July 25, 2022

Opening The Box: Aluminum vs. Copper Brass in your radiator

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Content provided by Hemmings Motor News Media Workshop

Your dad probably once told you, “Start messing with it, and it’ll never get finished.” And when it comes to your vintage pickup or classic car, that’s not necessarily untrue. But, let’s face it, you mess with these old cars and trucks for the love of it. Sorta your “zen,” moments, if you will. And the best way to maintain that state of zen? By maintaining every part of your ride’s drivetrain.  And the best way to do that is with a little bit of planning, starting at the front: the radiator.

One of the most misunderstood, yet crucial, features of your classic, water-cooled engine is the one part that’s not bolted to it: the radiator is way out there in front, as the first line of defense against overheating. And everyone who’s come to an unexpected stop along the road on a hot day knows that the cooling system is a major factor in determining what kind of day you’re gonna have with your classic.

But, to decide what type of radiator is best for your particular vehicle, is to start at the opposite end of it with a few key factors:

1. What kind of engine are you running? Is it an untouched stocker? Is it a mild rebuild? A wild overhaul? Are you shoe-horning a giant pushrod V8 into the space a 4-banger flathead once sat? All these factors will play a major role in deciding what type, size and shape of radiator you’ll need to cool the fluid running through it.

2. Are you introducing any power-adders for the first time, like turbos or superchargers? There’s nothing quite like the stab of thrust a blower provides or the spooled-up boost of at least one turbo, but these things raise the temperature behind the radiator, too. Sort of a Catch-22: more power, but more power-robbing heat at the same time. You’ll need a radiator designed to accommodate your go-fast dreams and your engine’s ability to make it come true.

3. Engine-to-engine bay ratio: How much space do you have? It’s one thing to rebuild the tired, old, original big-block in your classic pickup truck, but it’s quite another to stuff an “Elephant” motor between the rails of your ’32 Ford. Assuming you want your car to look as good as it performs, you’ll need to figure out how your radiator literally fits into your plans.

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Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s much easier to imagine the type of radiator that’s best for your project. And before you think about number of cores and placement of tanks, think about the materials: aluminum or copper brass.

1. Aluminum: Chances are, your classic didn’t come from the factory with an aluminum radiator. But an aluminum radiator built specifically for your unique vehicle is always an option. Aluminum requires less physical space for your radiator to do its job and it weighs much less than its stock copper/brass counterpart. So, if space and weight are issues you need to consider, a custom aluminum radiator might be your best choice.

2. Copper brass: When it comes to heat transfer and keeping your coolant cool, nothing beats copper brass. And it’s much more durable material than its aluminum counterpart. These are two major factors in the reason the stock radiator in your classic was made from this But while your original copper brass radiator will last for years and years, it’s not as efficient for the space it now occupies to keep your engine cool. Although copper transfers heat better than aluminum, copper brass must be held together with lead solder, which acts as an insulator, reducing the efficiency of the copper. With a complete picture of your engine, engine compartment, drivetrain and the kind of driving you expect your radiator to accommodate, you can now play an important role in designing a custom cooling system, starting at the front. And your next step is to call us!

Shrouded In Mystery No More: The Right Fan Components For Your Radiator

You’re finally wrapping up that wild drivetrain for your classic and the custom radiator you ordered is on its way to you. Or, maybe you’ve completed that stock restoration and you can’t wait to button-up all the details and hit the road with it. While you may feel like you’re at opposite ends of the spectrum with “the other guy” and his build, there are a few universal truths to consider as you get ready to install your new radiator:

1. What kind of fan are you? And we mean that literally and figuratively. Are you a fan of overheating on the side of the road? Of course not. There’s a direct correlation between the rising temp gauge needle and the terror creeping up the spine for any classic car owner. While there are more than a few components to your cooling system to get “right,” the radiator fan is one that’s often overlooked. A stock mechanical fan was more than adequate for your classic to keep air moving through its radiator fins when it was new: its designers never expected you to either 1) modify the engine for twice as much horsepower, 2) ask the drivetrain to keep itself from melting down on modern highways, at modern highway speeds, for sustained periods of time. In those scenarios, an auxiliary electric fan is probably a better idea. If you’re not really asking much of your classic in its retirement years, its stock mechanical fan might just be fine.

  • a. Electric fans: the choices are plenty when it comes to the right electric fan solution. Depending on your needs, an electric fan can be located on the front of the radiator and “push” air through it or “pull” that same air, situated between the radiator and the front of the engine. Ideally, you want the fan pulling air through the radiator to the engine. Some fans are designed as a pusher and others are puller fans and neither work both ways by just changing the polarity! But there are a few manufacturers that make a blade that can be flipped over to make the pitch of the blades correct when you change polarity for better CFMs. Do you need one or two e-fans? You want to cover as much surface AREA of the radiator with a fan. Sometimes, a 16” single fan has better coverage than two 10” fans and proper shrouding when using E-fans is extremely important. Do you want the fan(s) on the key switch or a separate manual switch? We recommend that you put your e-fans on a thermostat control or a fan controller to turn the fan(s) on when the temperature reaches the proper operating temperature. Keep in mind that these temperatures vary, depending on whether the engine is carbureted or fuel-injected, so they have different temperature sending units. We’re here to help you decide what kind of e-fan configuration is best for your specific project, so don’t hesitate to ask.
  • b. Mechanical fans: nothing looks as good as a stock mechanical fan on the front of your classic’s engine. That said, there are a few options with this type of fan, too: a “flex” fan that can change its blades’ efficiency, different numbers, and shapes of blades on a fan and even fan clutch technology. When you’re having your new radiator made, talk to us about these different options.

2. For a mechanical fan, its shroud is more important than you think. When you open the hood of your classic, only to be met with a beat-up, tired-looking, dirty fan shroud, your first inclination may be to just get rid of it. After all, you’re smart enough not to lean over your running engine while wearing a scarf or hoodie with drawstrings, right? That fan shroud might keep fingers and neckties safe, but that’s just an added benefit: it’s designed to effectively direct the air being churned-up by the movement of the car and the spinning fan. You’d be amazed by how well that unsightly shroud points air in the direction your engine – and your spine – need it most.

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Fans and the shrouds that love them don’t have to be complicated decisions. Matter of fact, they should be part of the entire cooling system you’re designing for your specific project. We’ll not only make sure your new radiator is the right one for the job, but its supporting fan and shroud actors, too.

Come on over to U.S. Radiator and take a look around  – and let us know how we can put just the right cooling package together for your project!