Fat Christine: 1952 Buick Small Block Chevrolet Swap

This post was originally written for, and appeared here, at Hooniverse.com.

Here at Hooniverse, we advocate “doing stuff” with cars.  Whether it is a day at the track, a gathering at a coffee shop, a roadie, or just working in the shop, get out there and do something fun with your car, or someone else’s.  In this case, I am helping a friend install a small block Chevrolet 350  (what else?) in his 1952 Buick Special.  Click through for a bunch of photos of the fabrication stage.

An anecdote:  This car kept biting me and scratching me.  I banged my shin on the bumper bracket, cut my hand, and suffered a few other minor injuries.  I began to believe that the car was possessed, like Stephen King’s Christine.  Only this car is much less svelte than the Fury, so I dubbed her “Fat Christine.”

Sam, the owner, pulled some strings and picked up the engine and transmission for just about nothing.  Now we just needed to figure out how to mount it up.

The first thing to do is decide where in space the engine needs to be.  Mock-up, disassemble, repeat. 

This project is a budget build, so no fancy new chassis from TCI or LSx engine will be found here.  The car itself was purchased for a song after the previous owner lost his motivation for the project.  He had finished the body, paint, and interior work.  What is left for us is drivetrain, suspension, and brakes (and probably a thousand other little details).  The rear suspension was borrowed from a ’66 Chevelle and the front brakes were upgraded using a Scarebird disc brake conversion kit.  Either of those would have made great posts, but I didn’t think to get the camera out.

Since this car is going to be a bit of a rat rod, so we aren’t spending too much time on aesthetics under the hood. 

Some of you may recognize this as the pattern for a SBC motor mount.  One of these days I’ll get a proper metal table for this type of work. 

Welding in the motor mounts.  Transmission tunnels can be a handy place for a quick lie-down. 

Motor mount, engine side all done.  Also, an electric fuel pump will be used due to clearance issues. 

Here is where the project gets interesting.  The steering column/box are tight on the left side.  Also, below the steering box, but not visible in this shot, is the master cylinder.  The shifter linkage is also built into the steering column and our goal is to use it.  The exhaust just cannot go downward from here. 

The solution?  Build a fenderwell exit header out of a few used headers. 

Hey, it’s a start. 

Because this car is a huge monstrosity, there is a ton of room for the header to exit this way.  I have joked throughout this project that “there’s a lot of room for error in a Buick.”  

We started with two sets of headers.  One of the passenger side headers slipped right in and bolted up, which was nice.  The other three headers were chopped up to make one driver side header.  This part of the project was mostly trial and error, cutting, fitting and tack- welding. 

Finally, we had the collector positioned in the fenderwell.  This step gave us a destination for each of the tubes we were fitting. 

Now it was really coming together.  It doesn’t really even look that bad. 

I have another small block on a stand, so we bolted up our Franken-header to it to fit the last piece.  It looks like something that should be in a speed boat. 

Now it just needs to be welded up and installed.  This will be a major hurdle to clear on the way to going for a spin. 

This last shot is Fat Christine with hubcaps on and engine in place.  We may have to cut a coil off of the front springs to lower it down a bit.  The car was originally equipped with a flathead straight eight engine that must have weighed a lot more than the small block Chevy.  Still, we are several steps closer to taking her for a spin. 

Now get out there and do something fun with your car.

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