Assisting with a Porsche 914 engine rebuild, Part 2

I’ve some catching-up to do in reporting on progress with Ron’s Porsche 914 engine, as I’ve made two subsequent visits to his place since my initial report.

To briefly recap: Ron bought a derelict 914 many years ago, only to discover that its engine was junk. He purchased a spare motor, and invited me to join in the festivities. We’re on equal ground, because neither of us has ever rebuilt an air-cooled VW or Porsche engine before. To quote Ron: “What could go wrong?”

The good news is, we are still in the disassembly phase, and as anyone who has attempted any kind of project can tell you, taking something apart is easy, compared to putting it all back together (and expecting it to operate).

During my 2nd visit, we were able to remove the rocker arm assemblies, pushrods, cylinder heads, and cylinders (jugs). Ron kept reminding me that he wasn’t too concerned about the condition of all these parts, as he has already purchased new replacements for all of them. However, one issue that is keeping me concerned is that we started with a 1.8L engine (I think), we are now working on a 1.7L engine (I think), yet the new parts are for a 1.8L, as that’s what Ron thought he’d be rebuilding until discovering that it had been stored in a pond. Hey, we’ll figure it out. (If you have any familiarity with the similarities and differences between the 1.7 and 1.8 914 engine, please drop me a line.)


Rocker arm assembly prior to removal


One cylinder head off the crankcase


Condition of valves is unknown but unimportant, as new heads will be used


Pushrod tubes required force to remove, as prior rebuilder glued o-rings (known leak point)


We reasoned that once unbolted, cylinders should slide right off


And they did, exposing pistons and rings

During that same visit, we had intended to remove the flywheel, but we lacked the exact tools we needed (½” drive impact sockets). During my all-too-brief 3rd visit, I brought the required sockets with me, but, even with an air impact gun, the final flywheel bolt would not budge. We worked it so hard that its corners started to round off, so cooler heads prevailed, and we left it alone until a Plan B arises from the pond….

The blue wrench is again utilized in a vain attempt to remove final flywheel bolt

At my urging, Ron did buy a set of snap ring pliers, and they came in handy when removing the snap rings, two per cylinder, one on either side of each piston pin. With those out, the pins were easily knocked free with a drift and hammer, and all the pistons were removed.

With access hindered in places, Ron still managed to reach all 8 snap rings


Ron eyes connecting rod bolts, ponders bearing replacement


I informed Ron that I had a busy August coming up, so in the interim, he had some decisions to make:

  • If the flywheel bolt can’t be removed, what is our next course of action? Just leave it be? He was leaning in that direction.
  • With pistons removed, the con rod bolts are accessible, and Ron was considering replacing the con rod bearings (but not the crank bearings). He was actively mulling that over.
  • While he had previously purchased a complete engine gasket kit, was he certain that it had everything we needed for reassembly? He was going to inventory that kit.

Since that 3rd visit, Ron emailed me with an update: he had purchased a set of bolt extractors, “guaranteed to remove the most stubborn rounded-off bolts”, so he was engaged in that exercise. I hope to get back to wrenching on this engine within the next week or two, but I’ve got the Alfa brakes to tackle, and that’s a project (and a story) that will take me through most of the remaining driving season.


All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Assisting with a Porsche 914 engine rebuild, Part 1

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.


Capturing this detail at the starter will help during reassembly

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.)

I had not seen a shrouded alternator before this

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.


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.

The blue wrench is ON. Ron’s friend John wisely stands several yards away.

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.

Cylinders 1 through 4 are so marked

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.



Car Spotting in Southern California

My wife and I just returned from a long weekend (5 day) trip to Los Angeles and its surrounding environs, primarily to visit her brother, whom we see all too infrequently. For me, it was another chance to immerse myself in southern California car culture. As a lifelong resident of the NY/NJ metro area, California has always been a car lover’s heaven. From my first visit here in 1977, through many subsequent business and personal trips, I have been in awe of “the land where cars don’t rust”. Walking down the street is analogous to attending an old car show back east. Car models which disappeared from my local streets eons ago have always seemed to be in plentiful supply in the Golden State.

Except this time, it was different. Perhaps because we stayed in a more concentrated and wealthy area (West Hollywood and Beverly Hills), the number of old daily drivers (informally defined by me as cars and trucks between 15 and 30 years old) was low. What stood out more was the incredible number of high-end cars. I’m not speaking of Mercedes Benzes, which were as common as Toyotas and Hondas are at home. I’m referring to Rolls Royces (3 while sitting in one restaurant), Ferraris (so common that people don’t turn their heads), Teslas (easily a dozen+ per day), BMW i8s, and Audi R8s. Topping this list was a Bugatti Veyron being driven down Sunset Blvd. Although I’ve seen the car at car shows, this was the first time I saw one moving under its own power on a public thoroughfare.

On Sunday, we drove to the charming shore town of Ventura (memorialized in the song “Ventura Highway” by America). As it was a weekend, I had the opportunity to see vehicles which likely were taken out for cruising. Parked on the street were a Ford Econoline COE (cab-over-engine) pickup, a Porsche 914, and a 1968 Cadillac convertible. Cruising the streets were two ’55 Chevrolets, several VW bugs (kids, these were the original Beetles with rear-mounted air-cooled engines), and a Toyota Land Cruiser which, in spite of its original-looking CA plate, disproved my idea that these things don’t suffer from the tin worm out here.

Ford Econoline pickup in Ventura CA
Ford Econoline pickup in Ventura CA


Porsche 914 in Ventura CA

Porsche 914 in Ventura CA


1968 Cadillac convertible in Ventura CA
1968 Cadillac convertible in Ventura CA


1955 Chevrolet wagon in Ventura CA
1955 Chevrolet wagon in Ventura CA


1955 Chevy hot rod in Ventura CA
1955 Chevy hot rod in Ventura CA


'60s era VW Beetle in Ventura CA
’60s era VW Beetle in Ventura CA


'70s era VW Beetle in Ventura CA
’70s era VW Beetle in Ventura CA


A quite rusty Toyota Land Cruiser in Ventura CA
A quite rusty Toyota Land Cruiser in Ventura CA

There were other cars to be found, although opportunities to photograph them were slim as we always seemed to be in a vehicle and on the go ourselves. Around the corner from my brother-in-law’s apartment was this gorgeous Airstream trailer, patiently waiting until it was time to hit the road again. One block from there was a Jeep Grand Wagoneer. Its paint was shot but its sheet metal looked solid. It caught my eye because I had just seen one sell in Atlantic City less than a month ago. And on Catalina Island was a VW Transporter, almost as rusty as the Toyota. I guess living near the ocean will eventually take its toll, even here.

While there were other vehicles of interest to be seen, there was no chance to photograph them all. Alas, the long weekend came to an end all too quickly. I’m back home in NJ, where the weatherman is predicting several inches of snow for the first day of spring! Hmm, need to plan that return visit to L.A.

Airstream trailer in West Hollywood, CA
Airstream trailer in West Hollywood, CA


Jeep Grand Wagoneer in West Hollywood, CA
Jeep Grand Wagoneer in West Hollywood, CA


VW Transporter on Catalina Island CA
VW Transporter on Catalina Island CA


All photographs copyright © 2015 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.