Operation IDIocracy: The Rebuildening, Part II

Picking up where I left off somewhere after Motorama 2022, I was in the process of “Reinstall the new everything” on my way towards reassembling the IDI while trying to figure out what to do with the valve guides in each cylinder head.

What I found was seemingly a dearth of local automotive machine shops willing to rebuild those heads from age or lack of parts, or both. I managed to find one local place that was quoting me over $1000 per head for a rebuild. I kind of suspect that was a “fuck off” price, but hey, it is what it is.

The problem, as I touched on previously, was that the valve guides are just machined into the head and weren’t a separate piece (like I thought they all were), so that area would need to be very precisely drilled out and one of those separate pieces installed. They were otherwise far too sloppy for me to want to just re-use the heads.

Anyways, while I considered taking up the offer or trying to find remanufactured heads online, I kept on disassembling.

With symptoms of low oil pressure present, I wanted to take the piston pins out to see if that bore is damaged as well (which would necessitate new connecting rods, which would result in me just buying the Tesla motor).

To do this, I drilled a large hole in the crappy folding table I bought on Craigslist specifically for the head work and simply located a cardboard box under it. Two retaining rings and a gentle punch with an aluminum rod later, and I got all the connecting rods out.

The pistons were given their own “days long degreaser medley” bath to dissolve off all of the diesel crust.

Not too bad at the end, I’d say. Just a bit of wire brushing and Scotch Brite remaining.

I noticed that all of the pistons looked just a little melty at the area where the indirect combustion chamber opening would spray onto into the cylinder. This indicates some degree of piston overheating had occurred in the past, such as from long periods at high load, maybe while the low oil pressure meant the piston-cooling oil jets weren’t jetting very much.

Snekvan always had a pyrometer (exhaust temperature gauge) which I kept a fairly conservative eye on, so I’m hard pressed to believe I caused this. But who knows!? The pressing issue is that this high-surface area, lower-cross sectional area part of the piston will heat faster and be subject to more local deformation if I let it slide. In other words, the uneven bubbly surface will catch more heat transfer from the hot combustion gas, making everything worse locally.

New pistons are rare and expensive, so all I did was machine the area down a little. I found that only about 0.5mm was sufficient to scrape all the foamy aluminum off. I did this with a ball endmill to avoid creating a sharp square edge.

Even on the pistons that didn’t feature so much surface damage, I did the same operation to preserve an even compression ratio.

Hey, lower compression ratios are recommended for forced induction… right?

With pistons prepared, it was time for new rings. I thought parts for this thing would be cheap, but man is this coming up to a $2000 “rebuild” quickly.

I guess gasoline parts are far cheaper (what I’m used to for Vantruck with the 460 big block) and old diesel is a little bit specialty now.

These are substantially bigger rings than I’m used to seeing for sure. One upgrade path some people do seems to be modifying the first generation Powerstroke (1994-1997 year) pistons, which feature thicker piston rings for more b00st brah, but fit in the same bore. There was also a rare 1994-only factory turbocharged IDI from Ford, parts of which are found in the same store that sells unicorn horns. At least, I could only find oversize ones for bored-out rebuilt engines. If I found on-size ones, I might have sprung for those.

But otherwise, I’m not neckbeardy enough to chase down the more extensive mods – if I shoot these rings out of the bottom of the engine… well, it had a good run.

Starting the reassembly path for rotating parts by forgetting which piston went with which pin and which bearing cap. Fortunately, it turns out the bearing ends of each connecting rod are labeled.

I didn’t have any special “assembly lube”, but I did have a squirt bottle of machine way lube, which I’m led to believe will do the same task – be somewhat sticky and hang on for dear life for the first few seconds as all the oil passages prime. All of the parts got a dab as I put them back together.

After popping in new bearing halves, the pistons are ready for reinstallation.

I ordered a Dingleberry Hone for the cylinder bores. The proper thing to do here would have been to send the block to a shop to have these bores properly refinished. You can see a little bit of ‘lip’ at the cylinder head surfaces, and the honing somehow made it look visually worse. I decided it wasn’t significant enough to do anything but park the Dingleberry Hone over there longer, and definitely not worth another almost thousand dollars for the places I called to do it, plus the labor of hoisting this stupid block into Spool Bus and delivering it.

In retrospect, the proper proper thing to do was to hand the whole engine to said shop and pick it up 2-4 weeks later. If I were to do this again (which I would never), it would be a handoff affair. I touched on this a long time ago when pulling Mikuvan’s cylinder head off, but I’m not someone who enjoys doing these things in a state of zen (or as I put it, polishing the same motorcycle). Any actual automotive nut will see how many shortcuts and liberties I’m taking because I want it together faster or the cost of some service was far higher than I was told should be the case.

After all, it’s not like I have dozens of recorded instances on this very website where I took shortcuts or easier-looking alternative paths that bit me in the ass a short time later right?

Honestly, I kind of envy the people who just Know A Buddy With A Engine Shop who seem to be able to get these services for much cheaper than anybody I could scare up around here. Conversely, I suppose I have contacts and networks for getting practically anything else designed, built, and fully-sent.

After I put the all new bearing halves in the block, the holy god this is humongous why crankshaft is back in. I suppose it could be worse, like I could need a shipyard crane.

Main bearing caps go back on now, and the crank is free to spin! At this stage, if I were going absolutely wild, I could install a Block Grundle which apparently prevents the block from exploding in half if you’re pushing something like 500 horsepower through it. Which I’m not.

When I was doing Spool Bus’ fuel system a while back, I bought a bunch of these Unnecessarily Shiny Fuel Pump Covers. I figured it was time to bust another one out. Vantruck is going directly to an electric pump system not unlike what I put together for Spool Bus (which is not unlike what people do on The Internet)

It’s piston installation time! I picked up a Piston Ring Installerator (one of thousands of stupid one-use tools that go into every automotive product) and put some little rubber caps over the connecting rod studs. These ensure that the unhardened crankshaft bearing journals don’t get dinged up when you cram the piston in.

As someone who generally deals with bearing journals being hardened and ground (like machine spindles and the like), the idea that you’d just shiny up a soft iron surface and then leave it alone!? is preposterous.

Whatever, it’s worked for a hundred years.

Well, one of them’s in. Might as well do the rest.

After the pistons are tightened down, I reinstalled the oil pickup along with a new oil pump. Hey, I can actually feel the pressure pulses from this new one! The old oil pump I could blow air through pretty easily with my face. I figure it’s not supposed to be that way

Turning the block upright now, new Valve Pusher Roller Thingies go in, along with their holders.

At this point, I’ve kind of run out of things to do with the engine. The pushrods can’t go in until I have heads, and I’m not closing the oil pan up until I close all the top side up (to prevent…. accidents).

I decided to turn my attention to salvaging parts off the rest of Snekvan before sending the husk off to be turned into future Harbor Freight products; at this point it was getting close to May, I’ve had a shitty van laid up in the driveway for 4 months, and I was beginning to feel like That Neighbor. Thank Robot Jesus for a non-HOA subdivision, but I like to pretend I have some honor left.

Ford, in their infinite wisdom, decided to put rivets and bolts on the same damn bracket. Maybe it made the assembly line run faster or something, but it meant I couldn’t just unbolt the engine crossmember brackets. I had to get through some 1/2″ diameter hot-set rivets first.

To do so, I made a drilling jig which had a countersink to axially align with the rivet, and a center hole that I could run a 3/8″ drill bit through. The drill bit made a center (ish) mark I could then follow up with stepped increases (1/4″, 5/16″, and so on) until the rivet broke through.

Some times the head was still off center enough that I don’t fully separate the rivet. For this event, I had my 4 pound Engineer’s Hammer™ and a cold chisel.

These plates are each held on by three nuts and bolts on the top face and two rivets on the aft side of the engine crossmember. What? Anyways, this was a short evening’s work. There will be more on the Dissection of Snekvan later.

The engine adapter brackets are freed up. Vantruck’s 460 mounts look a lot different, so in time, I will need to drill new holes for these.

I took an operational pause to really think about the cylinder heads. I cleaned all the pollen (IYKYK) off the block, hosed everything down in WD-40, and then pallet wrapped it all for the time being.

Operation IDIocracy: The Rebuildening, Part 1

The Rebuildening post series will, without much thought to chronological order or operation precedence, recount the steps I took to bring the IDI back up to serviceable condition over the course of 2022. If you notice, it’s currently 2023. Trust me, the distractions never subside.

Broadly speaking, I approached it on a pick-at-it-when-you-feel-like basis while collecting information and parts for the future needs of the conversion. This went on from around after Motorama 2022 to July, when I really stepped up the pace because I would need to put the tools down for BattleBots in October. The engine was on a stand and running independently by the beginning of August.

August and September were dedicated to Overhaul. After the BattleBots filming ended in mid October, I did some final parts gathering and in late November, began preparing Vantruck for the teardown. In between, I of course managed to spawn even more dumb things to be revealed soon!

Anyways, let’s rewind about a year back and see where the hell this beaver lodge tunnel went.

Well, before I even take more of the engine apart, I still had to get the rest of the goods out. The E4OD weighs somewhere between 250 and 270 pounds depending on who you ask – chunky but manageable.

Unbolting everything was fairly trivial. I removed the driveshaft and yokes, then unbolted the shifter linkage (hanging off in space on the right side). I decided to just loop a ratchet strap around it twice, once in front of the oil pan and once behind it.

After putting some tension on the whole thing, I undid the cross-member bolts holding the back of the transmission on, and out we come!

I set the transmission on a small moving dolly so I could at least kick it out of the way until I get to it.

Now turning my attention to the engine, my goal was pretty much to knock it all down and do everything needed on the way out. Specifically, I was hoping to inspect the piston rings and main bearings – Snekvan never made good oil pressure, and as I mentioned before during the road testing, made more blue smoke than black smoke. I kind of assumed everything was toast down there from neglect.

I rented a harmonic balancer puller tool from the local megacorp auto parts place. To my dismay, it failed to even begin budging said harmonic balancer. Instead, what I thought I felt as progress was actually the tool itself deforming and bending the puller bolts…

…which proceeded to break off in the hole. Well, this will have to be a battle for another day. I went back and swapped it for the 7-ton 3-jaw gear puller instead, to the astonishment of the sales staff.

I figured this balancer puller was made for some small weenie engine, like maybe Mikuvan’s or something. Not this 1000 pound lump of ‘murica.

After the harmonic balancer comes off, the front of the engine is just a big plate with the water pump bolted to it. Not sure I’m a fan of this design, as several water pump bolts actually enter the coolant passages and crankcase so you have to seal the threads with silicone on the way back in. But, it is what it is.

The whole timing system is just gears. There’s almost nothing to really go wrong here!

Shifting my attention to the top side, I started removing the rest of the fittings and features like the injection lines and glow plug harness.

The intake manifold pops off after the 16 bolts holding it to the heads are removed, revealing the ABSOLUTELY FILTHY “valley pan” cover that…. okay, I guess it’s better for this thing to be filthy than the internal of the engine. It seems like most big American V8s are built this way, with the camshaft and valvetrain gear directly under this thin metal cover.

After what felt like a whole can of brake cleaner and bottle of Simple Green, the valley pan is an acceptable and somewhat presentable state. This part is almost vanishingly rare now, and being able to reuse it would be beneficial. I managed to find one for sale through calling a local Ford dealership, who ordered it for me from the depths of a forgotten Middle American warehouse. So, I had a backup if needed. Luckily, I was able to get this pan off without deforming it.

Underneath the valley pan is all the valve stuff. If you were expecting an anatomical breakdown of engine parts, I’m not your guy.

Removing the glow plugs from the heads was harrowing. Many online instructions will warn you of seizing the tips inside the head and breaking it off, and it certainly felt that way at times. There was a fair bit of carbon buildup on these glow plugs and Snekvan for sure never had a full set working (the controller would flick them on and off very fast to indicate a fault state). I usually lit it off with a small shot of the forbidden spicy air, which is said to exacerbate the deformation of glow plug tips.

I was able to wiggle them all out, though. After breaking the thread free and backing out a few turns, I soaked the whole area in PB Blaster and let it sit for a few minutes. Then I wiggled it back and forth to break up the carbon buildup with the help of the penetrating oil, and out they came.

The injectors were also kind of dirty, but came out without argument.

Here’s a shot after I removed the valve covers. What surprised me was how absolutely grungy and caked in “deposits” the outside of the engine was, but the internals were …….. spotless. I was expecting some Reddit Mechanic tier sludging!

I blame the roughly 25% Marvel Mystery Oil and Seafoam blend I ran in the crankcase after getting it running. That became my M.O. with these things – just pour in all the solvents ever, and let it snort everything out before the first oil change it gets in 17 years.

I’ve removed the…uhh, valve pushy things now in my quest to remove the heads and pistons.

Yeah! Those things. There were MANY bags labeled like this. I’m pretty sure these parts have real names.

After some grunting and prying, the ~80 pound each, solid iron heads come off! I had to throw a 4 foor long prybar onto the pivoting bracket to get it to turn, and was really afraid of tipping it over. Did you know you were supposed to grease that pivot tube? I mean, it kinda made sense, but I didn’t. Not until my friends asked if I had greased the pivot tube.

As I expected, there was a lot of carbon deposits everywhere (though maybe this is normal for a diesel engine) and some pretty clear wetting of the valves with engine oil. This told me at least that the valve seals were nonexistent, and maybe that’s where the blue clouds came from.

I put the heads on a “workbench” to mess with later.

Later came a few days after Motorama 2022 and I began by ejecting all the valves. I used an engraving bit with a Dremel to mark where they went, since otherwise I was liable to randomly putting them back.

This exercise confirmed that yes, the valve stem seals were nonexistent. They were basically reduced to hollow metal and plastic shells with some little chunks of dried rubber all over the place. I assume it all eventually ended up in the oil filter.

I also went ahead and engraved the grunge buildup on the pistons, since they were also coming out.

More bags of questionably named components later…

I discovered that the valve guides on these heads have incredible slop. Like probably 2 or 3 conical degrees of wiggle per valve kind of slop. What’s worse is they drilled these valve guides right into the head casting, meaning I’d need to get these things sent to a shop to be re-lined or sleeved or something. Nothing I could press out and do in-house. At this point, I began searching for remanufactured heads – something I could just plop on and go, and keep this set as a backup or have them reworked on a non time-critical basis.

(I had a hell of a time even finding a local automotive machine shop that was willing to work on them, actually. Many didn’t have the parts or didn’t want to work on something of this vintage.)

While I mulled over the head issue, I began dismantling the bottom side of the engine. The oil pan comes off, then the oil pump and pickup tube.

I rolled the thing over with some great difficulty again. Now it was time to eject the bearings and pistons.

This was a relatively pain-free process. I undid all the retaining nuts and then gently tapped each connecting rod cap with the brass hammer I usually use with the Benchmaster, Master of Benches. Once the mate was cracked, they were easy to pull off. Same deal with the main bearing caps, too. I tapped a little at a time on each side in order to gently move them upwards and out.

This was, how we say, not pretty.

Now, these bearings aren’t destroyed thoroughly as far as I understand, but all of the gray bearing metal had been eroded away.

It was eroded very very evenly, mind you. So it seems Snekvan had been making low oil pressure forever and ever.

The main bearing caps take the thrust load of each combustion cycle, so they see the heaviest loading. By comparison, the upper bearing halves were practically spotless. You know, if I wanted to be extra Snap-On ratchet I’d just trade sides and close it back up…

I inspected the bearing journals and found them to be Still Round with no gouging or pitting. Really, it all didn’t seem all that bad to me any more – just barely at the end of its wear life.

The connecting rod bearing halves also show the same very even wear of the bearing metal coating down to the copper layer below. Again, low-but-existent oil pressure, forever and ever.

So here I was at the beginning of March, staring at a fully torn down engine block. The order of operations was now “Do it all on the way out” – begin by replacing all of these bearings, then move onto piston rings and inspection and re-honing of the piston bores. Once that’s done, I’d hopefully have solved the replace-or-rebuild problem with the heads. I wasn’t planning on closing the oil pan up until after the entire top side is assembled, just in case I drop something.