Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Rushing of Great Winds (or the Creature from Arby's Dumpster)

In my last post I mentioned that when I saw the exterior condition of my new 5 liter engine, I almost returned it. Now that I’ve dug deeper into the engine, returning the engine probably would have been the smart thing to do.

I had intended to have a nice easy swap. Clean it up, slap on some performance parts, and call it a day. The clean up definitely took longer than expected. The engine block and heads were greasier than an Arby’s dumpster, though the rat population was probably lower, a thing I was grateful for. I scrubbed wire brushed and decreased for what felt like several days, and then brought it back into the garage.

While significantly cleaner, it was still filthy. I looked it over and realized that this engine had a thin candy shell layer of rust scale over the whole thing. I’ve dealt with rust before, but scale like this is another of the wonderful things about aquatic environments like Michigan. Because of this, I became acquainted with a tool I never knew before. This magical tool is called a needle scaler.

After some work with the needle scaler, the block was not fully clean, but clean enough to proceed. Because I'm adding a much more aggressive cam, and hope to make power for another thousand RPM beyond the stock redline, it was necessary to change the valve springs. Though I know I should be using a "3/4 race cam" so that my Falcon could "hop a coke can" and "tape a hundred dollar bill to the dash and give it to anyone who could grab it while I accelerate", I was tipped off to the cam (actually my whole engine plan) I'm using by this article from Hot Rod. It's a Lunati Voodoo 272/280 cam, which should have good driveability and pull strong until 6000 RPM. While it's popular in the hot-rodding world to have a big cam for a "lumpy" idle, I prefer to have a car that doesn't drive like crap 90% of the time because it surges and bucks at low speed and will barely idle at 1500 RPM.

I ordered a set of valve springs from Alex's Parts because they have a setup specifically for explorer engines that are getting a more aggressive cam. I had planned to change the valve springs with the cylinder heads attached, so I took out all the spark plugs

Some of the spark plugs were non-compliant, so I subjected them to an overwhelming display of force, brought to you by DeWalt. They quickly complied.

With the spark plugs out, I could insert my home-made cylinder inflator which provides a supply of compressed air through the spark plug hole. This would, in theory, apply force on the intake and exhaust valves up so that I could compress the valve springs and remove the retainer. At that point I would replace the spring, retainer, and keepers with the new, higher performance version from Alex's Parts. And this is what happened on the first cylinder.

On the second cylinder, the process did not go as planned. When I hooked up the cylinder inflator to the air compressor I heard the rushing of great winds. And when I compressed the spring, the valve went down with the spring. I soon noticed that the great winds were not a force of nature, but the ghost of a 302 escaping out it's exhaust valves. Now in a fantastic mood, I removed the cylinder heads and shined a ridiculously powerful flashlight in the exhaust port. The light was easily visible through the burned valves.

As I checked the other valves, I found another valve that was not sealing. I didn't bother checking the other head because I knew at that point that both heads needed a valve job.

This left me highly irritated. I had once already considered return this engine on account of it's poor exterior condition. By this point I was outside warranty, so returning wasn't even an option. I had also paid an extra $200 for this engine because it had GT40 heads. Had I purchased a GT40P headed engine, I could have saved $200 on the engine, $300 on the head rebuild, and $150 on the springs and been at least halfway to a really nice set of aluminum heads, or 90% of the way to cheap aluminum heads.  I rolled the dice on this engine and lost. I always thought Yahtzee was a stupid game. Sending this engine to the Arby's dumpster where it belongs started to sound more appealing.

As irritating as all this is, dwelling on it doesn't get me anywhere I found a local guy to rebuild the heads. It seems like a decent job, the only complaint I had was that I had to pay an extra $50 for one o' them fancy 3 angle valve jobs. It felt a bit like getting charged extra for  "unleaded" gasoline. Does anybody even still do single angle valve jobs?? There are cutters that do all 3 angles in one pass!

I had initially planned to have this guy "set up" or measure and shim my valve springs to put them at the right installed height. After looking into it, I found I could buy the tools and parts to do it myself for about the same price as paying him to do it. And when that's the case, the answer is always to buy the tool!

It took a while, but I measured all the spring heights and it turns out only two of them needed shims. The valve heights were all surprisingly consistent, so I hope that is an indicator of careful machine work.

Hopefully I'll soon find the time to finish cleaning up the block, so I can paint it and start on the motor mounts.

Since the last post, I also made some progress on making the garage a good workspace instead of a hoarder's hideout. Some quick work with the chopsaw and a bit of 2x lumber yielded a workbench.

A little more work, and I had a 14 foot workbench. It's not fancy or even flat, but it's adequate for the work I do.

The garage buddy approves.

He's not the only one who is excited to drive this car.

In the past weeks I've had a few nights to work in the garage after the garage buddy goes to bed (he's not actually a very good garage buddy, I have to constantly keep him from killing himself. I think that's mostly what parenting is...)  I'll keep taking these hour and a half baby steps a few times a week and eventually, maybe before the summer is gone, I'll drive this old heap.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Let Thy Cylinders Be Doubled

Here it is. For those who've been wondering what was up next for Grace, now you know. I've tossed around a lot of ideas for the last year and a half since I found out that not only did the head gasket go, but the cylinder wall as well. I've thought very seriously about inline 6 turbos like 1JZ-GTE, 2JZ-GTE, and RB25DET. I've also thought seriously about the 1GZ-GE, the Toyota V12. In fact I had made plans of how to execute almost all of these swaps. In the end though, I came to a realization that I don't have that much free time anymore. Kids will do that. Each of these swaps is fairly unconventional, and could take some serious time to build. I have a deep fear of a stalled project because I know that as stalled project is a sold project. I want to be able to use my car, and not have it eternally hiding in the garage, while I endlessly talk about what I'm gonna do. Someday. I need to keep it a lot more conventional than I have in the past, so I decided that a small block Ford is the way to go. 

After researching this engine, I decided to go with a 5.0 from a 1996 Explorer. The Explorer came with roller lifters on the cam like all the 5.0s after 1987, but they also have GT40 heads. These are the heads that were run on the 1993 Cobra, so they flow a bit more than the standard 5.0 HO engine. Because I want to still run EFI and distributorless ignition, the 36-1 crank trigger wheel is a big plus as well.  

I located an engine in a wrecking yard near Detroit and went to pick it up. Because of a mis-communication, they did not have it on the shelf so I had to go back after they had pulled it from the Explorer. I loaded it up and took it home. When I got it in the shop and unwrapped it, I nearly took it back to the yard. I knew that Michigan salt was rough on body panels, but I hadn't considered what it can do to an engine! This thing looked like trash. The corrosion was so severe on even the valve covers it looked like I could push a pencil through them. Even the aluminum corrosion was far beyond my expectations. I actually loaded it back up in my truck to return it. I talked to the owner of the wrecking yard and had him send me some pictures of the other explorer engines in the yard. In the end I decided to suck it up and accept that I live in Michigan, as depressing as that sometimes is. Pro-tip: Don't ever have a junkyard engine shipped to you from Michigan, no matter how cheap.

Crud, glorious crud.
And the other side
Coolant tubes that have seen things you can only imagine.
Valve covers that have been through 23 michigan winters
Dipstick rusted through.
A harmonic balancer that inspires confidence.
Fuel rail corrosion like this is just not normal.
The corrosion got under the paint on this intake elbow and popped it off in a gigantic flake. 
Sad headers. These things choke down to 1 sq in at some points.

Thankfully the corrosion was external only. When I popped the intake off and looked at the lifter valley, it actually looked pretty decent. The oil was reasonably clean, and there was no buildup or sludge.

Once I tore it down to the the basics, it began to look a little more appealing. Still, I was disappointed by all the corrosion to the parts I had removed. I was not looking forward to replacing a bunch of boring parts like fuel rails and coolant tubes to get back to square one.

Then I remembered that I had seen a good deal on craigslist that would take things a little different direction. If I was going to have to replace that stuff, I might as well be replacing it in style...  What I had seen was an Individual Throttle Body intake for small block Fords at a steep discount. Normally these things run in the thousands of dollars, but this was a cheaper version made by Speedmaster. These normally sell for well over $1000, and I picked this up for well under $1000. It was being sold by an older guy whose friend had bought three of these (I guess he had a barn full of parts) but had passed away. This guy knew what they went for new, but was just helping out his friend's widow by slowly selling off parts.

So that's it. I'm swapping to an all-motor SBF with an ITB intake. Much more conventional, but should still have some wow-factor. Max and Jen are coming back home tonight, and I'm more than ready to see them. What that means for you dear reader, is don't get used to updates this frequent. I'm going to try to get this thing running before August, so stay tuned as I slowly get to that point.

Exhibit A: Turd with a dollop of polish on top.

Sunday, January 13, 2019


Ok, let me get you back up to speed on Grace's state of affairs. It's been a while, so I'll forgive you if you've forgotten. Right before we moved to Michigan, I took her in to a shop to be dyno tuned. She did great, making 350 HP and 380 lb/ft before she ran out of fuel pump. The engine started to run lean at about 5000 RPM, so the tuner shut it down. I was hoping to get that issue fixed and get back on the dyno and see if I could touch 400 HP, but before I could I blew a head gasket. At that point I had to just get it back together so it could get on a truck to be shipped to Michigan. I got it back together with a new gasket, but it still burned coolant. I've been through this before, and last time it was a split cylinder wall, so I suspected that again. I didn't really get a chance to verify it.

In the interim I had a lot of time to think about this project and if it was what I wanted it to be. As you may remember, I battled some vibration issues, and several attempts to fix it were not completely successful. It got better every time, but it still ended up being a pretty uncomfortable place to be due to noise and vibration. I've come to the conclusion that this engine, being a 4-cylinder without balance shafts, is just not a good match for this chassis. Good luck to anyone else doing this swap, but knowing what I know now, I'd go a different route. V8, I6, even 4-cylinder with balance shafts like a Duratec or Ecotec, but not the old 2.3 tractor engine. Additionally, this engine has not been terribly reliable for me. In fact, I'd probably say that it has been terribly unreliable for me. I put some pretty good parts into this setup so I knew that if I parted it out I could probably fund a swap to a different engine.

Well, last Friday I listed up the parts on the TurboFord website and Facebook group. A lot of stuff moved really fast. To keep my customers happy, on Friday night I borrowed an engine hoist and stand from my cousin and I tore right into it. Jen and the boy are out of town so I capitalized on my lack of other obligations and spent most of the day in the shop. I'm happy to report that thanks to the electric heater I did not freeze! Ok, it's picture time:

One last glamour shot of the engine bay.
Bye-bye turbo, I'm gonna miss you.
For reals though.
And away!!
Front view

Side view
Rear view
Things went pretty smoothly, it was a standard engine removal. It took a few hours as expected. Then as I tore the engine down, I took a few pics. These are some of the parts that are being sold off. As I said above, they are good parts, so I'm pretty happy with my PayPal account balance right now. I should be able to complete my new swap easily without dipping into my bank account. This was part of the deal I made with Jen, she (justifiably) wasn't terribly excited when I told her I wanted to change it up just after finishing the 2.3 swap.

Aluminum Flywheel
Adapter plate for 5.0 clutch on 2.3.
Adapter plate removed

Intake manifold measurements

Trigger wheel kit
Rods and Pistons

And here we see the root of the problem (I think). That boogery looking spot in the cylinder wall catches my fingernail slightly when I run it across. It's not a clearly visible crack like the last time I split a cylinder wall in one of these engines, but I'm pretty sure this is what's turning the oil milky and sending coolant into the exhaust.

I'll finish off with some serious nostalgia. I was looking through my google photo albums to see if I could find any old photos of the split cylinder wall. I could not, but I did come across a photo from over ten years ago of me and my cousin (the same one I just borrowed the engine hoist from) in college, swapping out a busted shortblock on this same stupid (there have been 5 different shortblocks...) engine when it was in the Ranger. Funny how these things come around full circle.

Me on the left with hair, my cousin Mark on the right