The old car had been sitting for 20 years. We put in some fresh gas and a new battery and she started right up! I think we have all done this. I know I have, and although it makes a great story, it can destroy an engine!
A few years ago, we found a '51 Packard Mayfair hardtop coupe. It had been in longtime storage and the owners had been unsuccessful in getting it running. When we got there, we found two new batteries and a fuel pump lying beside the car. We hooked up an auxiliary gas tank and it started right up. We trailered the car home and removed the gas tank to find a 6" long string of rubberized shellac in the tank's pickup tube, blocking the flow of fuel. This actually protected the engine from the old shellacked gasoline that would probably have stuck the valves and pistons. We have taken engines apart that had shellac on the valves, so thick that the valves were stuck open, giving zero compression on those cylinders. Although there are several solutions to freeing stuck valves without pulling the head, after a long engine hibernation, some of those quick fixes can lead to almost certain breakdowns and engine damage in the near future.
We have a Top Ten list of engine prep tips to follow before starting your sleeping engine that you might find helpful.
1. CHECK COMPRESSION: This is the first step and most important. Without compression, the engine will not run. This test will show if there is a problem in the intake and exhaust valves, pistons, rings, or head gasket and determine where the problem is. (See "Routine Physical" article on Page 16, this issue.) In an upcoming article, we are going to re-visit our '41 Packard LeBaron and show you what sitting without being started over a year while the body work was being done, did to our engine. Also how a compression and a vacuum test helped us determine what repairs were needed to bring the engine back to running right.
2. DROP THAT OIL PAN: Clean it and the pickup tube and oil screen, and re-assemble with a new pan gasket, checking to see if an O ring or gaskets are needed for your pickup tube assembly. Always use fresh oil and oil filter.
3. DROP THE GAS TANK AND CLEAN IT OUT: Seal the tank with sealer that is impervious to modern gasolines. Also clean the pickup tube, making sure the tube isn't lying right on the bottom of the tank, the tank where it can pick up debris from the bottom of the tank, or too high off the bottom, resulting in your running out of gas before the gauge is showing empty. We always replace the fuel pump, steel gas lines, filters and gas hoses. After years of sitting, dry rot and rust will have taken their toll.
4. FLUSH OUT THE BLOCK: Remove the water pump and all hoses, and pull the freeze plugs. You will be amazed at how much rust and debris will be inside the block behind those plugs. We dig down into the freeze plug opening with dental picks until the silt is removed, then flush out with a water hose in each plug opening and down through the head until the water runs clear.
5. REPLACE THERMOSTAT: Replace with a correct one of the right heat range and test before installing. Never leave a thermostat out, because it will allow the water to move through the cooling system too fast and cause the engine to overheat.
6. PRESSURE TEST THE COOLING SYSTEM: Check it for your system's recommended pressure. This will show any leaks at the head gasket, thermostat gasket, water pump gasket, seal or packing, or holes in the radiator, or leaky freeze plugs. Always check the radiator and cap. A weak cap can cause loss of coolant and pressure, resulting in overheating.
7. CHECK YOUR ELECTRIC GAUGES WITH MANUAL GAUGES: If you have electric gauges or lights, make sure they are working, by hooking up manual gauges. If you have a digital thermometer, this will really help you determine the exact temperature in the radiator, block and head. On our '48 Packard, we found the temperature to be excessively high in the lower block before we flushed it out. In the lower block this is especially troublesome, because overheating of the crankshaft can lead to premature bearing failure and excess sludge in the oil pan.
8. TUNE UP: Put in points, plugs and the correct condenser for your system, along with a new distributor cap, coil and battery of the correct cold cranking amps. Spark plug wires should deliver 20,000 volts to the plugs and should be solid core on old cars.
9. CARBURETOR CLEANING: Many times a carburetor can be cleaned by spraying carb cleaner down the throat, with the engine running and revs held up. Also clean the outside body and linkage. We generally add Marvel Mystery Oil to the gas tank, then adjust the carburetor and make sure all of the body screws are tight. If this doesn't work, the carburetor must be rebuilt.
10. BELTS AND HOSES: This can be a weak link in the system. They might look all right, but we've found a radiator hose that looked okay on the outside but was collapsed on the inside, preventing the water from flowing through the cooling system. Belts that are cracked are noisy and can mimic a bad bearing in a generator or water pump, resulting in needless repairs.
These are some tips that we always perform on a long-sitting engine. By following these first, you might eliminate over-compensating later with larger radiators, multiple cooling fans, cranking up the oil pressure regulator, etc. We have received a lot of e-mails asking us about these matters, so we thought a quick list would help.
We thank you, our readers and advertisers for making Southern Wheels Magazine a part of the car builders' fraternity. Working together is what this old car hobby is all about! We wish you and your families a great Holiday Season and a prosperous New Year. God bless you, and keep 'em driving!