Seek Professional Help
Remember a while back, when I wrote that anyone wanting to build a project car should set a budget, pad it with some wiggle room, and dive in? Those were simpler times. How innocent and naive I was. It’s almost adorable.
I’d like to retract and revise that statement. The correction should read as follows: set a budget, add a zero, contact your local plasma donation facility, and brace your significant other for impending financial ruin. To quote the great newsman Ron Burgundy, “that escalated quickly.”
As it turns out, busting knuckles and battling rusty bolts is the easy part. Ripping an engine from its bay for the first time is exhilarating and empowering. Tearing into the inner workings is filled with the thrill of discovery. After that, it’s just a matter of freshening up a component here and there before neatly putting it all back together–or so I thought.
One of the upgrades I planned on doing was a higher-performance camshaft. Cam profiles in Dodge’s Magnum engines are laughably restrictive, so an aftermarket cam was a must. Hydraulic roller lifters can sometimes be reused, but it’s best to pair a new cam with new lifters. For what they cost, it’s also very cheap insurance. As are pushrods. As is a new oil pump.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the pistons, rods, crankshaft, and block in good shape. Just to be sure, I brought them all to my machinist when it came time for block prep.
A few days later, Machinist Johnny took a deep breath and adjusted his glasses as he walked me over to the table holding my parts.
That was the day I gained a greater appreciation for mechanical precision. The crankshaft was reusable but needed to be ground and outfitted with undersized bearings. Cylinder walls that looked almost new to my eyes had gone egg-shaped and needed to be bored 20 thousandths over. The pistons were fine on their own but needed to be replaced as a result of the now-larger cylinders. At least that beefy iron block was sound.
None of this work was prohibitively expensive, but it did add up. Funny how multiplying things by eight works.
Before you get the wrong idea, I’m not complaining. It was my choice to rebuild the original lump instead of dropping in a more powerful crate engine. As much as I paid the machine shop for labor, the cost would have been far worse if I had cheaped out and burned up the rebuilt motor prematurely with my own shoddy work. Anything that could result in engine failure if done incorrectly was left to the professionals.
Besides, the guys I hired are craftsmen and I will never begrudge a skilled worker for knowing the worth of their trade.
While they worked their magic, I found ways to occupy my time. Low-risk jobs like tidying up the engine bay and refurbishing components here and there helped pass the days and keep costs down. I’ll admit that I got a little carried away with this phase. At one point, I found myself sanding, priming, and painting hose clamps, then proudly sending pictures to friends and family. Responses were mixed.
This period of time was also when parts started to trickle in with a Rock Auto box here, a Hughes Engines delivery there, and more than a few trips to the local auto parts stores. This was an opportunity to mentally prepare for the reassembly phase and compare old against new. If you ever find yourself thinking that a given component looks reusable, go ahead and hold it up to a brand new part and see if that changes your mind.
One of the things I noticed is that you just never know which parts are going to be readily available and which have become pure unobtanium. Things like pistons, lifters, gaskets, and even camshafts were abundant and often inexpensive. Meanwhile, 10-bolt valve covers for Chrysler small blocks were nowhere to be found. Thank goodness for vat tanks and the aforementioned machinists.
The temptation to rush to the finish line is almost suffocating. I deliberately limited the amount of time I spent in the garage each day to stop myself from getting carried away. I checked and rechecked torque specs. I obsessed about keeping lubricants in and contaminants out. This isn’t the hermetically sealed facility where Nissan builds GT-Rs, but I did my best.
As summer turned to fall, the pile of parts in my garage slowly started to look like an engine again. Gone was the rust; in its place was fresh paint and machined metal. The rotating assembly could rotate again. Valves puffed as rocker arms rose and fell. Seeing an engine that had struggled to turn over just a few months before sparkle and shine was downright heartwarming.
Onward, then, to installation and break-in procedure. Bring on the rapid-fire oil changes and annoyed neighbors. I’ve come this far.
Scott is a lover of motorized fun, whether on four wheels or two. A child of the ’90s, he has a particular soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. Scott works as a freelance marketer for Dingo Productions in Fort Worth, Texas. If he’s not behind a camera or a computer, he’s probably chasing down new coffee shops with his wife or throwing a frisbee for his dog.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.