The Motor Project

Greasy

The engine is out, rebuilt, and back in.  Hold me back!   I got to get greasy, hang out in the garage with friends and family, eat junk food and play.  We really should do this every year.  Let’s break it again!

8.10.07  Just before vacation, my now-ex “D” and I were driving — together — (this is a big deal because he’d lost enough weight to actually fit into the ‘vette), down to a local club to see an old buddy of mine do an acoustic set.  It was a great reunion, she’s incredibly talented, and we enjoyed our walk down memory lane not just at seeing her, but at being at a club that looked and felt the same, 20 years later.

But when we started the car, it made a horrible internal oh-shit sound.  Shut it down, popped the hood, looked around for a flashlight (no, of course we didn’t bring one), turned the key again.

*click*

*click*

*click*

Pissah.  Call the hook, drag it to my parent’s garage 3 miles away, push it in, shut the door and worry about it when we get back from vacation.

We get back and he pulled the starter for me … took it down to the local parts store, of course, it’s fine … which means there’s something preventing the engine from turning, something bad enough to stop a starter in it’s tracks.  Well, ya know.  Rebuilding the engine stock/getting a new, hot engine/upgrading for some more performance was in the 5-year plan anyway … dipping the wheels can wait another year, right?  We went engine shopping, and what we found, no one seemed to know exactly what was IN.  Engine purchases are kind of like mattress purchases, you have to have faith.

We had none.

So, a buddy recommended a machine shop who would rebuild the old girl and add enough horsepower to keep me delighted for many years to come for a pretty reasonable price.

Our plan was to remove the engine Labor Day weekend, and get it over to the machine shop.  We came close.  We got everything off it except for the power steering pump, transmission and motor mounts — sounds like nothing got done, but if you’d seen this thing, it’s like separating a soul from the Borg — the Corvette Collective is pretty invasive.  It didn’t even want to give up the emissions crap, but I’m happy to report that *whispering* it did.  I had one breakdown on Monday … we made a stupid amateur error in jacking the rear that shook our confidence , and were starting to spend more time looking at it than working on it … but with the quick crying jag over, I got all empowered and cranked the rusted exhaust bolts from underneath off by myself, with no cheater pipe.  Yeah, do NOT screw with a woman suffering from PMS with a ratchet in her hand.

For the most part, we had a BALL.  We discovered that we’re pretty evenly matched as far as technical ability, and I’m impressed that he’s not one of those “cut it, break it off, rip it out, shove all the bolts in one can and figure it out later” kind of mechanics — and that he didn’t treat me like a “girl” in the garage.  We both very carefully labeled plastic baggies and stored the components in a way that we can’t screw up putting them back on.  It’s so much fun.  He’d gotten off some bolts that would have had me running for a torch, and so far, not a skinned knuckle on either one of us. Well, not from the car.  He got a chunk taken out of his knuckle on our front door.

We have a lovely 2-ton engine hoist ready to go (thanks for loaning it, Al!), and we were 10 bolts away from having the engine hanging from it by September 6th.

… on the 7th, we were a sliver of a bolt away.

That Thursday night a couple of buddies came over to help.  (Actually, I thought one was only coming by late to drive the engine over to the machine shop, but he came early and got right into it, fabulous!)  It was a great team, and I was so, so lucky to have such fun, talented friends.  We had a blast, discovered the car has quite an appetite for wrenches … and got everything EXCEPT (there’s always one, right?) that one bitch of a bolt, this time on the transmission, up top, behind the distributor cap.  Would NOT budge, and by the way, who the heck uses 14 mm on a Chevrolet???  *taps foot*  Scoured Dad’s garage, found lots of useful stuff, decided on the custom hacksaw, and away Al went, drawing blood in the process.  And STILL … after removing every other possible item including the motor mounts, it was stuck.  So, we called it quits in the wee hours.

Friday night I started to file off the bolt flush to see if it’d break loose.  Tedious and time-consuming, and I could totally see why Al’s hands got all bloody.  Whipped out Dad’s Dremel and it just about fit … a half-hour of grinding, and it was off, and the transmission pulled away from the engine, just what we wanted.  We started to lift it, but the eyebolt holding the engine to the hoist started looking more like a “C” bolt, so D threw some more chain on it and we went on home before doing too much damage.

On Saturday, we got it out.  We had to slowly, side-by-side, drop the nose to make enough room for it to get over the fenders, and swing the lift around so the loft wasn’t in the way, but out it came.  D and my buddy Kevin took off the rest of the stuff that the machine shop didn’t need, I popped the freeze plugs, and into Kev’s pickup it went.  Many hands made for light work.  We covered it in plastic, which was a good thing because 5 minutes after he left it began to pour down rain.

Kind of an odd aside here, but Thursday night and Saturday afternoon, the local police had followed both D and Kevin … Thursday night they were pacing Kevin, then caught up to us and paced us to the town line … then Saturday D ran out for a sec, and they followed him back to the house … then when Kevin left, he was “escorted” through THREE towns on his way home.  They must have called ahead.  I don’t get it.  These communities we’re talking about used to be … well, normal.  Big, tattooed men weren’t an unusual sight.  Particularly not at 2 AM, or any Saturday afternoon.  Just one more change that’s happened in the last 20 years …

I talked to Mike Sullivan at Malden Machine on September 13th … he doesn’t yet know where it came from, but when he took the motor apart a piece of brass dropped out.   (actual size) It looks like it somehow got sucked in through the old Rochester 400 carburetor (beats me how, it’s always had an air filter on it), and beat up the top of one of the pistons.  The piece is smashed, but it was big enough to stop the piston from getting to the top of the stroke, which explains why it would turn, but not a full revolution.  Very VERY odd.  He said the rest of the engine was just fine … we went and visited him at his shop and I have every confidence in this guy.  Anyone who’s teaching his daughters to hand him tools can’t be bad.  He thinks he can get between 325 and 375 HP out of it … which will be SWEET, considering that spec on a new L48 is 185 HP.  The cylinders look beautiful … I was very lucky, the brass bit only beat up the top of the piston.  Mike even offered to take photos while he’s doing his thing, nice feature, and I’ll put them up soon.  I wish we’d had more time to chew the fat about his equipment, it’s a neat place.

So the weekend of September 15-16 (which was supposed to be spent in Old Orchard Beach, ME for their car show, but with no Corvette, an ailing transmission on the “reliable” car and stuff to do in the garage, we cancelled) … we  cleaned and sanded and painted, getting the big hole ready for the fresh engine.

Mom’s fascinated.  She’s also sweet.  And a fantastic watercolor artist AND cook.  She’s also gotten over being tense at parts baking merrily away in her oven … and drives a stick.  You really have to mash the pedal to keep up with her, so you can see I get it from both sides.

Mom

I do wish Dad could have make it out to the garage, but he was well into his 80’s, had had a stroke and didn’t move around too much.  He’d apologized to me for not being able to help … huh?  The man taught me almost everything I know … the tools are all his, the garage … everything was clean and sharpened and ready to go.  He even looked at a photo and guessed at how to remedy the problem.  How could the man be more helpful? (Dad has since passed. I miss him terribly),

Dad

9.25.07   Mike called, and the pistons just came in last Thursday, so the motor will probably be ready today or tomorrow.  Of course, I booked plane tickets to a big party in NJ weeks ago for this coming up weekend, so if the motor makes it to my parent’s house before this weekend, I can’t be there to help put it in.  Shit.  I had to suck it up and let D know that it was OK for him to go ahead, as long as he didn’t start it without me.  I was sad, but also wanted to get it done.  A buddy we haven’t seen in years (S) wanted to help clean out the engine compartment, which is great.  I enjoy it, but have back problems; standing anywhere I couldn’t lean or sit for extended periods of time was not a smart move for me … so I appreciated the help.  He’s chronically out of work, also, and owed me money, so that situation was win-win.

9.26.07 The motor is done.  Mike and his crew did a LOT of work.  We’re now at 10.5:1 compression … just enough to be bad nasty, but not too fussy to make her high-maintenance.  Kinda sounds like me, actually.  Beyond thrilled now … whatever is going to happen when we start her up????

10.1.07  The headers came.  We went over to my folks’ house to say hello to some cousins in town from Texas, and there’s a huge box that says “HOOKERS” with a big red heart on it in the driveway, in front of the garage, facing the street … very funny.  (Note:  They didn’t fit, and back they went). We still have lots of cleaning to do, and have yet to look at/clean the carburetor … fluids and belts to buy, some gaskets.  The weather is looking perfect for this weekend.

10.3.07  D and S are out there today.  S figured out how to get the radiator out … that’s got to make things a lot easier.  I have no idea how much work those two are up to, but they sure looked like they’re having a good time!

The final re-installation and putting all the components back where they came from was supposed to be Columbus Day weekend … I had that Monday off … that was my plan in my perfect world.

10.6.07  I got to see what D and S have been up to last week today, and MAN have they been busy.  The entire engine compartment is immaculate … primed and sprayed, vacuum hoses cleaned, body work done on the radiator support and repainted, fiberglas repair on a hole that’s been there forever.  Even the master cylinder got a coat.  We got there late in the afternoon, after what we thought were final parts-gathering trips, and worked long into the night, but in the end, the engine was in place, but not hooked up.  D got me an early Christmas present that ROCKS … a brandie-new Edlebrock Performer Series 600 carb with all the trimmings.  And a fuel pump.  And pretty much anything else we threw into the basket at Indy.  Merry Christmas to me!

10.7.07  Today we took two 7/16″ hot dip galvy spikes from Home Depot and shoved them through the motor mounts.  That’s it.  They worked, things are where they’re supposed to be, but we’re burned out and didn’t do any more.

10.8.07  Between chasing down dealer-only parts, such as heat-treated exhaust manifold bolts—because we don’t have time to install the headers that I’d been told I *HAD* to buy *before* the engine went in, it was the *only* way to do them … but it’s not … for the old manifolds on a day that dealers are CLOSED on … and non-dealer parts … like 3/8″ x 16 x 1¼” transmission bolts to replace the wrong ones and the one we had to saw the top off of, and new exhaust nuts … we killed hours.  Plus it just didn’t go well, the motor is not at all happy to slide back into where the tranny has been waiting for it to be easily.  It’s grueling, micron-by-micron work, and I’m pretty sure all three of us (D, S and myself) are pretty thoroughly discouraged.  Last night we left the garage hoping that time would somehow de-stress the bolts and make closing that last 1/16″ easier.

10.15.07  What ended up happening was D and S took the whole thing out and apart again, and re-did it.  Motor, torque convertor, flywheel.  Amazing … it took them 4 hours, but it all went back in perfect.  The headers have gone back, actually, so have a LOT of parts that had to do with the carburetor … stuff that didn’t fit or wasn’t needed.  It’s been a flurry of buying parts, returning parts, finding parts, ordering parts, returning parts …. and during all of this, some parts actually found their way onto the car.  New ones, that of course needed tweaking, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot … old ones, re-painted … and some old ones that well, we’re just not using anymore.  Apparently I have inherited my Dad’s need to have a box of parts left over, and D and S (with Al’s blessing) agree.  There’s a pile of useless shit in the corner.    Without going in to too many details, the fuel pump, power steering pump, and water pump is on.  The adapter plate and carburetor is on … which was a pretty interesting install all by itself.  Fuel lines are run, fuel filter in place.  There’s rubber and clamps and RTV and gaskets and SO MUCH STUFF around … but the major pieces are OFF the floor, shelf, table, workbench, Mom’s car, windowsills, back pockets, my purse, and the boxes it was all in, and back where they came from.  Mostly.  It’s looking good, and it’s fun again … even though we froze SO bad Saturday night, I ended up looking like nanook of the north.

Frozen

10.23.07 update:   Well, a good weekend is usually followed by a bad weekend, and not to be a pessimist, but that’s exactly what happened.  Friday D and S headed out there and jumped right in; that night I got out of work and took the commuter rail out to join them.  Friday night went pretty well; we got the left-side exhaust manifold on and bolted to the exhaust … half the new, yellow spark plug wires (to match the headlight vacuum hoses, of course), some more things …we were all in a good mood and the project was moving right along.  Saturday we got a late start, despite the fact that we had gotten up reasonably early, and we were chasing down hard-to-find parts didn’t get out to the garage until late afternoon.  (Actually, this trend has plagued us pretty badly the last few weeks)  A couple of hours in, a major snag:  the right-side exhaust manifold won’t bolt to the exhaust, there just isn’t enough stud left.  27 years of being exposed to the elements had rusted the end of it off to a taper; there was not enough thread to get a nut started.  Plus, the heat riser was just … well, it didn’t seem right, but we had to go with it because we needed the space … losing it would cause more problems, like a cracked Y pipe.  And of course, the right-side manifold is attached to the a/c compressor bracket … which is attached to the … *starts singing Dem Bones*

The bottom line was … we were done, dead in the water, nothing else could be accomplished until, somehow, at some point, the old rusty studs could be removed from the manifold and replaced with new ones.  The good news … this is not difficult, all you need is some heat, an Auto Zone, and some Loc-Tite.  BUT it was Saturday night at 6:30 PM, no one is open, and we have no oxygen.  So we took the day off from the car, D took apart Al’s engine hoist, and on the way home we stopped over there to drop it off.  Al was in the garage … he showed us the cool go-cart project he and his son are working on, and we told him how nice the manifold looked after we used this dressing from Eckler’s site.  Pulled it out to show him, told him what was stopping our project.  Well, he could help, and he did … a half-hour later the old rusty studs were gone and the holes were re-tapped.  Off we went, ready to go.

By the way, I highly recommend OPI nail polish in the new color “Russian Navy.”  It hides any tell-tale grease and dirt.  I asked my boss what he thought of it; he didn’t like it.  I said, “but it doesn’t show grease,” and his reply was “or taste.”  Funny guy, and quick.  My nail technician is having kittens about now, too.

Russian Navy Blue

I took Monday off work as a personal day … let’s face it, when you live in New England, an 80° day in October is damn rare, and should be celebrated.  Again, we got going early, picked up S, and headed off to Auto Zone in search of longer studs.  Found the same size, but that was OK, because they weren’t rusted to a taper on the business end.  That was the good news … the bad news was that we had the wrong size doughnut packing to go between the manifold and the heat riser.  It’s a smaller one … and one that GM themselves doesn’t show on their parts lists.  Auto Zone shows it.  Eckler’s did not.  The local Chevy dealership redeemed itself only with a recommendation to drive on over to New England Muffler and Brake and see Richie.  By this time, the three of us were pretty depressed.  Not a lot was said during the drive.  We’d been at this since noon, now it was approaching 3PM with no prospects or new ideas … so when Richie not only had the smaller doughnuts (which he GAVE us, go Richie!), but some ideas about our heat riser issue, we were thrilled.  His very friendly German Shepard cheered me up, too.  Steve promised to take photos of how it all went together, and off we went again, headed for the garage.

It worked like a charm.  OK, so maybe the taps weren’t perfectly straight, but a little persuasion and it was back together.  At this point, I had bowed out of that particular aspect of the project in frustration.  My patience was wearing very thin; OK, it was gone.

After that was done, we started back in at a good clip; the brackets and associated a/c compressor and alternator went on without too much trouble.  Two of the three new fanbelts are the wrong size … this is just how our luck goes, right?  So what’s left (after yet another trip to Auto Zone), is replacing the radiator frame and contents, hooking up the alternator, final adjustment on the new linkages for the carburetor, topping off the fluids, and the air cleaner.

10.25.07  D and S were out there again today; I saw the photos.  D went AT the aluminum tubing that feeds the a/c compressor with steel wool and it shines like a new penny.  S painted the compressor.  Which means that EVERY SINGLE THING within the hallowed walls of the engine compartment is either new, refinished, or repainted.  There’s nothing cruddy left.  Nothing.  She gleams.

Photo to come: Shiny engine compartment

10.26.07  We tried to get her started, but alas … not tonight.  Called it quits and got some sleep.

10.27.07  At 4:20 PM, the car ran.  Mom came out and told us the time.  Did you ever hear the song “Rusty Old American Dream?”  There’s a line in there … “hear me whirr, sputter, backfire through the carburetor and roar into life once again….” and that’s exactly what happened.  Flame was involved.  The videos are up on YouTube:

Take 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAc2RMXEuCA

Take 2 http://www.youtube.com/v/DJPU4KLBnfI

Take 3 http://www.youtube.com/v/-ahv4Q43F6Y

Take 4 http://www.youtube.com/v/1SVsoGXY_sA

It did run, and very well.  It sounds great.

11.3.07  Went to drive it today.  Put it in reverse … nope.  Drive?  Nope… no gears at’all.  Small panic … D and S consult, and decide to add transmission fluid.  Doh, yep, that was the problem, it took 3 quarts.  Fine!  We have reverse, back out of the garage … no problems, no leaks … put it in drive (no laughing, I hate the fact that it has an automatic transmission but a) for the price and b) I live in a very urban area with too much traffic, and that whole first-second, first-second, first-second mess in creep-and-beep traffic is a drag … so I’ve made my peace with it), and take off.  Sounds great.  Fantastic.  It’s exhilirating.  And it won’t shift into second.  Again, depression falls … much discusssion ensues … talk of towing, professionals … we call my brother, who is a professional auto mechanic in CT.  To this point we haven’t bothered him, but now it’s his turn (Mom said).  He says look on the transmission for a vacuum hose … I look, nothing … S looks, hmm … here’s a shiny silver thing just the right size for a hose, way back, surrounded by very dirty things that obviously haven’t been touched in a while.  It’s getting late, so we decide to look at it tomorrow.

11.4.07  Got under, slid the dirty hose onto the clean piece … take it out and cross my fingers.  IF it shifts, I’m headed off to Al’s for my maiden voyage … it never hurts to have a buddy on the other end, right?  Just in case.  Tell D I’ll call him if it shifts, and he’ll see me in a few minutes if it doesn’t.  It shifted!  That was the problem!  Quick run up to Al’s and back in time to make dinner for the folks.

11.11.07  The weather has NOT been cooperating, and I’m nearly out of vacation time … so today was the first afternoon I could really enjoy the car.  Took it over to Mindy’s, the nail technician.  She was very nice about humoring me.  Also beat out a Firebird getting into a rotary, which made me very satisfied.  Drove over to Indy to show off Frankenvette, they liked it.  And back to the garage just after dark, triumphant!

I don’t think there will be any more problems … the temperature seems fine, just some tweaks and adjustments … a break-in period that will probably kill me … and we can call this project done.

First tame whomp:  http://www.youtube.com/v/jrVp2xrp4xk

Friends that will work on your car for beer or Pepsi—or nothing at all—are damn rare, and yet somehow, I ended up with four.*  You guys rock out loud; I am VERY happy.  Never forget it.  I sure won’t!

Signing off for now,

Gigi aka “Small Fingers”

P.S.  11.14.07  I got pulled over: http://corvettegigi.com/the-cars/that-didnt-take-long/

*2015 note: What a shame to only have one friend out of this crew left. Kevin passed away in 2009 after a very short bout with cancer. D and I were done mid-2011, and S went with him. I see Al once in a while. Oh well. Nothing stays the same, and some of those friendships couldn’t be sustained. Like with the dead guy.

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