Scratching that Mechanical Itch

Getting Back into the Garage

Now that we’ve been affected by the pandemic shutdown for over three weeks, I’m starting to understand what “cabin fever” is. This is an unprecedented time where the world has more or less come to a stand still. I am a restoration technician at the IMS Museum. I work with my hands every day keeping up the mechanical side of the car collection. Most of my time recently has been spent on the Lotus 29 restoration project. Since the shutdown, I’ve been working from home sorting old car files, editing restoration videos for the Lotus Restoration page on Facebook, and doing any other computer-based work that is sent my way. Luckily, an engine rebuild from home scratches the mechanical itch that’s been growing over the past few weeks.

1996 Nissan 240sx engine rebuildOne silver lining I’ve noticed about working from home is no rush hour traffic and the time I gain on a daily basis from not having to commute. After putting in a full day of staring at a computer screen and filing paperwork, nothing helps me unwind better than venturing out into the garage to put some time in on a friend’s project. He purchased someone else’s 1996 Nissan 240sx project car that has been sitting in a storage unit for years. He knew going into it that the car was going to need a little work.  

Rod Knock?

It didn’t take much to get the engine running; a new battery and some fresh gas was enough to get her to come back to life. Although, once she did start, the noise coming from the engine let us know she was going to need some serious attention. The only way I could describe the noise: it sounded like someone was hitting the side of the engine block with a sledgehammer.  Now most who work on cars will automatically think its “rod knock,” where a connecting rod is banging around on the crankshaft due to a bad/spun bearing. This sound had a different tone to it though. Either way, we knew the engine would need to come out.

Fast forward a week or two and the engine has been removed. When we split the engine from the transmission, we found the issue. The previous owner had replaced the factory clutch with an aftermarket unit, along with a lightweight flywheel. It was a quality part, but the craftsmanship of the install left a lot to be desired. The flywheel bolts were not tight and caused the flywheel to move independent of the crankshaft. This resulted in the flywheel and crankshaft being damaged. The crankshaft had to be removed, and the face of the crank where the flywheel mounts needed to be machined, because it was no longer flat.

Engine Assembly

Nissan engine blockOnce the crankshaft had been repaired and all the new parts for the engine had arrived, he dropped off the engine at my house for assembly. With a podcast playing in the background, I got to go through the steps of cleaning, measuring and assembling the engine over a few days.  It was nice to spend some time in the garage and scratch that mechanical itch, getting to work with hand tools and helping out a friend in the process.  

Now that it’s finished, he’ll come pick it up in the coming days and I can start on the next engine build. The silver lining to the shutdown, at least for me, is that I’ll be able to help make some progress on my friends’ projects.  When the shutdown is lifted, we can all enjoy the nice summer weather and attend local drifting and racing events.