How to Install a Camshaft in Your Hot Rod

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Whether you have a pony car or a porcupine V8 Chevelle, you can bump up the horsepower by installing a camshaft in your hot rod. When you call your local speed shop to order your new camshaft, you will need to know the application of your vehicle, including year, make, model, size engine, how big the valves are and what size the piston are. You will also need to know if you have dished piston, pop-up pistons or flat top pistons.When you install a new camshaft in your hot rod, you will also need to install new lifters.

Things You'll Need

  • New camshaft
  • New lifters
  • Distributor gasket
  • Water pump gasket
  • Valve cover gaskets
  • Timing cover gasket
  • Intake manifold gasket
  • Pry bar (a/k/a Big Bertha)
  • Harmonic Balancer Puller
  • Rail of 1/4 inch standard sockets
  • Rail of 3/8 inch standard sockets
  • Rail of 1/2 inch standard sockets
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Water pump pliers
  • Adjustable wrench
  • 1/4 inch ratchet
  • 1/4 inch air ratchet
  • 3/8 inch ratchet
  • 3/8 inch air ratchet
  • 1/2 inch ratchet
  • 1/3 inch air ratchet
  • Torque wrench
  • Telescoping magnet
  • Carb cleaner
  • Rags
  • Oil
  • Oil filter
  • Antifreeze
  • Oil Treatment (the thick honey like stuff in the blue and red bottle)
  • Have some type of cart or table nearby where you can lay everything out as you take it off. Open the pack of lifters and soak them in some regular motor oil. Make sure all the lifters are covered in oil.Drain the antifreeze into a clean bucket. If you use a clean bucket, you can re-use the antifreeze. Drain the oil into a container proper for disposal. You will need to dispose of the oil and filter at a proper disposal facility.Also, before you start, you will need to make sure your engine is at top dead center.

  • Remove the radiator, radiator hoses, any electric fans, if you have them installed and the front grill. If you have a transmission cooler, remove that at this time, taking car to place a drip pan under the cooler lines. If you do not have a separate trans cooler, be sure to have a drip pan under the cooler lines that run into the radiator.

  • Remove the manual fan, and the alternator. Unbolt the mounting bolts for the power steering pump and lay it to the side. If you do not have enough room to lay it out of the way, you may have to take the hoses off. If so, be sure to have a catch bucket to catch any power steering fluid that will leak.

  • Unbolt the air compressor and lay that out of the way. If your air compressor is below the heads, it should not be in your way, and you do not have to unbolt it. Try to leave the lines intact, as you will have to vacuum the system down and replace the freon and the dryer or accumulator if you take the lines off.

  • Remove the valve covers. Take the old gasket off and clean the gasket rail. Inspect them carefully to be sure there are no dents or that the gasket rail is not warped. This is particularly important if you have chrome valve covers.

  • Remove the water pump. Clean any stuck on gasket with the carb cleaner.

  • Unhook the carb linkage from the side of the carb, the fuel lines and vacuum lines. You may want to lay some rags on top of the intake to catch any fuel that leaks out when you remove the fuel lines.

  • Remove the distributor. Take note of where the rotor is pointing. It should be pointing at the Number One cylinder if you properly set your engine at top dead center.

  • Remove the intake manifold from the engine. Remove the gasket. Use carb cleaner to remove any bits of gasket that are sticking to the block or to the intake manifold.

  • Remove the rockers and pushrods. Throw the old lifters away.

  • Remove the timing cover. Be sure the timing marks on the crankshaft are lined up. The timing mark on the crank should be straight up and the timing marks on the camshaft gear (top timing gear) should be straight down.Look for a cam button or a cam lock. These will have to be removed.

  • Remove the harmonic balancer. Remove the timing chain. The top timing gear will have to be eventually removed, but you can leave it attached to the camshaft for now, using it to gently pull the camshaft out of the engine.Gently remove the camshaft from the front of the engine.

  • Coat the new camshaft with oil treatment or the cam lube that came with the cam. Install the cam as to the specs for your application. (You can install cams "straight up" or x degrees before or after top dead center). Do not forget about the cam button or the cam lock.Put the new lifters in the lifter bores. Reinstall all parts as you removed them and re-fill and top off all fluids.

  • Follow the instructions on breaking in the camshaft. Most cars require 2,000rpm for 20 minutes.

Tips & Warnings

  • When replacing the heads, be sure to follow the head bolt torquing sequence properly, and to use a torque wrench to get the proper torque. If you are working on a vehicle that uses torque to yield head bolts (usually dodges used these) you will also need new head bolts. You cannot reuse torque to yield head bolts.
  • This is not a job for a beginning mechanic.
  • Dispose of all rags soaked with gasoline accordingly. Do not put them in the washer or dryer.
  • Dispose of your used oil and filter at a proper oil disposal facility.
  • Always be sure to follow instructions that came with your camshaft while installing your camshaft.
  • Always make sure your timing marks are lined up properly and that you know how to install a timing chain. If the timing on the engine is not correct, you will run into a myriad of problems.
  • Be sure you are gentle with removing and installing the camshaft. If you scratch or loosen one of the cam bearings, you will need to break down the entire block and have it sent to the machine shop for new cam bearings.
  • You should have an experience mechanic working with you on this job.

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  • Photo Credit Built by Don Bowman, Picture by Don Bowman
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