C&R Custom Radiator Install: A Cool 1972 Chevy Nova Gets Even Cooler

crradiatorleadartHigh-performance engines run hotter, as do older engines with a lot of hard miles on them. Either can put undue strain on a cooling system – or one that isn’t functioning at its best. Even if you have a renewed copper radiator and a fresh engine build, cooling problems can arise if you don’t have enough radiator to support the power your engine is producing.

The ’72 Nova already had a functional cooling system, but it could be better.

C&R Racing offers custom high-performance all-aluminum radiators for just about any application, whether you have a mild street cruiser or your car sees a lot of track time. C&R is one of the leaders in high-performance cooling technology, and what they have learned from building custom radiators for racing applications has been applied to its line of street radiators.

We wanted to do an upgrade to a common musclecar, and found a friend with a Nova that packed a little bit of a punch. He had the typical cooling system with a fixed, mechanical fan so we suggested the upgrade – not because the cooling system was failing – but because we felt he needed better control of the cooling system.

The C&R Racing radiator module is designed for racing, but made for the street.

Paul Hammond of C&R said, “C&R makes every NASCAR radiator currently being used, and that technology spills into our aftermarket radiators, particularly for musclecars.” This makes our Nova and C&R a great combination, and it definitely adds to the underhood appeal.

C&R Racing Radiator Module

PN 10-00128

  • All aluminum construction
  • Upper radiator support
  • Internal transmission cooler
  • Twin 11-inch SPAL electric fans
  • Two relays/harnesses
  • Temperature switch
Although the Nova already had a functional cooling system, by upgrading to the C&R radiator and twin electric cooling fans, the car gains several key advantages. While copper radiators are lightweight and efficient, aluminum radiators are superior because they reduce weight further and because aluminum has great cooling properties.

Copper radiators often use lead or epoxy in their construction, and lead is a major heat soak. With C&R’s all-aluminum TIG-welded construction, the heat dissipation is greater, and the lack of epoxy means it will last longer.

Copper radiators are not 100 percent copper, and sometimes use several different metals to bond the core to the tanks. Epoxy is also used in some copper radiators, which can break down from temperature variations and vibration from driving.

The high fin count on the C&R radiator also means more heat is drawn out of the tubes to dissipate with the air passing through the radiator. The radiator is TIG-welded and built to high-performance racing standards, and was designed as a direct bolt-in replacement for the factory-style radiator.


To prep for the install, the coolant was drained and all hose clamps were loosened. This is a job that doesn’t require a lot of skill, and can be done in an afternoon.

Our 1972 Chevrolet Nova

Rick Cole, of Hemet, California, allowed us to borrow his 1972 Nova and his garage for this installation. When we first asked about doing the upgrade, he told us that he doesn’t have any cooling issues that he’s aware of, and that his coolant temperature stayed pretty low. Cole was running a single, fixed fan blade mounted directly to the water pump pulley, and it was pulling sufficient air through the radiator. Even though he was not experiencing overheating issues, he did have one problem on colder days: the engine was being cooled too much by a big fan that was not allowing his engine to get up to proper operating temperatures.

C&R makes every NASCAR radiator currently being used, and that technology spills into our aftermarket radiators, particularly for musclecars. – Paul Hammond, C&R Radiators

The Nova is sporting a stroked 350 – punched out to 383ci – putting out 410 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque at the crank. This potent SBC is mated to a TH700R4 automatic transmission with a dedicated trans-cooler. When he first fired it up, we noticed that the fan was pulling a lot of air, and the temperature seemed to stay very low.

But if this mill isn’t getting past 160 degrees, it’s running too cool to operate efficiently. With the twin SPAL fans from C&R’s radiator system, it will allow the engine to get to operating temperature before the fans kick on, and shut them down if the temperature drops below 170 degrees again.



The fixed fan did its job, but it and the spacer will have to be retired.

The Installation

Our custom radiator is designed for cars up to 700 hp, but for power levels above that, C&R makes race-quality cooling systems as well. For lower horsepower applications, C&R may recommend a smaller core size that would be more efficient for that particular engine.

With the information that we provided to C&R, the suggestion was for PN 10-00128, which is a single-pass, crossflow radiator. Included with the module are the twin, 11-inch SPAL fans, a pair of relays, harnesses, a billet radiator cap, and a laser-cut upper mounting bracket to replace the factory bracket. This kit is a bolt-in radiator that will utilize the existing mounting locations with no drilling necessary.

The upper mount was unbolted and removed, and both upper and lower hoses were disconnected from the radiator. Carefully raise the radiator, there will likely be more coolant inside, so beware of tilting it.

With a cool engine, the coolant had already been drained completely from the radiator and engine, and the hose clamps loosened up. We unbolted the stock upper mount and removed both upper and lower radiator hoses, and pulled the radiator straight out. Hammond suggested that the two rubber mounts for the bottom should be replaced with urethane insulators, they can be purchased through Jegs (PN 311-7-1711-BL).

This is a good time to inspect both radiator hoses, and to check for leaks around the thermostat housing. It’s never a bad idea to install new, inexpensive components while the coolant is drained, especially since you’ve done much of the work already. When installing a new radiator, the extra $30-$50 is worth it for added security when the engine starts heating up again.

The swap is very straightforward when replacing a radiator, it just sits in the bottom insulators without bolts. Hammond recommends getting new, urethane insulators for the lower mounts. Shorter bolts were needed once the fan and spacer were removed.

This radiator is slightly larger due to the higher performance level, so a new upper and lower hose was needed as well. Using the older hoses as templates helped us find new hoses that were just a little longer to fit this application.


The battery tray will need to be trimmed, or relocate the battery.

One place where interference may occur is the factory battery tray. Hammond suggested to relocate the battery to the trunk, but the tray can also be trimmed to clear the passenger side tank. If your car has a full-size battery, the relocation might become mandatory.

We set the radiator down into the lower support using the new urethane insulators and found that a little trimming was needed to get them to fit properly. The insulators fit more than just one application, so trimming was expected.

The included upper support with the C&R logo is a nice finishing touch, and using the supplied bolts we found that the fit was perfect. We made sure that we had the radiator set in the lower insulators before tightening completely. Once the radiator was set in place, we tightened the upper mount and attached both new hoses.


The new upper support looks great on the car, and keeps the radiator centered. We attached both new hoses and then went to work on the transmission cooler lines.

Cole had a remote mount transmission cooler mounted to his radiator, but we opted to use an internal radiator cooler with our system. We bought some fittings at a local parts store and we ran a short length of hose from the fittings to the hard transmission lines, and cinched them up with standard hose clamps.


We were able to get the correct fittings for the transmission cooler at a local parts store.

For a more professional installation, new lines can be fabricated with the proper fittings, but the hose setup will do just fine. Hammond told us that an external cooler wasn’t necessary because the internal cooler will help keep the transmission temperatures normal. An external cooler can be added in line with this system, mounted after the radiator cooler based on fluid flow. The pressure line (transmission out) should be mounted to the upper fitting, and the return line (transmission in) connects to the lower fitting.

Adding coolant to the radiator is best done with a 50/50 pre-mix that can be bought at the parts store. C&R recommends this over a mix of coolant and tap water, stating that tap water should never be used. If you want to do your own mix, be sure to use distilled or deionized water to mix with the coolant at a 50/50 ratio. The elements in tap water could cause damage to the aluminum radiator, according to Hammond.

Another time-saver was to plan out the electric fan wiring and relays ahead of time, allowing final connections to be done after the harness was routed under the upper support.

The last part of our installation was to connect the wiring harness to the included temperature sender, and to the cooling fans. The relays are rated at 40 amps each, and should only be connected to a single fan; two relay/harness kits are provided for the twin-fan setups. C&R supplies sufficient wiring to complete this installation, with the proper gauge wire to handle the current load. You should never connect the power from the cooling fans directly to an ignition source, always use relays rated to handle the load.

Cole prewired the relays and laid the harness prior to installation to expedite the process, connecting the large wires to the battery directly (fused) and to ground. The other two wires connect the ignition (run position) and the temperature sender. The sender that is supplied is the only one that should be used with these fans, a standard temperature sender will not allow the cooling fans to operate properly.

Cole also installed the temperature sender for the cooling fans ahead of time when he drained the coolant. The sender includes adapters to mount the sender to just about any intake manifold. This is the ground signal for the cooling fan relay, when the temperature reaches 185 degrees, the switch closes and the fans kick on.


With all the wires connected, it was time to recheck everything, and fire up this bad boy.

If there isn’t a port in your intake for a second temperature sender, a thermostat spacer can be purchased, or a modification will need to be made. Since Cole isn’t using a factory heater, we used a port designated for a heater hose to mount the sender. All wires were crimped and covered with heat shrink to keep a tight seal, and the wires were tied up so that they don’t come in contact with any hot engine components or moving parts.

We noticed that an overflow/reservoir was not included with the system, and asked Hammond about using one. “We don’t include one because it’s not necessary. The radiator cap is pressure tested to 21 psi and it can be vented to the ground. The system should balance itself out and there isn’t a need to have a reservoir.” Space was pretty tight to begin with, and while we did have a reservoir prior to this upgrade it was no longer needed and we left it out of the system.


After warming up for the first time with the new radiator, it was time to make some noise and take this baby out for a spin.

Final Notes

When we first fired up the Nova, Cole watched the gauge as it climbed a little higher than he was used to. It went past 160 degrees and continued to climb, making him a little nervous. He was used to seeing about 150 degrees on a cool day, but it is too low for the engine to operate at that temperature.


After filling the radiator, let it run at idle for a little while and check the level, adding coolant/pre-mix as necessary.

Just like our bodies function better at certain temperatures, so does your engine. Once the temperature gauge reached a hair above 180 degrees, both fans kicked on and the temperature stabilized, and began to drop slightly as we drove. A sense of relief hit Cole’s face as he realized that his new cooling system was actually performing the way it’s supposed to, and the fans kept the temperature from rising. As we drove through the neighborhood, making a little bit of noise, the temperature dropped and the fans turned off.

We spent just a couple of hours, and for a kit that is this simple to install it was time well spent. True, this setup isn’t going to be on the shelf at a local parts store, and this one retails at roughly $1,300. Consider it an investment in your expensive engine build: why spend thousands on a build and then buy the least expensive radiator you can find?


Represent! The new C&R radiator looks great behind the Nova’s grille.

When you add up the cost of quality cooling fans, relays, harnesses, and the sender, and tack that onto an aftermarket, universal fit aluminum radiator, you’ll find that the two amounts are not far off from each other. This made our installation a wise investment, because we know that we won’t have any cooling issues and will maintain operating temperatures.

Be sure to check out the C&R Racing website for a custom radiator to fit your vehicle, and if you’re not sure which is the right module for your car, give them a call – they’d love to hear from you. A good read from C&R is Coolant Systems 101, which provides an overview of cooling systems and components.



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