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Street Race Truck More... The Toolbox

Installing a Gear Drive on a Chevy 454

7/31/2017

I remember the first time I heard a gear drive in a vehicle. I was 13 years old riding shotgun in my dad’s truck pulling our swap meet trailer with all the goodies to sell at the Rocky Maginelli Memorial Swap Meet here in Lincoln, Ne. It was way early in the morning, at that age it felt like 2 a.m. but in all reality it was closer to 7. We were in line waiting our turn to pull into the fairgrounds and this lifted square body Chevy 4x4 pulled up next to us, engine just whining away as it idled. I asked my dad, “What’s that noise?” He said, “It’s a Pete Jackson Gear Drive.” From that day on I swore I would have one in a vehicle someday. So when I had my 1st true muscle car, a 1969 Chevelle SS, what did it have? Yep, a noisy Pete Jackson Gear Drive.

Here is a little history of the Pete Jackson Gear Drive. The company was established in 1967 by Pete Jackson as Jackson Fuel Injectors Inc. With their long port runners and precision metering valves and fuel pumps, they had the strongest midrange of any port injector of their time. Some of the fastest drag cars and track cars used Pete's injectors. Even today most of the Top Fuel and Funny Cars are running patented metering valves designed by Pete Jackson. In 1971, Pete designed and patented the original Pete Jackson Dual Idler Gear Drive. The design was so unique it was granted two US patents. Pete Jackson gear drives were always made in the USA and manufactured from billet alloy steel. Since Pete's creation of the gear drive, there are numerous brands being produced by different companies for a wide range of engines. I chose, of course, to use Pt# 91578410, Speedway Chevy B/B 396-454 Premium Noisy Gear Drive for the 454 I am installing in my 54 Belair. Installation is pretty straight forward so let's get one put in.

My 454 had just come from the machine shop where it received 030 dome pistons and 10/10 on crank and rod bearings. I installed the camshaft into the block using plenty of Isky Rev-Lube Pt# 450R4. Then I installed the camshaft gear. I coated the Torrington bearing on the back of the gear with Pt# 60710004, Redline Engine Assembly Lube. The Gear Drive comes with 5 different buttons for camshaft advance/retard that are identified by color.

I chose to go with the Gray, 0 degree button for now. So first on went the gear with the 0 degree button.

Then the lock plate for cam bolts and the 3 supplied cam bolts/washers. I then torqued them to 21 ft/lbs. Once torqued I bent the lock plate tabs over the head of the bolts. Next was the crankshaft gear. Make sure to check the crankshaft for any burs or defects that might hinder the installation. Clean up if necessary using emery cloth. I then installed the crankshaft gear lining up the keyway. Once I had both gears installed I rotated the crankshaft to top dead center on the number one cylinder. The timing mark on the crankshaft will be at the 12 o'clock position. Then I rotated the camshaft until the timing mark was at 6 o'clock. I installed the thrust bearing into the center of the camshaft gear. It is designed for a stock steel or chrome timing cover. However you should always check for the proper clearance.

I put some putty on the end of the thrust bearing and bolted the timing cover up with a new gasket. Once tightened down I removed the cover and checked the thickness of the putty. You need .005 to .010 clearances from the cover and the thrust bearing. If you don’t have the clearance you will need to grind the end of the thrust bearing until proper clearance is achieved. Mine fit just right so I moved on to checking the idler gear, also called dog bones, for clearance. I placed the idler gear half way in between the cam gear and crank gear and used the timing cover to push it the rest of the way on, using the same clearance putty on the back side of the idler gear axle (chamfered side). Once the cover was flush with the block I pulled it off and checked for clearance between the block and idler gear. Recommended is .005 to .075, the idler gear should not sandwich between the block and timing cover. If it did touch you would need to grind the idler axle for clearance.

With all the clearances checked I then installed the timing cover for the last time with the dog bone in the correct place, the big gear to your left when facing the engine, and the timing marks in the 12 and 6 location on the gears. My gear drive was installed and ready for whining!

Multiple versions are available when it comes to camshaft gear drives, single idler, dual idler, noisy and quiet ones. Everyone I have talked to either love them or hate them. I for one love the distinct sound a dual idler gear drive creates, the reason I went with the noisy one. Not to mention they last a lifetime with no timing chain stretch. And though people claim they rob an engine of horsepower, all the dyno tests I checked show no such evidence. Not to mention the positive effect it has on ignition timing at high RPM. And of course, the whine itself.

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