Operation IDIocracy: THE TESTENING – Bench Run of the IDIot

When we last left off, it was 2 weeks before Dragon Con 2022 and I was hell-bent on getting the engine run on the stand and then packed away while I take an Overhaul Intermission. I wanted to make sure that as many subsystems were tested as possible. Part of those was the coolant loop.

What I didn’t want to do was hook up the radiator, with its 2 inch diameter hoses. Getting a few feet of that stuff to put it nearby was going to be really expensive, and all I wanted to do is make sure the whole coolant loop can fully purge itself with the thermostat cycling. It didn’t need to reach full flow.

So I made these … reducer fittings. They’re 3D printed from regular ol’ ABS. One end goes into the 2 inch and 2.25 inch radiator hoses, the other end is for 3/4″ diameter coolant hose. This reminded me a lot of making Anderson SB350 to XT-60 adapter cables or something. But, hopefully, with the whole system only running idle flow, it’ll be fine.

I hooked just the water pump up using a short belt I had which literally happened to be the right size. I’m pretty sure this is supposed to be a drill press belt or a lawn mower belt.

The test setup is shown here. I did not trust hanging the whole engine off just the stand, because these things shake the entire van when they power up and shut down. The plan was to spoon the crane into the stand, using it to unload the stand a little using the hoisting points on the intake manifold. This way, the crane is taking up some of the weight, spreading it across broader points of contact with the ground, and also countering the torque of the rotating parts from another point.

The electrical setup was very simple. These things only need the fuel shutoff solenoid held on to run, so I rigged a random E-Stop button into that circuit. The roller limit switch controls the starter motor. So basically I unclick the E-Stop and wham the limit switch to crank it.

There is no glow plug circuitry installed. Yes, I was going to Spicy Start my freshly rebuilt engine.

The rest of the test setup included a fuel pump running from a jug (the whole feed and return circuit is shown here with the black hoses) and a bucket full of water.

After some initial cranking to purge the air out of the injection lines, we’re ready for takeoff.

Starts out a little rocky as expected for maybe having some residual air in the fuel system, but otherwise it settled into idle smoothly. To be fair, this was the second run – after the first, I decided to mount the OEM exhaust pipe so as to keep the massive smoke cloud away from me just a bit.

I realized quickly the water pump setup would never prime if the reservoir was lower than it was, so I had to hang the bucket from the crane arm. In real life, the radiator water level is always above the pump.

I let the thing run long enough to hear the cold idle circuit shut off – this adjusts the timing slightly and lowers the idle RPM by letting the injection pump rest at a lower hard stop point.

It would be a long time before the thermostat opened enough to let everything purge out. A big surge of rusty water – emblematic of Snekvan’s neglected cooling system and me letting the whole thing sit for months – let me know that the water was now flowing.

The hilarious thing was that on one of my subsequent test runs, the battery clamp just straight up melted apart. These starters demand almost a thousand amps as they turn the ridiculously high compression over. This single little battery was not thrilled about it.

So what lessons were learned?

First, that I didn’t use NEARLY ENOUGH silicone. I think they assume you just buy the entire cartridge gun or something, because it began leaking oil from literally everywhere along the oil pan. The front and rear covers, in particular, seem to need GOBS of the stuff.

I’m used to depositing silicone in little 1/8″ wide weenie beads for Mikuvan, but you can clearly see those beads were BARELY making contact with anything!

So I had to undo both front and rear covers (involving removing the water pump again) and absolutely CRAM IT FULL of silicone.

(Check out that cavitation damage on the front cover plate, by the way. It’s not deep, but this is one source of problems that EOLs these engines. The cavitation will eventually erode through this plate and cause coolant to enter the crankcase)

Same process repeated for the rear cover. This involved disconnecting the engine from the stand and hoisting it with the crane. Glad I took the time to set that up, I suppose.

I also made minor adjustments in the seal positioning to get them to line up better with the end of the crankshaft. I think the seals I ordered might be a little different than the OEM design, since they stuck out in different ways.

Lastly, the engine was clearly not timed correctly – I just let the injection pump lay where it fell, when there are (at minimum) marks you have to line up. That is an operation I’ll leave for later, since you’re supposed to do it with the final fuel pressure as well.

At this point I had the setup pretty well tuned. A small, less than 1/2 second puff of the Spicy Air and it would light right off with barely one full turn of the crank!

This is the resulting poo water from letting it warm up. It looks like there’s chunks of something floating in it… I changed this water out twice before going “eh, it’ll deal”; on a scale from 1 to Flint, Michigan, it maybe ranked somewhere around Newark, NJ. It went from fresh black tea looking to just a little bit brown.

The IDIot Gurney

With a few days remaining before Dragon Con, I decided to go ahead and construct some infrastructure to make my life easier when I perform the install.

Most people install the transmission and engine separately, but I was daft enough after seeing how they came out such that I wanted to install the whole thing in ONE piece, instead of dealing with aligning them in-situ.

That will take some creativity, but more importantly, I had to assemble the engine and transmission first, and do so in way that I can then grab the assembly at its barycenter later on. I decided to make a small but heavy duty cart that cradles the engine and transmission. Here’s how that went down.

I started with some 2×10 wood arranged in a V-block shape. The IDI engine mounts are 90 degree inclusive on their mounting faces, so they will rest on the V.

Next is a frame made of 4×4 lumber and some of the highest capacity urethane casters Harbor Freight offered. The combined transmission and engine was going to be almost 1400 pounds. These casters combined aren’t rated for that, but I figured that they could probably tolerate some overloading and I was just needing the engine to be somewhat mobile so I could get it out of the way. Not like it had to be in service and rolling around a factory floor.

The width of the cart was dictated by how far in I could push the crane and still safely grab what I believe was the balance point of the engine + transmission assembly.

The wheels are bolted in with 3/8″ lag screws. The frame itself is held together with 8″ long lag screws driven into the ends!

My plan was to hoist the engine onto the cart, level it with the crane or a jack, and then build a rear support for the block.

To do this, though, I had to wrong-way scissor the engine stand and crane again. This arrangement was certainly a little precarious.

… Maybe a little too precarious. While shoving the thing forward one last time, I made the mistake of applying the force too high up on the crane body, and watch the whole thing very slowly tip its way onto the cart. No damage or anything, but it was like one of those “slow disaster in motion” videos!


After repositioning things, I got the engine swung into a central position in the V-block and began levelling it with the floor jack.

I secured two 4×4 posts using screws driven in at a 45 degree angle to support the outer reaches of the exhaust manifolds.

The next day, it was transmission time. I read that you had to fill up the torque converter beforehand or it’ll take forever and ever to fill the transmission (as the oil pump has to otherwise do it for you). There’s a removable plug on the side of the torque converter to do this filling through. I pumped the transmission fluid salvaged out of Snekvan (and just about everything else I had with a C6/E4OD) right back into here. At the same time I went ahead and filled the oil pan itself as well, by pumping in through the dipstick hole.

I didn’t fill it much, because I didn’t want things to potentially leak out as I was manipulating it into Vantruck later (it’ll need to be highly angled forward and backward to wiggle in). But it should be enough to prevent a dry start.

I went ahead and mated the engine and transmission with the mounting bolts, then measured how far the tail housing was off the cart frame.

Some quick action with the miter saw later and the rear support is done. I’ll take some measurements of this thing and maybe back-CAD or back-document it later for everyone else’s amusement.

And here we have it. In one photo, both of my terrible time-consuming, money-burning, expensive facility-requiring hobbies.

Oh yeah! While I was on the woodworking binge those few days, I also whipped together a future Vantruck bed carrier cart. I won’t have the luxury of an all-concrete surface any more like the ol’ Vape Shop parking lot, because the Robot Trap House driveway is rather hilly and everything else that surrounds it is grass or dirt.

As a result, I made this cart with big pneumatic wheels so Vantruck’s bed can be craned onto it and then I can roll it into the back yard or something. This will come in handy in a few weeks/months time.

With Dragon Con 2022 having come and gone, and Overhaul’s 2022 season updates in full swing, Operation IDIocracy would pick up again near the end of Fall with some more infrastructure work and then Vantruck’s final disassembly…

Operation IDIocracy: The Rebuildening, Part IV – The Road to Reassembly

This post covers the reassembly work on the engine spanning roughly from mid June to before Dragon Con. After Dragon Con, my plan was to focus 100% on preparing Overhaul for the 2022 BattleBots season. The goal was to run the engine on a stand of some sort by then.

I cleaned up both of the heads using the (actually) brass wire brush seen previously and kept it from rusting again with some WD-40, since my work environment isn’t exactly weatherproof and by June, it’s very warm and moist.

I did this in part because of decisions about what to do with the head bolts. Recall one of my wants was to put some “stage one” and bulletproofing mods in while I’m reassembling. Well, the OEM head bolts on these engines were allegedly only 140ksi yield, or barely Grade 8. Could I verify this? Nah, but usually you would get a set of ARP heat-treated, rolled-thread studs with 220+ksi yield strength so you can really crank them down.

The problem was these were one trillion dollars (or so it felt with inflation and supply chain disruptions) and also terminally out of stock everywhere at the time, early-mid 2022.

I therefore went around scouting out where to get Grade 8, 9, or above 12-point cap screws – similar to the OEM head bolts, but just more hardcore. After all, I’m not running epic amounts of boost in the end, and if Snekvan survived on OEM head bolts, I was really only gaining long-term liability, which was preferred.

I found these Grade 9 equivalents on Specialty Fasteners (quite a name) and ordered up 35 – 17 per side plus one extra for the one I shear off.

While they were coming, I made an Internet Car Advice Recommended Upgrade to the heads. Legend has it when Ford/International went to the 7.3 liter size, they blocked off the coolant flow to the heads using plugs. Why? Who knows. Some allege for emissions purposes.

Whatever the case, lack of coolant flow through the heads makes them run hotter and potentially more prone to warping. A recommended hack appears to be punch (not drill) through the plugs on both ends of the head, enabling coolant passages in the block to connect once more.

I’m guessing you don’t drill because a punching process doesn’t generate metal shards everywhere inside these castings with their passageways and whatnot. Some people seem to remove these plugs outright, others leave a hole or two. I decided to go for the punch a hole approach.

The plot twist is of course you also have to drill holes in the head gaskets because they’re otherwise sealed off in this area.

And this is how I found myself drilling holes in brand new head gaskets. I just did a visual alignment and put a roughly 3/8″ sized hole here. Alright, Internet Car Advice… you better come through.

A good while ago, I bought a Ginormous Torque Wrench at a garage sale (at which I also obtained an arbor press). It went up to 250 ft-lbs and I had no idea what I could possibly tighten with it…. until now. Good thing I have it! The new head bolts were tightened in a few stages to 150 ft-lb.

With the heads reassembled, now I can bust out my poorly labeled bags from a few months prior and begin reassembly.

Here, the new Valve Pushy Roller Things are installed along with the pushrods.

I took the opportunity to make a modification to the “Bolt of Convenient Engine Mount Access” which would allow me to, if the event ever arose, to remove the engine mount on the driver’s side independently of the oil cooler.

I dropped what felt like an entire tube of silicone here on the intake manifold. In fact, this engine ended up having a full 4 or 5 tubes of silicone in various places. I think they really assume you buy the big cartridge of silicone or something, because I was used to the dainty “Make a 3mm wide bead” of Mikuvan’s instructions. Here, it seems more proper to just puke the silicone everywhere.

The intake manifold is now back on and secured.

Well, the distasteful modifications begin… Nobody will even get to see this in real life. But I will know it’s there.

(This was principally to prevent any surface rust on the valve covers from spreading, but I got carried away)

I’m moving onto putting the timing system back together now.

Yup, more extra painting for no reason. This is all going to get scratched and gouged up anyways as soon as I try hoisting the thing in.

The reattachment of the injection pump isn’t supposed to happen in this order, but I am deviating from “book steps” because I have a full reassembly going on where I can see the timing gears, not a repair job.

The IDI seems to have a very curious repair step where you have to play align-the-marks without being able to see them. Once the front cover is installed, you actually can’t see the Y-shaped timing mark because this camshaft gear is sunken below the top face of the block by about 2 inches.

The actual factory shop manual lists all kinds of shadetree sounding workarounds for pulling the injection pump gear, like scribing lines radially from the center to the matching Y stamping, or using dye on the teeth to line them up.

I took a more visceral approach and cut five little dimples into the tips of the two teeth next to the Y using a Dremel. These are concentrated at the very top face of the gear teeth, and therefore should not affect load carrying (famous last words). This way I can peer down from the top and see the reflections of the irregular cuts.

I’ve reattached the injection lines here too, along with a feeder line which will eventually feed into the rest of the fuel system. This was simply cut from the OEM filter-to-injection-pump line and flared a little bit to give a hose something to loop over and be clamped to (at the time, I didn’t own a proper bubble flaring or beading tool)

Injection pump dropped into place and fittings ready to attach!

This is what I mean by cheating when it comes to lining everything up. You’re supposed to have closed the front cover by now, which I haven’t, so I can fiddle the timing gear as much as I want. There is no visual on this gear mate if installed properly, and especially not in the van chassis.

With another what feels like whole tube of silicone, the front cover plate is mounted.

Not sure if I’m a fan of this design – this cover plate has bolts that do and don’t enter into the water jacket of the block (requiring silicone on bolt threads) and seals coolant passages adjacent to the crankcase which will be full of oil. With the water pump on the other side.

Seems like if I bung up any of these many silicone seals, I’m just asking for the big milkshake.

The oil cooler and the Bolt of Convenient Engine Mount Access are secured now. Of all the things I ran out of patience to paint…

This is one of the four Bolts of Milkshake Generation – the threads have to be siliconed, like a weird squishy Loctite, or you’ll pour pressurized coolant right into the crankcase.

Of course, I wouldn’t just do all of this without being extra.

So I basically have the entire thing reassembled up front at this point, except one demon from the beginning of the year which I now had to slay: The harmonic balancer which has a broken puller bolt remnant in it.

I set it up on the Benchmaster, Master of Benches and homed in on the hole with conical edge finders, then used a 7/16″ diameter cutter to create a mild counterbore as well as a flat bottom I could then drill into.

Here’s the prepared surface. I went down only as far as to fully turn the broken bolt into a flat surface. I still wanted to retain as much original thread here as I could.

Next, I dove in with a 5/16″ diameter drill bit. This just happens to the be the tap drill size for 3/8″-16 threads anyway. I somehow hit it so dead center that the entire bolt disintegrated into curls, and I could actually see the original threads intact.

Exciting times. I decided to chase the threads anyhow with a tap just to clear out all the debris.

Then I cleaned the part up and decided to be EXTRA again.


Like, goodness this is extra.

It’s a pity nobody will ever see this Miku-colored (and rust) engine.

Lastly, with the entire top and front side closed up, there was no longer a danger of dropping things downwards. So with another two tubes of silicone or so, the absolutely massive oil pan is closed up!

That same night, I went ahead and made the return lines.

The next task was to flip the engine around on the…

Wait, there’s no way to mount the engine using its front bolts. I’m going to have to do the rear cover plate and seal install with it hanging in midair, you say? Let’s do it!

There’s really only two things going on here, the rear cover plate (with seal) and the transmission adapter plate.

Getting closer to the end here with the flywheel and torque converter adapter plate now installed. Torquing these bolts with an engine hanging in midair was a unique experience.

With the flywheel mounted, the mounting ears of the Harbor Freight 2-ton stand were no longer long enough to reach the mounting plate. I had to supplement it with 1″ spacers as well as longer bolts; both were unceremoniously sourced from the hardware store right before they closed Saturday night. Also seen here is the oil pressure sensor, freshly installed on a riser coupler thing to clear the taller transmission mounting plate of the IDI. In Vantruck’s old 460, this thing sat in the same spot, but a lot lower.

So here we have it. It’s 2 weeks before Dragon Con in late August now, and I’m ready to fire this thing up. Stay tuned for THE TESTENING!