I’ve known Ron for over 20 years now – unlike the majority of my friends, whom I know either from school or work, I met Ron during my very first New England 1000 rally in 1998. He and his wife Carol drove an MGA that year, while Steve and I were in Steve’s Tiger. We hit it off because we liked similar cars, plus we were all from NJ.
Ron loves all kinds of cars and motorcycles, preferably those from merry ol’ England. He currently has a Triumph Spitfire, an Austin-Healey, and about a half-dozen British two-wheelers. Still, I would describe his tastes in motor vehicles as “varied”, as the fleet also includes a Ford Model A pickup, a pre-war Packard convertible, a ’56 T-Bird, and a Porsche 356.
About 10 years ago, Ron picked up a derelict Porsche 914, and after doing body repairs (he’s proficient at metal work), he finally peeked inside the engine to discover a disaster: water had sat inside the crankcase for so long that all the internals were frozen. Somehow, he found another 914 engine for sale for $200 and dragged that home. That’s when he called me.
Ron explained that he had rebuilt the engine in his MG Midget race car (numerous times) but was unfamiliar with this VW Type 4 air-cooled flat four. I told him in turn that I rebuilt the one-lunger in my BMW Isetta, and felt equally unfamiliar with the V-Dub motor. Somehow, he convinced me that I knew more than he did, and I agreed to give him a hand one day for a few hours.
I’ve turned wrenches for much of my adult life, and can even try to convince you that I earned a living at it for a year or two. My experience, though, does not extend to a lot of in-depth engine work. Perhaps my biggest contribution to Ron’s project would be as a disassociated 3rd party who could oversee the proceedings, maintain a slow and steady pace, and assist in keeping things organized.
Arriving at his house one day last week, Ron had the engine on top of a sturdy work table, and had cleaned off much of the grime. Even removed from the car, it’s difficult to look at this hulk and envision an engine in there. Frankly, I’ve never understood the appeal of these VW/Porsche boxers. If you popped the hood on my ’68 Mustang, you were greeted with 390 cubic inches of cast iron painted Ford blue. In a different vein, but equally impressive in my opinion, opening the hood on my ’67 Alfa reveals a 1.3 liter aluminum jewel, with the valve cover proudly perched above the dual overhead cams. Lift the engine cover on a Beetle, early 911, or 914 and you’ll see…. sheet metal shrouding.
Everything is shrouded: the top of the cylinders; the cooling fan; the bottom of the cylinders; and the alternator too. I get it: no radiator, no antifreeze, no hoses or hose clamps. It does simplify things. But you still need to control airflow over the crankcase, cylinders, and heads to dissipate heat.
So the first order of business was to remove all the shrouding, and just as importantly, photograph and label each piece as it was removed, for reassembly sometime in the hopefully not-too-distant future. (Actually, the first task was to remove the starter and its attendant wiring harness on top of the engine, so this we did.)
This engine had already been apart at some point in its past. We knew that because A) the shroud screws were a mixed bag of slotted screws and cap screws; B) blue Permatex sealer was evident in various spots; and C) a few shroud screws had broken off in the case, something for us to work on later.
RON POSES WITH SHROUDING FOR THE CAMERA:
With the thin sheet metal shrouding off, we tackled the fan housing, a large aluminum casing at the front of the engine, almost as large as the crankcase itself. Here we ran into a few screws that would not budge. Ron first tried the blue wrench, aka the torch. When THAT didn’t work, he resorted to a drill to remove the screw heads. This finally allowed the housing to be separated from the case.
We marked the spark plugs 1 through 4, and took a snapshot to keep track of cylinder numbers. Removing the spark plugs, we found that the engine easily turned by hand, with no untoward noises. This was a good sign, and maybe just maybe, things are OK at the crank.
The clutch came off without drama once the pressure plate bolts were out. The flywheel was rusty, but we saw no obvious score marks.
This was enough work for one day. Ron’s plan is to use new/reman cylinders, pistons, and heads, all of which he already owns. I reminded him that he needed to order a clutch, and I suggested that he look for a shroud fastener kit, so we could avoid dealing with chewed-up bolt heads.
Ron pointed out there was no blood, no broken bones, and no one’s clothes caught fire, so he declared the day a success. He managed to convince me to return, and I managed to croak out a “sure”. But we’re going to need to get this thing on an engine stand soon – AFTER that flywheel comes off.
All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.