1951 straight six...Viable power gains? V8 swap? Steering improvements?

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Tremelune
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1951 straight six...Viable power gains? V8 swap? Steering improvements?

Post by Tremelune »

There is a 1951 Champion 4dr sedan that's been in the family since new that I might inherit. It has the straight six with an overdrive manual 3spd. My garage is already full, so this has to be a useful car as opposed to a Sunday show queen.

I'm a bit nervous about its acceleration as I live in Los Angeles, and we don't get a quarter mile to get up to highway speeds—the minimum of which is 65mph if you want to be safe. This car would likely see a lot of highway miles and city traffic where torque and tight steering shine...which is maybe not the forte of a 70-year-old car...What can be done to improve drivability?

I can't seem to find much that can be done to improve the output of this engine substantially. It looks like swapping for the venerable Studebaker or Oldsmobile V8 is straightforward, but that nets me like 120hp for quite a bit of effort. If I can keep the original engine, that'd be nice (though the car isn't running at the moment, so that may not even be possible). I don't have the talent to roll my own turbo or the like...Maybe a gearbox swap to get the most out of the engine...?

I've read of the odd SBC or LS swap, but they all seem to involve a great deal of fabrication, and my skills are modest. Are there any kits available for these cars, or is it always a fairly custom affair? Presumably I would have to ditch the gearbox, but how about the rear axle?

I'm not racing this sucker, but it seems like this is the place to discuss the possibility of upgrades that could maybe bring it up to slightly more modern standards of performance...I've read about Mustang II setups and custom frames that allow other engine mounts and steering/suspension setups, but they seem to be custom one-offs or for slightly different years, and there seem to be a lot of single-year parts...I'm just starting to catch up!

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Re: 1951 straight six...Viable power gains? V8 swap? Steering improvements?

Post by Champion V8 »

If the engine runs you can actually do a lot to give it more power such as compression (nicer head) that makes it stronger, carb & intake, exhaust & ofcourse camshaft! Maby lighten the flywheel?
& if it smokes oil & you anyway have to put in new valveguiders (I'm not familiar with that on a sidevalve six since the ones I've had has been "non smokers") & piston rings / maby new pistons, then I say go for some work on that engine; to put another brand V8 in can be "exiting" work one could've done without as one might see after its all done...
As for road holding I'd say just get other wheels & gas shock absorbers & se what happens; it's Studebaker 5 lugs & that's the same as MoPar & Ford.

I think your -50 looks real cool, & I don't race my Josephine either but this is really the site to get cool tips & inspiration!
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Re: 1951 straight six...Viable power gains? V8 swap? Steering improvements?

Post by Champion V8 »

Oh, forgot to say that if you get hold on a -50 Commander six you might consider that one due to it being bigger & has already more power from start.
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Re: 1951 straight six...Viable power gains? V8 swap? Steering improvements?

Post by Mike Van Veghten »

Treme -

Where in Los Angeles are you ? I'm in Covina

Beside myself, I know of a couple of Stude folks that may be somewhat close by to help out as required.

And yes, the small Chevy and the LS are both viable options. But as you say, they are not "drop in" swaps.
Same with your steering question. Another option is a "kit" to change your suspension into a Pinto/Mustang II control arm suspension. But again, not for the timid, or at least somewhat experienced.

If the car will be an around town driver, a good factory part rebuild might be the easiest way to go. Add, or have someone addd front and rear, anti-sway bars to help control the rolling motion.

Mike
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Re: 1951 straight six...Viable power gains? V8 swap? Steering improvements?

Post by Jessie J. »

I'd go with a GM 4.3 V6 and 4 speed automatic. Inexpensive, compact, light, durable and with well over twice the power, and ability to cruise at 80+ all day long.
Service or rebuild original factory front suspension (remained the same right up through the final '66s, including the Bonniville Avanti's and early Avanti II's and Excalibur's __not bad company!)
Convert to front disc brakes and add sway bars front and rear and modern radial tires and it would be an inexpensive and easily serviced driver for decades more.
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Re: 1951 straight six...Viable power gains? V8 swap? Steering improvements?

Post by Mike »

Since you’re in SoCal there is a Studebaker V8 listed on offer up out in Lucerne Valley. Being sold as a rebuildable core. Don’t know if your trans is up to a v8. I have a 54 Champion that had the six replaced with a Studebaker 289. They did upgrade the trans and it looks factory.
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Re: 1951 straight six...Viable power gains? V8 swap? Steering improvements?

Post by Mike »

Since you’re in SoCal there is a Studebaker V8 listed on offer up out in Lucerne Valley. Being sold as a rebuildable core. Don’t know if your trans is up to a v8. I have a 54 Champion that had the six replaced with a Studebaker 289. They did upgrade the trans and it looks factory.
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Re: 1951 straight six...Viable power gains? V8 swap? Steering improvements?

Post by Champion V8 »

By the way; I had a -50 Chrysler Windsor some years back, sidevalve six ofcourse, & it was easy to keep up with todays trafic! So don't underestimate that kind of engines. I've read that Cathcart was (still is?) a company that does sidevalve sixes & hot ones too, such as this one:
Cathcart.png
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Re: 1951 straight six...Viable power gains? V8 swap? Steering improvements?

Post by PackardV8 »

Champion V8 wrote: 26 Nov 2022, 10:14 By the way; I had a -50 Chrysler Windsor some years back, sidevalve six ofcourse, & it was easy to keep up with todays trafic! So don't underestimate that kind of engines. I've read that Cathcart was (still is?) a company that does sidevalve sixes & hot ones too, such as this one:
Cathcart.png
Sad news is Bill Cathcart and his one-man shop have been dead for going on five years now.

Having only 170" of displacement, Studebaker Champion horsepower is the most expensive kind. The expense is substantial and the improvement is slight. As a daily driver in El Lay traffic, it will always be a disappointment.

Agree, if one can find a shop with good references, a 4.3 V6 and tranny would be the most cost-effective swap.

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Re: 1951 straight six...Viable power gains? V8 swap? Steering improvements?

Post by Tremelune »

Interesting! It sounds like a new front end will involve welding and careful measurement, the latter of which gives me the most pause. The upside is that it seems like the stock setup might be good for highway speeds if all the bushings are good, the steering has no play, and maybe some sways?

What makes the V6 easier than, say, an LS? Unless the V8 requires cutting that the V6 does not, I would expect the parts cost to be comparable, and there's a giant aftermarket for the LS. It sounds like I'd be doing a bunch of fabbing in either case, and that might be more than I'm willing to bite off to begin with, but I'd like to gather as much info as I can before I see the car in person.

My real hope is just that I can get the thing running and on the road and assess what its capable of...I'll know more over the holidays.
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Re: 1951 straight six...Viable power gains? V8 swap? Steering improvements?

Post by Champion V8 »

I doubt space is a problem under that hood, there's been Hemis in -53's since the 50's & yours is higher & probably has the same widenes. Google 47-52 Studebaker engine bay & have a look.
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Re: 1951 straight six...Viable power gains? V8 swap? Steering improvements?

Post by Jessie J. »

Its not so much of problem of engine -size- as it of engine -weight- and of torque levels, specifically when placed in a Studebaker CHAMPION chassis.
Size wise, most popular Big Block engines will fit within the confines of the engine bay with little modification.
But if they are heavy the frame will (even at standstill) bend as the frames used under 6cyl CHAMPIONS although looking the same as V-8 Commander frame they are of thinner metal and significantly weaker.
We know by long experience that these light chassis can serve and survive relatively well with small displacement small-blocks under normal street driving. 232-259-289-283 work well but when you get much pass these or in excess of 350 hp or 400 lbs of torque, frame twist and consequent frame and crossmember cracking becomes a serious problem.
A 468 Big Block will 'fit' into a Champion but is totally inadvisable unless accompanied by a load of chassis reinforcement and an 8 point roll cage.
The '51 Studebaker Champion was engineered to perform economically at speeds under 70 mph. President and Commander frames were of thicker steel. Station wagons, convertibles and Avanti's had heavy gauge X members added to permit harder usage and higher speeds.
Thus, there is a median cross over point where modifications and increased power levels in a Champion chassis can quickly become expensive and impractical.
The old 169 engine was designed for low speed driving and is wholly inadequate for modern expressway usage, but there are plenty of economical 6s and small V-8s that will easily fit and perform quite spectacularly in its place.
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Re: 1951 straight six...Viable power gains? V8 swap? Steering improvements?

Post by Tremelune »

Okay! I was able to touch the car, and it's in better shape than I expected. Cutting/welding seems like folly if it can be avoided, so if I do anything, I'll start with trying to get this car moving right along with its stock drivetrain. It was tricky to get photos during dinner, considering it is squeezed into the garage and covered with boxes...

I'm told it is a 3-speed manual with overdrive, which is a nice surprise. I believe that means it has a higher final drive. Seems like I can either keep it for better acceleration or shorten it for lower highway RPM.

Assuming I keep it mostly original, what are the things I should look out for that the car would want for higher speed stability?

What are the best heads and carb I can get for this engine? Ignition bits? Is it actually worth the hassle, or am I looking at lots of effort for a 20hp boost with the straight six? Are there Known Good shops who can rebuild/machine these (perhaps with some upgrades)?

Anything sneaky to fear from converting from 6V to 12V?

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