I like to have it all together first, also. I think it also depends on your set-up. I have the front end off my car, and a couple buddies to help guide everything in. If you are a one man show working on gravel or dirt, might be a big job by yourself.
Well I do it alone and and prefer to drop the 396 in without the bell housing/transmission (4 speed) removed, less chance of doing any damage, mine is a show car so I am concerned about any damage to the firewall/well wheels. It is easy by yourself without the bell/trans. As a matter of fact I am about ready to installed mine again in a couple of days and that is how I will do it.
i'd do it with everything bolted together, and use a carb plate as a nice and easy balancing point. i've never used the load leveler with the chains, but i have used a carb plate quite a few times with great success.
I usually install with the engine/trans as a unit. If you don't think it will go easily, at least assemble everything on the ground and then pull the trans before installation. This way you already have the clutch plate lined up with the pilot bushing. The bell housing is not normally a factor if left on the engine.
However, having done this 30-40 times by myself, I seldom find myself with the tront clip off. Dropping an engine down into the hole, I do it with the bell attached( most of my cars have been manual trannies), flywheel, clutch, and starter on. I install and adjust the shift linkage to the tranny and remove the handle. There may be easier ways for some, but this has worked for over 40 years, and I've learned each step to the dance and it goes smoothly for me.
I've always preferred to drop the motor in with the trans attached. Even on Auto's. I can't wait to drop in the next one! I'm going to drop it in the frame with the body off. Should be the easiest one I ever put in!
I have never pulled or installed one without pulling the trans off first. But I have never done it on a car that is half taken apart either. Having a lift and a trans jack makes it a non issue, but I have done my share laying on my back "bench pressing" the old M20 into place I just think its easier to get the engine in without all the extra junk hanging on it.
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