Needing transmission and rear end recommendations for 1959 Chevrolet van

Oct 5, 2005
Subject: 1959 Chevy van. Okay, I will put the info forward that I've been a Ford tech and guy my entire wrench-turning life. If this was a Ford vehicle, I wouldn't be posting and all the info would probably be in my head. However, this red-haired stepchild project (my apologies if any readers here are :LOL:) has been in my ownership for long enough and I need to do something with it. So I guess it is time. The factory 283 sits in the engine compartment. It is not currently running. This will also be an economy build, so right now, that's important. (Interesting footnote: This non-running van was stolen from me. The cops recovered it and was sitting in the impound lot for a couple of weeks. On the day it was allowed to be trailered home, the salvage yard chewed MY butt because they had too much traffic by their business from people wanting to buy it off of them :ROFLMAO:)
My project, a 1959 Chevy van, came stock from the factory with a 283 V8 small block and a three-on-a tree. The current engine build for it is a 1980-era 350 small block that will be getting cheap assembled cast iron Vortec heads from Summit. The engine build will be getting cast flat-top pistons. This will be an every day and weekend driver, not something that will be expected to do any 1/4 mile trips. The camshaft will be a stock Melling replacement. This van will also have a front disc brake conversion kit from Speedway Motors. The carburetor on it will probably be an older quadrajet. (For now. Better induction very possibly will come later after it is road worthy) So I'm doing this thread for rear end and transmission recommendations. I'd like to keep the manual transmission for it. The clutch linkage is already there and my wife can also drive a stick as well as anybody. We aren't going high-dollar aftermarket here. A salvage yard recommendation would be great. However, a 700R-ish tranny could be used. Same way with the rear end. The van came from the factory with six-bolt lugs. The Summit front disc conversion kit comes with five. Any salvage yard 10 or 12-bolt factory rear ends that would be a bolt in that match the Summit 5-4 3/4" bolt pattern?
Picture of van is from Google images. Mine looks similar and has the factory patina. Link is to the Speedway Motors disc brake kit.
And before any Ford fans think I've completely gone over to the dark side, my next project is a 1960 Ford van. TIA.

Sep 20, 2016
From what I noticed most of the 5x4.75" lug patterns seems to be much older chevelles, nova, corvette, etc. Those would be where you would find 8.5" 10 bolts and 8.75" 12 bolts, but good luck finding those in a junkyard.

Then newer blazers, S10's, montecarlos, camaro's in where you'll fine 5x4.75" lug patterns but those are matched up with the 7.5/7.625" 10 bolts which would obviously be lower strength but doesn't sound like you'll need all the strength.
The rear ends from the s10's/blazers will be set up for leaf springs but the width may be too narrow

What you may need to do is see if the width of a 8.5" 10 bolt from an early 90's C1500 silverado/sierra is correct and then purchase new axles with the correct pattern.
Aug 13, 2004
Is the rear end OK except for the bolt pattern? If so, I wonder if somebody like Moser Engineering could re-drill your axles for the new bolt pattern. I once had them shorten and respline a pair of Dodge pickup axles to fit a Duster rear end (that went under a Chevy Nova).

I'm no help with the details, but I'll bet you could find a mild aftermarket cam to help the power a bit beyond a 1980-vintage stock replacement.
Dec 19, 2013
Fort Worth, Texas
'95-'03 Ford Explorer 8.8" Differentials fit pretty well in '55-'59 "Task Force" Trucks, It's a little bit narrower & has a 4.5"x5 bolt pattern. Though many people run different offsets front to rear anyway.....So you can buy Ford pattern wheel for the rear & Chevy pattern on the front.

If the original Eaton diff is in good shape, Having the Axles re-drilled & the center register machined isn't a bad idea....Though you need Drums to match.....'55-'57 passenger car (11x2) drum might fit but I don't have first hand experience as we always ran Explorer diffs.

Transmission.....A Borg Warner/Tremec T5 is a solid choice, But they're getting hard to come by in decent shape. Requires a adapter to run the original cast iron Bellhousing which has to stay unless you plan on updating the Engine to side mounts AND installing a Transmission Crossmember.

ANY auto trans will also require Engine side mounts & a Trans Crossmember!!

A 700R4 is the most popular choice, But they need to be built & set-up correctly.....The Governor needs to be calibrated to the Tire Height & Final Drive Ratio, TV Cable set, And Lock-Up has the function.
Don't forget the Trans Cooler & Lines, Custom Drive Shaft, Shifter & Neutral Safety!!

If you have to do Engine Mounts & Trans Cross Member anyway......A 5.3L/4L60E swap might be something to think about?
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