kind of liked to have a Mopar engine in something that has the name Dodge in huge letters on the tailgate.
The Mopar and Ford small blocks actually seemed to fit a bit better (in large part due to the pan configurations) than the Chevy. In the end for me, the determining factor turned out to be the engine length and the Chevy SB with a short water pump is the shortest (although the Ford SB is a close second and has the distributor in the front which is an added benefit). In the end the SBC won out. On paper it looked like I might be able to run the radiator and AC condenser in the stock location….but more on that later.
The next consideration was what to use for a transmission. From what I researched there were only 2 rear end ratios for the 2wd 87 Ram 50; 3.55 and 3.90. My truck has the 3.90 and even if it had the 3.55 an overdrive transmission is mandatory as it be will racking up a bunch of interstate miles. The 2 most logical choices from an availability/cost standpoint for me were the Borg Warner T5 5 speed manual and the TH 200 4R automatic.
Engine: In the past I have been accused of going a bit to the extreme as far as my engine selections (my current shop truck is an 83 El Camino with a 507 Cubic Inch (8.3 L) Cadillac engine). For this project I decided that I’d go in the other direction and look at a smaller displacement engine. My first thought was a 305 roller motor with Vortec heads I have in the back. It’s carbureted and other than needing freshened up it is a good solid motor. In the end however I elected to use a 283 I had recently rebuilt for an era correct 1960s hot rod project that never materialized. The engine is fresh and only has a couple hours of test stand time on it. The engine specs out as follows:
1960 283 (+.060 overbore)
1965 Power Pack heads (opened up for 1.94 intake valves)
Flat tappet hydraulic cam (equivalent to 275 HP fuelie cam)
Reproduction Corvette rams horn exhaust manifolds (2.5” outlets)
I’d originally built the engine with Tri Power but changed it over to a single 4 BBL when the decision was made to install it in the ram 50.
Transmission: I decided I’d keep the truck a manual shift and did some horse trading for a rebuilt T5 (5 speed) from a 1992 S-10. I had looked at both the S-10 and Camaro versions of the T5s and decided on the S10 version because of shifter location. It forward of where the original shifter went, but the Camaro version was too far back and would interfere with the seat adjustment.
I gave some thought to the clutch linkage when I was deciding on the bellhousing. The D50 uses a cable operated clutch and I figured it might be easiest to retain the cable type rather than building mechanical linkage or using a hydraulic setup…….I’d probably rethink that now, but more on that later. As it was I managed to find a bellhousing and clutch fork from a mid 1970s V8 Chevrolet Monza (as far as I know the only SBC cable clutch setup Chevrolet ever used)
This is the transmission and bellhousing. It’s next to the Saginaw 4 speed I was using for comparison prior to making the minor modifications needed to the T5 input shaft and bearing retainer.