Flags Across the Harvest #16January 2, 2020
If you have lived more than 40 years it is hard not to compare today to a bygone time.
That is the unspoken pitfall of modern times — it is almost impossible not to contrast life in every respect to the way it used to be. A time when men were men and women looked like ladies.
To my way of thinking only a hand full of things are better today. And I would gladly give back the societal advancements for a return to an era that Hollywood so well portrayed with TV shows such as Mayberry RFD, leave it to Beaver and Superman, to mention only a few.
Truth, justice and the American way is a mantra not echoed by many anymore.
But when it comes to working on engines there are many things about the good old days that we should not lament over their passing. These are old style engine oil, tuning procedures, engine machining, camshaft profiles, piston and ring design.
Much to the chagrin of many, modern engine oil is far superior to the petroleum distillate we used to pour into the crankcase years back.
I know that the zinc is no longer in oil, but its absence is only missed if you are running a higher valve spring load rate.
And then there are many excellent supplements you can add to modern oil to fulfill that need while still enjoying the advanced chemistry.
To those of you who are ready to pounce and tell me that I am full of it, just answer one question.
When was the last time you saw any engine that used modern oil build sludge in the valve covers, oil pan and pick-up even when the proper drain intervals were not followed?
Sure, sludge can still form but oil changes need to be non-existent for many, many miles before any is apparent. Years back if you missed one change interval some minor sludge could be found.
When it comes to tuning an engine for peak power the modern chassis dyno with a linear wide-band air/fuel meter cannot be beat.
Gone are the days of reading the spark plugs for color to determine carburetor jetting and air bleed orifice size. Plug color was only a good indicator of things gone terribly wrong — excessively lean or rich. This does not mean that I never look at plug color anymore, but it is not an accurate qualifier to fine tune a fuel delivery system.
You can be two or more complete air/ratios off at peak torque and hardly see any discernable difference in the plug color, especially with ethanol enhanced gas.
Also, a modern chassis dyno allows you to track power gains in finite increments. A far cry from the old trip down a measured highway distance with your buddy reading the second hand on his watch with one eye and looking for the cops with the other.
If you are a grease under the fingernails guy you know what I mean. We all did it. I would gladly trade that experience for a controlled and safe dyno session.
Huge progress has been made in engine machining procedures and it should be taken advantage of if you take apart an older engine.
Cylinder wall honing technique has changed much. Advanced crosshatch patterns and finishes not only control oil far better than years back but allows more of the cylinder pressure to stay on the combustion chamber side of the ring and not travel to the oil pan.
When it comes to the cylinder heads the old valve job that was performed with stones cannot hold a candle to using a head shop with a Serdi-style cutter. Exacting angles can be formed with a cutting bit that a stone could not create. This pays huge dividends with low-lift port flow.
The valves in any engine spend more time traversing their lift range than dwelling at full open. Exact seat angles can steer the air just as the valve moves up from rest.
Huge power gains can be found with a cylinder head that was believed to be optimized forty years back.
The valve job is a main component for power and the modern procedures cannot be beat.
In like fashion the camshaft profiles have advanced so much in the past ten years let alone forty, that it is hard to believe they are still called bump sticks.
The modern hydraulic roller cam found in a new pick-up truck engine can beat most older solid roller race designs in terms of power and drivability and still produce a strong vacuum signal and slow idle.
For those that do not mind adjusting the valves occasionally (not every month like years ago), a modern tight lash solid roller in an older engine will make you think you poured nitromethane in the fuel tank.
The cam companies have done an excellent job in reinventing the valve train. Not to take advantage of that would be foolish.
Piston and ring design with advanced metallurgy and ring groove sizing have been an often-overlooked advancement by most.
Lightweight and tight-fitting pistons with better profiles results in power, low oil consumption (which builds less carbon deposits) and due to a low rate of expansion, no annoying rap when cold.
A metric sized, low drag ring package can unleash power that has been hiding in your engine since the day it rolled from the assembly line.
In my mind the perfect world would bring back to this great nation the mindset of the 1950s.
A time when a man’s word was his bond, right and wrong were clearly defined, and the simple things of life meant the most.
But let it be 2020 under the hood. I can dream, can’t I?