«This is the story of the limited restoration of #0742, a 1975 Cosworth Vega. It started sometime in 2010, after my retirement from teaching, with my ...»
An (extremely) Long and (frustratingly) Winding Road
This is the story of the limited restoration of #0742, a 1975 Cosworth Vega. It started
sometime in 2010, after my retirement from teaching, with my search for a 1964 Ford
Fairlane, my favorite car from my mostly misspent youth. Not able to find one in the
northern regions of Ohio’s rustbelt (what a surprise), I did come across a 64 Falcon (similar)
for just $2K which was in running condition, actually very good running condition, but needed moderate body work as you could see the ground through the trunk, a malady not uncommon to those cars even circa 1970 or so.
So, I asked my trusted friend and Honda mechanic, John, to accompany me to evaluate this vehicle that was in a garage in a nearby town. After evaluation, we agreed about its condition and the various challenges of restoration to near-new condition.
But on the way home, and right here is where it all starts, John mentions to me that his father has an old Vega – a Cosworth Vega - in his barn, under cover, stored for the past twenty-two years. [Here’s where I should have said, “Yeah, so what?” and bought the Falcon!] Instead, I said that it sounded interesting and we should go see it.
From his father’s somewhat copious notes regarding his tenure with the car, which he purchased November 18, 1985, it appeared that he regarded and cared for it well, but by some time in 1989, at 69,900 miles, he barned the car due to what he thought was a head gasket leak. (Based on John’s memory and dad’s notes.) John said he didn’t think it really had a head gasket leak and that his father had diagnosed it incorrectly and that it was still in solid condition and would be “easy” to get running and restored. Upon viewing the car, it was indeed solid.
LOOKED SOLID AT FIRSTIt did have one dented fender from where something fell on the car in the barn who knows when.
DENTED FENDERIt had an intact interior with a couple changes and additions.
DIRTY INTERIORAny rust on the exterior was due only to stone chips behind the tires. "Wow," I thought (ignorantly), "this wouldn’t be too hard!" So, in January of 2011 I purchased the car for just $200 less than he had paid for it in
1985. Damned inflation? Nope. John’s dad thought the car was a rare classic and should be worth far more. I hope that some day it will be.
Well, we dragged it into the sunlight and snow
READY FOR TRAILER
READY FOR TRAILER
READY FOR TRAILERand onto a trailer on the morning of January 10, 2011. (A day that should live in infamy.) The car was taken to John’s business shop, a motorcycle, snowmobile, jet ski, etc. repair shop, at which he had a car lift that was not in use.
CAR ON LIFTI made a deal with John regarding labor payment for the repairs and rehabs that he could do, and I would have a warm place to clean it up, rustproof it, and help make it a driver. Believe it or not, we had the engine running that evening, but we disregarded the whitish exhaust that wasn’t very evident at first start-up but that increased over all the months of initial repairs punctuated by occasional warm-ups. Maybe the long storage period required further breakin, we thought. We were wrong.
By this time I had corresponded with Mark Rock, CV Guru, without whom this endeavor would not have been possible. His help with parts, advice, encouragement, and probably prayers, kept me able to continue the winding road to this very day. One piece of sound advice from Mark was not to be concerned about the paint at this point, just get it up and running. Unfortunately, (and forever to be despised), a friend of John’s was showing him how to REMOVE old lacquer paint from the hood by scraping it off with a razor blade! I wasn’t there at the time. But this stupidity caused the untimely work of sanding the car to bare metal for repainting.
Maybe it was a disguised blessing, but it sure made later engine removals/installations much more tedious.
By November of 2011, brakes and lines had been completely replaced. As well we replaced or restored the shocks, starter, water pump, clutch, pressure plate, battery, radiator, radiator hoses, trans seal, pan gasket and main seal. A rusted area around the battery box and the damaged fender were repaired.
RUSTED OUT CORE SUPPORT
AFTER FLOOR BELOW BATTERY TRAY REMOVEDAlso, the whole car had been primed,
PRIMEDrepainted, striped, and put back together.
Additionally, the interior was cleaned and treated.
ELBOW GREASED INTERIORIt looked excellent for a ’75. But the exhaust was starting to smell more and more like coolant and its whitish color could not be denied. Because that whitish exhaust did not dissipate over time, we knew we had a problem.
ENGINE OUT We knew we had to remove the engine. So John and I pulled the engine and transmission early in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, 2011. Upon disassembly, John determined that although the head gasket didn’t appear to be damaged, there had to be a problem with it as coolant was definitely mixing with the fuel at combustion.
Unfortunately for me, at this point in time John’s business was busy and he would not be able to work on the engine further in the foreseeable future. His first recommendation for a reputable engine and machine shop was not acceptable as they were busy and would not be able to start the project for about six months. (I should have waited!) John then recommended a more local shop (which will remain unnamed) to rebuild the engine to likenew condition, or even better. The cylinder walls were badly scored
SCORED CYLINDERand the exhaust valves were in need of replacement,
EXHAUST VALVEand there also existed this hot-rodder’s desire for other “logical” improvements.
Over the period of the next eleven months this “unnamed shop” worked on (mostly put off working on) the engine. But, because of extreme patience on my part, much was eventually accomplished: cylinder sleeves, pistons, mill and recondition head, connecting rods, crank, valves (new), etc, etc, etc….
ENGINE IN The engine was reassembled and eventually reinstalled at the “unnamed shop,” though [spoiler alert!] the clutch plate was put in backward, the shifter linkage was left off, and the fuel injection system was never completed. Therefore, John and I removed the car from the unnamed shop to finish the incomplete work ourselves.
Now it’s January of 2013, two years after removal from the barn, when I predicted this wouldn’t be too hard.
So, we fired her up and she ran beautifully, except that the exhaust had the whitish color and a smell of coolant. Not a good sign. Even worse, just as before, it didn’t go away. It wouldn’t heal itself. Communication with the mechanic/machinist/owner at the “unnamed shop” proved fruitless, as he had no idea of why that would happen since he insisted he had done every aspect of his job perfectly. [St. Peter will be the judge of that!] But he did offer to tear it down to determine the malfunction.
ENGINE OUT John and I immediately removed the engine and returned it to “unnamed shop.” After several weeks of waiting, the only action taken there was to mount the engine on a stand and drain the crankcase oil. Impatient, John and I showed up one morning with tools and disassembled the engine ourselves. Close inspection revealed no obvious gasket failure. Only after a discussion regarding pressure checking of the head, which was determined initially to be unnecessary by the machinist/mechanic/owner who rebuilt the engine at the “unnamed shop,” did we insist on at least filling the channels of the head with water and checking for cracks. And what do you know? Stop reading and take a guess. The date is February 16, 2013.
Did you guess “porosity leak?” Water was seeping right through the wall of the aluminum head in the #2 exhaust port. Interior corrosion had damaged the wall. It makes perfect sense now. John’s father had barned the car because of what he thought was a head gasket failure, but we had not been able to find any evidence of a gasket failure when we initially disassembled the engine. Porosity leakage solved the mystery.
Reasonable men would now be searching for a replacement head. But no, not us.
“Unnamed shop” mechanic/machinist/owner claimed that his magic elixir, a ceramic coating, would save this head and make it sealed and better than new. I decided to agree in order to keep the engine “numbers-matching.” Do you think this was a good decision? Note your answer!
In about two more weeks, and after several coats of ceramic elixir, cured under air pressure, presumably permanently sealing any porosity issue within the head, I picked up another gasket set from my trusty supplier and the engine was eventually reassembled in part by “unnamed shop” and then completed by my trusted mechanic, John.
ENGINE LOOKING GOOD
ENGINE BACK INJohn didn't waste any time. In March of 2013, he once again installed the engine, careful not to scratch my new paint.
We fired her up and she ran great…until she started overheating. Stop reading again and predict how this could possibly happen.
Yep, the ceramic coating failed, turned to goo, clogged the ports, ruined the radiator, made me cry, caused harsh and foul words to be uttered aloud, etc.
“Gosh,” unnamed shop said. “That’s odd. This stuff has always worked before.” Well, not this time. HEAD AND CAM CARRIER OUT I was able to find a used head that Mark had among his barn-of-parts and took it and the ruined head to “unnamed shop” where I was told he would give me a deal on transferring the parts from the ruined head to the replacement. (What a guy!) The mechanic accomplished the transfers in a couple weeks and we were ready to continue the quest.
HEAD AND CAM CARRIER IN With another set of gaskets, the replacement head, a rebuilt radiator, a lot of flushing and cleaning, and a bunch more money, John and I accomplished the reinstallation.
HEAD BACK ON
CAM CARRIER ONNoteworthy, I had switched to the Evans “waterless” coolant to protect the aluminum.
Expensive, but maybe worth it; but also maybe it had reacted with the ceramic coating.
Experts say no, but who knows? This work occurred during April 2013.
We fired her up, full of hope that all of our troubles were behind us. And they were, for about three seconds. As I stood beside the engine I heard a loud “snap,” followed immediately by heavy thunking sounds. I shouted to cut the engine. Another blow to the gut.
Well, there was nothing to do but take it apart—again. When we removed the cam cover, we saw that one of the shims had cracked into several pieces that were thrown out of the lifter bucket. As a result, the lifter bucket in which it had rested was now destroyed.
“Someone” [to be judged by St. Peter] had misaligned the shim, causing it to immediately break—the snap that I heard--into tiny pieces that flew everywhere, causing the bucket to take a licking and keep on ticking (a reference to an ancient Timex commercial for you youngsters reading this).
VALVETRAIN REPAIREDIf it had not been for the trashed lifter bucket we could have simply replaced the shim, as miraculously the cam lobe wasn’t damaged, but naturally we weren’t that lucky. As you will already know if you have had your engine apart, there are only two ways to get a lifter bucket out. You can remove the cam carrier and it will fall out the bottom. Or, you can remove the camshaft and pull it out from the top.
Since we didn’t want to disturb the fragile cam carrier gasket and risk another oil leak, we decided to leave the motor in the car and just remove the camshaft. We removed the front of the engine, the radiator, and the hood so that the repair/replace could be accomplished under the hood without removal of the cam carrier from the head. Thanks to Mark for the loan of his handy-dandy tools (technically the “camshaft rotator” and the “valve tappet holder”), about 60 shims that he kept in a jar filled with motor oil, and another lifter bucket (technically “tappet”).
John was able to install the lifter bucket and slip in a shim of the proper thickness and button everything back up. That accomplished, we held our breath and fired her up, fearing another bang or more white smoke. To our shock it ran fine and clean. We gradually started to relax and breathe normally. Finally, we replaced the hood, after modifying one of the hinges so that the next time it might need to be removed it would be easier.
At this point, it was just over 28 months since we rescued CV #0742 from a barn in Spencer, Ohio. With great joy and relief (and a ton of $$$ from my savings accounts) on May 9, 2013, I drove to the local muffler shop, owned and operated by two of my former elementary school students, and had a fine-sounding Magnaflow Muffler installed.
Now, I’m finally a cool guy driving a cool classic car…though my friends have opined that it would take more than a cool car to make me cool. But I’m pretty happy, until I notice that the engine leaks some oil.
“Unnamed shop” mechanic says it can’t be his fault as he did everything perfectly. [St.
Peter will rule on this one, too.] The leakage remained a source of sad and ever increasing frustration for some time. John once again disassembled the top end and repaired some of the leaks, as there were several. Enough leakage remained that no one is completely happy about it, but extremely tired by now we decide to let it go for the summer and vow that “some day” we’ll take it apart and do it again. Little did I know that some day would soon arrive.