All Things for the
Auto Enthusiast

Introducing New Writer Ray James

Cobra engine removal

I have been around custom cars all my life. Before I was five I was “helping” my dad sand cars to prep for paint. I learned mathematics at an early age by memorizing and understanding all the different bore and stroke combinations of a small block chevy. I grew up on a farm, it was three miles of dirt to the nearest paved road, and there were several 90 degree turns to get there. These “turns” were real fun when I was 16. My parents never bought me a dirt bike or a four wheeler for two reasons 1) they didn’t want me to get hurt, 2) they could not afford it.  I got my first Chevelle at the ripe age of fourteen and within two years had it running, by the time I was 17, I had it fully restored. I have an Automotive Technology, Collision Automotive Repair, and Business Administration degrees. I am very passionate about almost anything that that has style, speed, and four wheels. I have an addiction, I buy too many projects and don’t sell enough finished works of art. I tell my wife, I am rescuing these old rusty projects, the way she recues cats and tries to find a home for them. The sad fact of the whole matter is that there is not enough time in the day nor do have enough money to accomplish my goals.  I am not a great writer, nor am I expert automotive guru that sits in an office tells others what to do. I am hands on and try to do everything myself. I know its smarter and easier to specialize in one thing or process that you are good at, but I have not succumb to that commitment yet. I hope my passion about cars, the Motor City Area, and Michigan flows from these pages and inspires you to get your projects out of the SHOP and on the ROAD. Hopefully along the way we will learn together, and I’m always looking for a better project car than what I currently have. Mopars and Pontiacs are what I am really into now, but I love anything with the “correct” style because with a late model drivetrain anything can be made fast.

I was inspired to start this series with this topic because in my shop there is an FE 428 SCJ that has experienced detonation so bad that the some of piston skirts broke off. With no skirts the pistons started eating into bottom of the bores, where the piston would change direction. Mind you this engine was a running engine that powered the car to drive into my shop. The complaint was that it was using coolant (suspected and confirmed bad head gasket). There were no knock, ticks, or rattling that would warn of such catastrophic damage. It has to be taken into account what this engine was powering, as to why one might have not heard the damage that was happening.  It was in a replica Cobra that was built in the early 90’s. The owner who was a tool and die maker/machinist, and a perfectionist, meticulously built the car to be as original as possible according to his budget. In the next part of this series I will interview the owner of this car, and pass along as much information as I can about timing. I don’t claim to “know it all” about timing but I I hope after reading my first series of articles, that you would feel confident enough to pick up a timing light make sure that your engine is not on the verge of causing catastrophic damage to itself. These steps only work on “old School” engines with a distributor.

1st Gear

The very first and often overlooked step in the process of timing your engine is to verify the timing marks are accurate. There are timing marks that correspond to one another on your harmonic damper and your timing cover. Like all things automotive each company has their own system. For example, GM has a timing tab on the timing cover with a mark(one line) on the balancer, where Ford has a pointer attached to the timing cover with a set of degree measurements on the balancer itself.  These are two totally different approaches that accomplish the same task. Any engines that are using a distributor are old, which means the engines could have mis-matched parts on them, because a previous owner mixed different year parts to put it together. There is always a very rare chance that it came wrong from the factory, the quality standards were not the same as they are today, usually these mistakes happen during a parts changeover or parts shortage which get corrected later or after the vehicle is built so as to not stop the manufacturing line. Over time inertia rings can slip within the harmonic balancer itself. A friend of mine has a slogan when dealing automotive parts, “In God we trust, everybody else we verify”.  There are short cuts that can be done that include sticking a long zip tie in the number 1 cylinder spark plug hole, but the following is the most accurate way. This is the process to verify your timing marks are correct.

Step 1 disconnect battery

Step 2 locate, clean and verify timing marks are present along with degree measurements

Step 3 remove all spark plugs to make the engine easier to rotate

Step 4 install piston stop where cylinder 1 spark plug was

Step 5 Carefully rotate the engine clockwise until the cylinder 1 piston comes into contact with the piston stop, mark the balancer or timing tab with a paint pen, pencil, anything you can see, but is not permanent

Step 6 Rotate the engine counter clockwise until the cylinder 1 piston comes into contact with the piston stop mark, the balancer, or timing tab in the same manner that was used from step 5

Step 7 Mark the center point between the marks you just made, this can be permanent because this is Top Dead Center for your cylinder number 1, remove the marks that you previously made in steps 5 and 6. Hopefully your mark lines up with the 0 degree mark on your motor, if it does not you now know your correction factor when timing your engine. You can modify your pointer or timing tab if you choose to.

Rear View

In summary, this is the very first step in the timing process, the next step will be covered in my next article. I hope to include an interview of a person within the car hobby/industry that showed desire, uniqueness, and passion to accomplish their build, in this article I introduced myself. I will be updating you on what I’m currently working on, which just so happens to be installing/customizing a 1929 Plymouth onto a late model AWD Chrysler drivetrain and chassis.  I would love to hear from you, if you know of somebody pushing the boundaries of normal, please email me with contact information. Examples of what I’m looking for could include homebuilt projects finished or unfinished, all-wheel drive muscle cars(pre 1981), diesel streetcars, daily driven year-round hot rods. I want to write about these vehicles and their “normal guy” owners, so we can learn from each other, and become a stronger group as a whole. The key theme is BUILT NOT BOUGHT. Also there will be an upcoming Youtube channel associated with my articles.

Thanks for Reading

Ray James

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