I recently started working on my big old car, a 1965 Oldsmobile Starfire convertible. As this car gets poor gas mileage, it is not my main vehicle. It is a second car, and is only driven in nice weather. Despite generally running well, the car has burned some oil ever since I got it last summer. And being semi obsessive, I wanted to see what could be done to fix this. While I did not want to do a full engine rebuild, I was open to doing a “little bit of engine work.” Wasn’t there a saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions? More on that later.
Several guys I spoke to said to start with a compression test, so I bought myself a new compression meter and tested the big Olds 425 Rocket V8. Turns out 7 of 8 cylinders had 150 PSI compression, which is good. The other cylinder was showing zero compression, which is bad. That would explain the oil burning. I spoke to engine guys about the compression readings, and most said it sounded like it needed a “valve job”.
Most engine shops said about $ 1500 for a valve job, if everything goes well and you don’t need too many extra parts. I spoke to my local garage and told him to get started, and he said he would call back once he had removed the cylinder heads. The next day, he called back and said that two of the cylinders needed rings as well, and that they would have to remove the block. Ok I said, the repair bill moving up as we spoke…
A day or two later, garage dude called me back and said, “why don’t you come down and take a look at this. It’s really easier if I show it to you in person”. Uh-oh. That did not sound too good.
I steeled my courage and dutily walked over to his shop, and he showed me the now de-constructed engine, in its many pieces. Looking at your car with the engine removed and taken apart, is a bit like seeing one of your best friends with his head removed and body parts scattered about the room. It is a deeply traumatic event.
He told me that two of the pistons were quite damaged, and the rings needed to be redone, cylinders honed… By the time you are finished with it, it is close to a full engine rebuild. He recommended changing all the pistons vs. just the 2 damaged ones. After all, this engine is over 40 years old. I had him give me a price on the piston set and said that I would look into finding some parts online. Ultimately I was able to find a guy in New Jersey, who specializes in engine rebuilding kits for old V8s, and had a very complete kit of parts at a very good price. Much cheaper than we could get in Canada. I told my garage guy what I had found and said that we pretty much had to order the parts through the New Jersey company as the savings were substantial. Ok then. Parts were ordered. We have been awaiting the parts now for just over 1 week.
Over the weekend, I went over to the garage and degreased the engine block as I want to get it super clean and then paint the block, so that it not only runs better but actually looks nice too. I also took the exhaust manifold home, wire brushed it, painted it with high temp engine paint. It looked really nice, and I noticed that the directions tell you to put the piece into a 600 degree non-household oven. They don’t want you cooking the paint in your house because of the fumes. Hmmm, where was I going to find a suitable non household oven? Maybe my bbq would work. The more I thought about this, the more I found this to be a fantastic idea. So, the exhaust manifold paint got baked for 1 hour at 550 degrees in my bbq! I figured this was quite ingenious, and wondered if many other people have cured newly repainted engine parts in a bbq?
So here we are nearly two weeks after we started. The car is still in the shop, still in pieces. We are still awaiting parts from NJ which are expected in tomorrow. Hopefully the car is back on the road by the weekend, which would be nice. I have been experiencing “big red car withdrawal” for nearly two weeks now.
The moral of the story: “there is no such thing as a little bit of engine work”. Once you get that puppy taken apart, you have no idea what you might find. As the boy scouts said, Be Prepared. Prepared for a big bill!
It’s going to be okay. Take deep breaths.