Project El Diablo Vlog Series: Pt.2 – Don’t Look At The Cam Bearings

Welcome back to Street Muscle Magazine’s Project El Diablo vlog series. In the last episode, we took our little red C10 to the folks at Aldan American for a much-needed overhaul of the truck’s suspension system with a set of coilovers and tubular control arms. We took a moment to conduct a quick walkaround and give some backstory on the build and discuss future plans for our project.

In doing so, we mentioned the clapped-out 305ci powerplant the C10 was saddled with from the factory. There wasn’t much wrong with the engine per se, but it was severely lacking in the power department. Discussing future plans for El Diablo, the inevitable came up – an LS swap. Well, that future is now.

Having previously sourced a well-worn 5.3-liter mystery motor, we were in a prime position to yank the tired 305ci from its decades-long perch and replace it with something more modern, reliable, and powerful. However, the condition in which we sourced the engine left much to be desired. If it were ever to provide the power El Diablo so desperately needs, we’d have our work cut out for us…

But before we get into the particulars of the refresh featuring a whole slew of COMP Cams valvetrain components, we’ll share the story of how we came about this used late-model GM power plant. It’s a story worth telling.

Finding A New Engine

We know you gearheads are no strangers to scouring the ol’ interweb, perhaps not looking for anything in particular, but you might just have to jump on it if the right deal presents itself. That’s the same situation we found ourselves in one afternoon. Disclaimer; hunting for parts and cars during work hours is not something we suggest, but it’s worked for us on a number of occasions. Of course, we have the unique ability to hide it from the boss by disguising it as “work.” Still, we’ll share some friendly advice with you that just might help you score a sweetheart of a deal like we did with our LM7.

When we picked up the LM7, it was covered in grease and grime, but it had potential.

  1. Know A Good Deal When You See One
    • The saying goes, knowing is half the battle, and knowing the market average for something enables buyers to spot a killer deal when they see it. So, keep an eye on market trends.
  2. You Don’t Have To Get Ready If You Stay Ready.
    • We’ve heard people tell tales of missing out on unbelievable deals because they didn’t have a car trailer ready, their truck bed was full of junk, or they had to wait until they got off work. The lesson to be learned here is, if you’re hunting for something, stay ready, and save up that sick time.
  3. Build Your Network
    • Another common reason for people missing out involves time and distance. Sometimes the really great deals involve interstate or out-of-state travel. This is why it is important to build a network. By network, we mean a group of friends, family, acquaintances, and anybody else who can help you pick up parts and projects. It helps if these people are shrewd negotiators, own a truck and trailer, and are willing to be compensated for their efforts with a case of cold beer.
  4. Keep Some Money Or Trade Fodder Handy
    • This should go without saying, but if you’re shopping around, you’d better have some ducats squirreled away, or some primo stuff to trade. Look at it like this, if you have more than one interest, chances are, those that share one interest with you, are likely to share another. So, good trade fodder doesn’t necessarily have to be other car parts and projects. Although, if their ad specifically says, “NO TRADES,” don’t you dare offer them your crusty old stash of Willie Nelson’s finest.
  5. Don’t Be Afraid To Pull The Trigger
    • When you do find a good deal, don’t spend a lot of time second-guessing yourself. All your reasoning with the bad idea fairy should be done well ahead of time. Chances are, you aren’t going to regret buying those really rare cylinder heads for a steal.

We share these tips with you because many of them were utilized in the procurement of our C10’s new engine. We found our mystery “LS” on Craigslist. We were searching in a broad area, as our network allows. So, it’s not too challenging to coordinate a pickup when we need to.

It’s amazing what a little elbow grease can do for a 100-dollar LM7.

In our case, the ad provided little information, other than the fact that it was an engine, it was in the seller’s way, and they were only asking $100 American. Assuming it was a scam, we placed a phone call and found out the seller, an elderly woman who’d recently purchased a new home was left with the engine in her new garage. We stated we could pick the engine up in the next couple of hours if she’d hold it for us. She agreed as we were the first to call.

Now, this was in the middle of the day and the engine was about five hours North of our base in San Diego. So, with the clock ticking, and almost all of our network contacts exhausted, a friend of a friend who lives near the seller offered to pick the engine up for us and hold it until the weekend—all for the princely sum of a 24-pack of Bud Light.

Just to recap, we knew a good deal when we saw it, were ready with the cash, utilized our network, and locked in the purchase immediately after seeing the deal pop up. So, to anyone who calls BS on our $100 “LS”, we have witnesses and proof!

Counting Our Loot

Moving on to the engine. It was pretty much a bare long-block stamped 4.8/5.3, so we knew that much… It included no accessories, save for the balancer pulley. After running a borescope through a spark plug hole, we determined it was a 5.3 because of the dished pistons. We immediately brought it home and gave it a bath with degreaser. We pulled off the valve covers, rockers, and springs, and all seemed to be in decent condition. We concluded the reason it was pulled had to be internal…

Although the engine was covered in grease and grime, the internal parts looked to be in decent shape. So then, why was it pulled in the first place?

Next, we got it on an engine stand and pulled the heads off, which, of course, had broken manifold studs. We slid out the lifters and pushrods and removed the front cover to pull out the camshaft. This is where we found the problem. After looking at the cylinder walls and tops of the pistons and rings, we determined the bottom end was in good health, but when we removed the cam, we made the fatal mistake of looking at the cam bearings – they were fried!

Upon initial inspection of the lifter valley, the cam looked to be in decent shape…we had a big surprise in store.

Luckily, we planned ahead and placed a call to our friends at COMP Cams. They laced us with a killer NSR camshaft (#54-700-11), new LS6 valve springs (#26906-16), Magnum pushrods (#7639-16), C5R timing chain (#9303), camshaft locking plate (#5461), and their BSR shaft-driven rocker system (#1981-16). Since we were planning on replacing all those parts anyway, finding some crapped-out cam bearings wasn’t the worst news. We also took the opportunity to paint the block.

The Cam Bearings Were Fried

We replaced the cam bearings without removing the rotating assembly simply to avoid that can of worms entirely. Then all of a sudden we’d be replacing piston rings, wrist pins, and crank bearings too. So, in the style of our junkyard-LS-swap brethren, we figured we’d try to remove the cam bearings with the rotating assembly intact.

For those of you wondering if this is possible – it is. We searched everywhere for confirmation of this…You can assume this would be damn near impossible if the engine is installed in a vehicle. With the engine on a stand, however, it can be accomplished with a little patience. Rather than dive into a step-by-step process though, we’ll let you watch the vlog and see for yourself.

Cam bearings are not supposed to look like that…

As for the Cliff Notes, we flipped the engine over on the stand and pulled the oil pan off, giving us access to the bottom end. This is where the cam bearings came out. We purchased an LS cam bearing removal/installation tool from Summit Racing, and after using it once, it was well worth the $90 we paid for it. The tool is basically a die and a sort of slide hammer in one. The die fits inside the cam bearing and we whacked the other end with a mallet which effectively pushes the bearings through the journal. Once it pops free, we rotated the crankshaft which allowed us to fish the bearing past the rods and crank using a magnet. Doing so revealed that not only was the number one bearing bad, but so was every other bearing. Good thing we replaced them.

The installation of the new bearings was basically the same thing in reverse. The only thing we had to pay particularly close attention to was lining up the oil passages in the cam journals with the holes in the cam bearings.

The NSR Bump-Stick

Next, we placed COMP’s killer new camshaft in the fresh new bearings after applying a liberal helping of Lucas Oil Assembly Lube.

A huge selling point of the NSR camshaft is that it doesn’t require you to change your factory valve springs. But that’s just one of its features. The experts at COMP tout the Stage 1 Thumpr 218/229 Hydraulic Roller Cam as, “the perfect option for the budget-minded enthusiast who is looking for an excellent balance of sound and power in performance-truck applications.” Also, when compared to many other bumpsticks on the market, it really is easy on the wallet while still carrying the COMP nameplate.

Fresh lobes always look good. The COMP NSR camshaft will serve El Diablo well.

COMP also supplied us with a very cool locking plate for the cam. This ensures the cam gear won’t ever come loose causing serious damage. We buttoned up the cam install with the oil pump, oil pan, and front cover going back on along with new front and rear main seals.

One of the more important and nerve-racking parts of swapping cam bearings is aligning the oil feed holes with those in the bearings.

After wrestling with the broken exhaust manifold studs on our heads, we decided to take them to the machine shop for a bath in the hot tank and to have the studs removed. The shop owner had the studs out in less than 15 minutes but had to charge us for an hour of work regardless. So, he did us a favor and pressure tested the valves while he was at it. Turns out, they were good to go! He said, “I’d run these things as is. Bolt em’ on and go.” Although we already had the LS6 valve springs waiting, we were happy to hear the valves were sealing properly.

BSR Shaft Rocker System

After bolting the refreshed cylinder heads onto the block, we slid the new Magnum pushrods in and seated them atop the lifters. Then came the big moment – installing the BSR shaft-driven rocker system from COMP. Many people have taken to installing the ever-popular trunnion upgrade, but COMP’s BSR system adds a level of efficiency and robustness to the important valvetrain component. You can read all about the technical details of the system in our friend Brian Havins’ deep-dive tech article with one of the experts at COMP, Chris Potter.

Max-Lift BSR Shaft Rocker System From COMP Cams

Unlike the standard trunion kits that replace the factory needle bearings with captured needle bearings, the Max-Lift BSR Shaft Rocker System takes it up a couple of notches.

Chris Potter, Mechanical Group Manager of COMP Cams, had the following to say: “The BSR system can be beneficial at all performance levels. The increased system stiffness will help get the most of your rocker arm and camshaft while the superior durability of the bushings will ensure a long life of the product.”

Chris continues, “We designed the BSR system to provide the best valvetrain stability and durability within a reasonably priced package. The BSR system increases the stiffness of the valvetrain package by tying all the rockers together, helping to eliminate the flexing of individual rockers. This is especially beneficial on the LS3 and LS7 offset rocker arms. It allows us to maintain the proper contact geometry between the rocker pad and the valve tip, especially at higher spring loads and lifts. The use of a tri-layer bushing also increases the system stiffness while eliminating moving parts by removing needle bearings from the rocker arms.”

Once the BSR rockers were torqued down, we buttoned up the engine by installing the valve covers and bolting on the accessories – the water pump, ICT billet coil brackets, and OEM-style alternator and P/S pump bracket.

Loaded Up And Truckin’

And just like that, El Diablo’s new engine was ready to go in. But, you’re going to have to tune into the next vlog in the series to see how we got that done.

Until next time…

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About the author

Vinny Costa

Fast cars, motorcycles, and loud music are what get Vinny’s blood pumping. Catch him behind the wheel of his ’68 Firebird. Chances are, Black Sabbath will be playing in the background.
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