Saturday, August 25, 2007

Restoration: Engine Rebuild

Note: I do not know why I have two gray boxes in the background code of the template on my blog -- damn it! -- you can't see the cylinder head photos. So the best thing to do to read a post is to click on the Title of the post and view it on a separate page with just that post and grey boxes will disappear. Sorry for the inconvenience folks . . .
In May 2007, Christopher Markley delivered our 100% rebuilt VSC engine. Originally, I planned to do the rebuild myself, but I am glad this was not my first experience with an rebuild because there were a few bumps in the road that Christopher was able to navigate around effortlessly and efficiently. About a 1/4 the way through our restoration my wife and I agreed that working on a rarer Vespa as a first time restorer might not be the smartest approach for certain elements of the restoration, i.e. I have NO auto body experience, but I do have a dolly/hammer kit. We decided to leave that element to the pros . . . after all the SS is not a P200 and if I mess up parts are not as common.
The previous owner, Eric Hughes of Three Mile Island Scooter Club, purchased the bike completely assembled looking like the photos below. He removed the engine and said he priced out a 180cc replacement motor through Scooter Works at the time for about $800. I don't remember ever seeing that motor for sale myself. He was going to purchase the new engine and install it.
He removed the engine from the body and immediately looked to make sure the air box was there as the guys at Scooter Works warned him how difficult it will be to find a replacement if it is missing. Eric also found that piston was seized. He used a degreaser to free up the piston, but it did not work.

Once the engine was removed from the body Eric removed the hub/tire and rear shock and there that is how I received the engine when I purchased it from him.

I bought some copper brushes, Wal-Mart degreaser and PB Blaster (an excellent degreaser and my my favorite) and began to clean the engine up. The cylinder head was removed already so I soaked the piston head in PB Blaster for days and tried to loosen the seized piston. I then got frustrated and started emailing people for advice. I was told to hammer the piston free and to hang the engine by the cylinder head and spray with PB Blaster. I posted the advice I got on my local scooter club's email list a week or two later after trying everything with no luck and Christopher chimed in and told me what a bad idea it is to hit the piston because beneath it is the crank and other items that could be damaged too.

Lisa and I quickly learned that Christopher is not just a gorilla with a wrench that hammers his problems out. He is of the old school and has personally taught me that the "way of least resistance" is the best was because we can always escalate our approach more if the first approach does not work and we greatly degrease the chances of damaging something else in the process. The end result is with his 2-ton hydrolic press Christopher was able to press the piston down very slowly and just enough so he could see between the bottom and top ends of the engine to get a peak at the piston.

Then with a very steady hand and a hack-saw blade Christopher he gently sawed the around the piston and freed the top end from the bottom.

Pictured left -- looking through the bottom of the piston . When I hammered on the top of the piston I had cracked the head a little and therefore it broke more under the hydralic press.

Looking down at the piston you can see it was a rusted seized mess once removed from the cylinder head. Christopher charged us nothing for this service and expressed interest in rebuilding the engine and we were very impressed with him and decided to move forward with Christopher, the obsessive compulive "most be perfect to manufacturer spec" guy.

Christopher is the type of guy that brings solutions to you as opposed to just reporting the problem -- as we say in the advertising agency world that is good account management (my wife is in the ad industry and I was as well).

Christopher had disassembled the engine, bead blasted the casings, and cleaned it up when he found a chipped off piece of metal along the seal. This made him very nervous and Christopher always sides on the side of caution.

He did not report the problem to us; rather he researched best practices and options for us. Many people he spoke with sweared that JB Weld would work -- just neatly and cleanly glue the piece in place and rebuild the engine and it would be fine. He also spoke with Tom G. and other people he respects and was told the safest thing do for dependability and longevity of the engine is to replace the engine casings.

Christopher hunted down and found a guy selling two (mismatched) already bead blasted and cleaned cases for $113 and called us and ONLY then informed us of the problem and offered us both the JB Weld and new cases solutions. He recommended new engine cases to us. After research I expressed my concern using two mismatched cases, because the seals and alignment may not be perfect. Chistopher told me he had the same concern, but after researching he learned that as long as the two mismatched cases had been run together for a while and worked, which they had, we were safe. With our permission Christopher ordered them.
While all this was happening Christopher had a local dirt bike racing shop bore out cylinder to match our replacement piston, which was +1 size up.

He installed the piston onto our brand new MeCur crank that took me three months to track down because everybody was out and the only shop that had them wanted $260. Thanx to Garner who had one for $160.

The other problem we had was the clutch shift box had a crack coming off of the hole that pivot locks into. I am not sure I have a picture of it, but I will add it if I find it. The two options Christopher gave me was to TIG weld it or buy a new one. Due to the fact that smooth shifting is important Christopher, Lisa, and I decided to replace it and save the old one for future if we decide to TIG it.

Christopher completely rewired our stator and working with Chelsea at Scomo and Christopher we decided to upgrade the stock HT Coil to PX125 HT Coil for better dependability and performance.

Everything was coming together and the engine was looking great and so damn clean. While all this was happening Christopher was powder coating the external parts of the engine to look stock and pretty. There are nice small details that Christopher incorporated.

Another upgrade Lisa and I decided to make was to replace the engine mounts with Clauss Studio mounts, which Christopher said will really help stiffen the movement of the engine and improve the performance of handling while riding.

All parts that you can see on the bike were given a make over and stripped of paint and cleaned up.

And then were powder coated. If you click on the any of the photos you can see them larger and it is easier to note the detailed work that Christopher did -- good enough for a jeweler with an eye for all the littles.

It was time reassembly and Christopher shot a few photos of the engine's guts and sent them my way.

It was difference of night and day for me seeing how clean the engine looked. All the parts went through Christopher's parts washing machine/solutions. A lot of care went into this engine.

This engine is the last of the piston ported Vespa motors and Christopher said he really enjoyed working on it.

Christopher set the timing per spec.

Throughout this entire process Christopher used a Vespa worker's manual to ensure everything, except the minor upgrades we made, on this engine came out just like it did the day it left the factory.

If you click on the photo below and see it larger you will see the detail work Christopher did to the engine with powder coat. You will also see the PX125 HT coil. While rebuilding the engine Christopher also rebuilt the carb and installed it.


Upgrades: (1) Clauss Studio engine mounts (2) PX125 HT Coil
Replaced: (1) Cases (2) Piston & bore job (3) MeCur crank (4) Shift box (Italian made of good quality -- I can't remember the brand off the top of my head) (5) Bearings (6) Seals/gaskets/o-rings (7) Wiring/stator (8) Kickstart quadrant (9) etc.