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Installing a Flat-Tappet Cam

Driveway Bolt-On

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Short of swapping intake manifolds, installing a performance camshaft might be the classic muscle-car how-to of all time. For the budget-based, this means a flat-tappet cam. Amongst those, the private-label cams from the well-known speed emporiums like Summit Racing are some the least expensive offerings. While the days of $29 cams are long gone, if you really take all the details into account, the cam and lifters are only part of the total cost. Add a timing set, gaskets, RTV, break-in oil, filter, and a weekend's time, and the combination of cost and effort is enough to emphasize you do this right.

We realized it's been years since we've offered a how-to on doing this swap in the car, and when our friend Eric Schmiege said he was looking for a new cam and a little more power for his 454-powered 1965 Bel Air, we had our willing subject. Along with Escondido, California, pals Doug Eisberg and Eric Rosenthal, we attacked the big-block. We ordered a Summit Racing cam, lifters, a timing set, and a gasket set, then took our time to make sure we did it right. After starting on Saturday morning, the Bel Air was back on the road by noon Sunday after a wrenching time of 14 hours, 44 minutes. The desired rumpity exhaust note made it worth the effort, and all was right with the world. Here's how we did it.

Cam Specs

Camshaft: Summit 1303 Adv. Duration Duration at 0.050 Lift Lobe Separation Angle
Intake 296 238 0.540 110
Exhaust 306 248 0.540

Parts List

Description PN Source Price
Cam/lifter kit SUM-K1303 Summit Racing $109.97
Timing set SUM-66610-9 Summit Racing 39.97
Intake gasket SUM-G2413 Summit Racing 17.97
Valve cover gasket SUM-G2201 Summit Racing 5.25
Permatex RTV 82180 Summit Racing 5.99
Gasgacinch 9300 Summit Racing 5.97
No-Rosion additive No-Rosion Applied Chemicals 9.97
Spring comp. tool SUM-906784 Summit Racing 44.97
Posi-Lok 3 jaw puller Model 104 eBay 104.99
Balancer pull/install W89711 Summit Racing 69.97
Comp Break-in 10W-30 1590 Summit Racing 5.97 (x5)
Fram oil filter PH30 Summit Racing 5.97
Comp Muscle Car 10W-30 1594 Summit Racing 8.97 (x5)

The crew started right at 8 a.m. by draining the coolant, removing the radiator, and unbolting the fuel pump. The boys removed the distributor and the Offenhauser 2x4 intake manifold. After that, they also removed the rockers, pushrods, and lifters—keeping them in order in case someone might want the original cam and lifters.

If you don't have a harmonic balancer remover/installer tool, the big chain stores rent them. If you plan on doing lots of engine work, buy a good tool with Torrington bearings. Summit Racing sells several versions from companies like OTC and ProForm.

Working under the car, remove most of the oil pan bolts and loosen the rest to drop the pan far enough to allow removing the timing cover. This engine was assembled with Fel-Pro's one-piece pan gasket, instead of a multipiece gasket set. Though we tore the right front corner of the gasket while removing the timing cover, it can be fixed with RTV. We spaced the pan down with two small screwdriver handles.

Before starting, we measured between the timing cover and the grille to see if the cam could be removed with the grille in place. We thought it would work but knew it was going to be tight. It turned out we were short by about 1 inch. Doug had the idea to remove the motor-mount bolts and jack the engine up. Because the Bel Air has an angled grille, Eric was able to slide the old cam out—avoiding a tedious two-hour grille R&R effort.

With the engine still raised off the mounts, we installed the new cam, coating the lobes (including the fuel-pump lobe) with the moly lube that comes with the cam. We used engine oil on the cam journals.

We used a Posi-Lok three-jaw puller to remove the original crank gear, and then used a brass drift to fully seat the new gear on the crank. It can be installed in different positions (4 degrees advanced, 4 degrees retarded, or 0 degrees), but we installed the cam using the “0” or straight-up position. We didn't degree the cam, although you could if you desire.

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