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How to crank an old car

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Greetings,

 

It has come to my attention there are times that I don't know all I think I know. With that in mind, I'd like to ask a specific question concerning how to hand crank a car to start it. I have always cranked my T by grabbing the handle and spinning it as fast as I could, usually by first jacking up the rear wheel. However, I remember an instance years ago when I stayed late on the Hershey show field to see the cars being cranked to drive off the field. There was a Locomobile there of around 1910 vintage, a huge 6 cylinder car, and the man looked to be around 80. He set the levers on the column and then walked to the front of the car where he slowly rolled the crank over and the beast fired up. The question is: how much difference does the speed at which you turn the crank have to do with whether the motor starts?

 

And thankyou for taking the time to respond, A

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Posted (edited)

I sat down last night and watched an episode of Dennis Gage My Classic Car where he went to Jay Leno's to look at and drive an Autocar Truck - Jay forewarned him to tuck his thumb under in case of kick back and first thing Dennis did was start a fast crank in repeated circles (and it did kickback).  When Jay started it he moved the crank to an easy to handle position and then gave it a perhaps 1/4 turn pull. 

 

As a sidenote, what sort of bothered me about the Autocar was that there was a large steel bumper ahead of the crank (and pretty close too) and with most cars  you are not really space limited (aka if it gives you any trouble you do not have to worry as much about where your hands are).  I did see a fellow basically punch himself in the face hand cranking.  And, a few of our local AACA members hand's will never be the same, but they will admit that they were rushed/distracted/frustrated.

Edited by John_Mereness (see edit history)

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Posted (edited)

You only need one cylinder to fire. I don't start many hand-crank cars, but spinning it quickly isn't the answer. One good yank upwards from the 6 o'clock position, if everything is set up correctly, should do it. The trick is learning what your car likes and what settings it prefers on the throttle, choke, and spark. You might need a few gentle pulls to suck gas into the cylinders before you give it the final pull, but that guy cranking the Locomobile simply knew what his car preferred.

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
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Kick starting motor cycles is what I did a lot of, never owned a car that required hand starting.  What is said so far also applies to motorcycles.  When you know where to set choke and throttle you can save yourself a lot of effort and wasted energy when kicking.  And single cylinder motorcycles do kick back and can do leg and foot damage.

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Quarter of a turn with an impulse mag or distributor, others might require spinning. Proper spark position very important - too much advance and it will kick back. This advice comes from someone who has broken his wrist twice. 

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45 minutes ago, John_Mereness said:

I sat down last night and watched an episode of Dennis Gage My Classic Car where he went to Jay Leno's to look at and drive an Autocar Truck - Jay forewarned him to tuck his thumb under in case of kick back and first thing Dennis did was start a fast crank in repeated circles (and it did kickback).  When Jay started it he moved the crank to an easy to handle position and then gave it a perhaps 1/4 turn pull. 

 

I just watched that yesterday as well.  I’m amazed how ignorant Dennis Gage can be after spending so many years earning his living being around old cars.  On the other side of the spectrum there’s Jay who is so knowledgeable and proficient on old machinery and how to operate it.

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1 minute ago, Modeleh said:

I just watched that yesterday as well.  I’m amazed how ignorant Dennis Gage can be after spending so many years earning his living being around old cars.  On the other side of the spectrum there’s Jay who is so knowledgeable and proficient on old machinery and how to operate it.

Generally speaking, you know about what you are interested in and perhaps a little peripheral, but the entire history of cars is a pretty large "book." 

 

Sidenote: Dennis spent a lot of his career in Cincinnati - if you look at a Pringles Potato Chip can you will see his picture. 

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In proper tune, with the RIGHT electrical components, it should not take more than about 1/2 turn of the crank to start a car that was intended to be crank started. You only see spinning the crank when something is wrong, though I have no experience with Model T's. My understanding is that the "lifting the wheel" trick was used in cold weather when the drag caused by the transmission kept the engine from starting. Crank start cars do need much more careful attention paid to ignition, carburation etc. in order to start reliably. When I had my first brass car I too, spun the crank until I learned what I was doing wrong.

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54 minutes ago, JV Puleo said:

In proper tune, with the RIGHT electrical components, it should not take more than about 1/2 turn of the crank to start a car that was intended to be crank started. You only see spinning the crank when something is wrong, though I have no experience with Model T's. My understanding is that the "lifting the wheel" trick was used in cold weather when the drag caused by the transmission kept the engine from starting. Crank start cars do need much more careful attention paid to ignition, carburation etc. in order to start reliably. When I had my first brass car I too, spun the crank until I learned what I was doing wrong.

 

 What do you mean by RIGHT electrical components?  A car without an impulse mag MUST be spun in order to generate a strong enough spark. I owned such a car foe over 40 years and the original mag was not impulse. The following years had impulse mags.

 

Forgot to mention in my earlier post that some large engine brass cars had compression releases which obviously made cranking much easier.

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Posted (edited)

FIRST step in doing a crank start : FULLY RETARD YOUR SPARK. Last step before wrapping those four fingers (thumb out of the way of a kick back), LAST step : VERIFY THAT YOU DID THE FIRST STEP. 

 

I used to enjoy showing spectators the "ease" of starting by crank. I am far too weak and feeble for that now. However, I always fully retard the spark before engaging the starter. A good idea. I am 100% sure that there is no intermediate acceptable position for your spark control when starting. You should not experiment with this. If you think you need less than full retard, you had better check your static timing. I will admit that there may be some quirky oddball engine that may be an exception to this rule. Say, maybe uses 90% of full retard to start. But unless you have expert specific info (preferably second-sourced to corroborate), to the contrary, MAKE NO ASSUMPTIONS !  Now if you have ADVANCED your static timing in order to compensate for modern much higher octane gasoline in your low compression engine, might be a good idea not to play around with hand cranking at all. Better idea would be to re-curve your distributor to give more advance at road rpm, while preserving spec timing at idle. Best of both worlds, see next paragraph :

 

The ability to completely retard the spark at extremely low speed in a higher gear can save you a downshift, and subsequent up shift. "Jockeying" the spark control properly while using EXTREMELY light throttle slowly accelerating in a higher than normal gear, is the closest that ol' crash box will ever come to pretending to be an automatic transmission. Old chauffeurs technique to reduce imparting motion to the passengers. Another one was to come off the brakes to relieve spring wind up just before coming to a stop. 

 

                                                   FULL RETARD BEFORE LIFTING THAT CRANK HANDLE.   -  Carl 

 

 

Edited by C Carl
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I own a 1931 Reo Royale straight 8 cylinder 258 cubic inch 125 hp engine . I could barely turn the engine over with the spark plugs out . I do not know how you could hand crank it over to start the engine . I believe the crank was there just to turn it to top dead centre to tune the engine .

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1 hour ago, A. Ballard 35R said:

 

 What do you mean by RIGHT electrical components?  A car without an impulse mag MUST be spun in order to generate a strong enough spark. I owned such a car foe over 40 years and the original mag was not impulse. The following years had impulse mags.

 

Forgot to mention in my earlier post that some large engine brass cars had compression releases which obviously made cranking much easier.

 

Before the introduction of the impulse mag, it was usual to have dry cell batteries to start on - that is why so many of the early mag switches are labeled "BAT" and "MAG". The big cars did have compression releases but that was not to spin the engine - the mass of the moving parts, especially the flywheel, made turning them even without compression difficult.

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A few years ago I had the privilege of trying to hand crank my friend Don's big 18 liter Wisconsin T-head. There is no compression

compression release. I could easily get it up on compression but swinging sharply that last little bit was beyond me.

 

Don on the other hand who is somewhere between 6'-2" and 6'-6" and worked in the woods his whole life

made it look easy!

 

The other trick is with a battery setup is bringing it up on compression and hit the ignition. A good example of this technique is

a video showing the "Beast of Turin" coming to life.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TV2l6TOuGA

 

 

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It’s also possible to restart the engine using the impulse mag without touching the hand crank but the engine must be warmed up and not let sit for more than about ten minutes.  The 414 cube T Head 4 cylinder in my pal’s ‘13 Lafrance is able to restart that way.  It is running on the original mag that has never been rebuilt.

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1 hour ago, Terry Harper said:

The other trick is with a battery setup is bringing it up on compression and hit the ignition. A good example of this technique is

a video showing the "Beast of Turin" coming to life.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TV2l6TOuGA

 

 

 

I believe the mag switches with a button in the center are intended to be used that way. The engine was cranked around a couple of times to charge the cylinders, the switch set on BAT and push the button. Bosch switches had an internal coil but others used a separate single buzzer coil on the dash. The impulse starter on the mag is a fairly late addition. Off hand I don't remember the date but its at the very end of the brass era. The Model T used a low tension system long after everyone else considered it obsolete, hence the need to spin the engine when the batteries weren't up to starting.

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Lots of good advise in the above posts. I have had many Model T's over the years and for some unknown reason, some years seemed to start better than others. Gas primer cups, different styled carbs, vaporizers, all had their fine tuning needs, even with starters. I did prefer the 1/4 pull method on the crank with your thumb tucked in. Whatever you learned on a clockwise rotating engine you need to do in reverse for a counter-clockwise motors like those used on early Brush and one cylinder Cadillacs.     

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On my Pontiac I pull the choke out full, pull the engine over three times (from 8:00 to 12:00 on the crank,) push the choke about half way in and the throttle about 1/3 out and then one pull up on the crank.  Always starts everytime.

On a Diamond T truck the same sequence but retard the spark.

Same deal on a PA powered  V12  Seagrave fire apparatus

Buick T head engine the same except for setting the impulse on the magneto.

Watch Bud start his McCormick tractor  one pull up with the choke on, one pull up and a second pull up and it is running.

 

 

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On ‎5‎/‎27‎/‎2019 at 12:11 PM, John_Mereness said:

I sat down last night and watched an episode of Dennis Gage My Classic Car where he went to Jay Leno's to look at and drive an Autocar Truck - Jay forewarned him to tuck his thumb under in case of kick back and first thing Dennis did was start a fast crank in repeated circles (and it did kickback).  When Jay started it he moved the crank to an easy to handle position and then gave it a perhaps 1/4 turn pull. 

 

As a sidenote, what sort of bothered me about the Autocar was that there was a large steel bumper ahead of the crank (and pretty close too) and with most cars  you are not really space limited (aka if it gives you any trouble you do not have to worry as much about where your hands are).  I did see a fellow basically punch himself in the face hand cranking.  And, a few of our local AACA members hand's will never be the same, but they will admit that they were rushed/distracted/frustrated.

 

That bumper caused me 3 days in hospital with a seriously broken right arm. We restored a '28 Autocar 3 Ton truck. I was the only one in the shop with enough a** to crank start the thing. I started it dozens of times with no problem but finally it bit me. No kick back or anything. I would start the pull at the 7 o'clock position and it usually started by the 9 o'clock position.  Apparently after I let go of the crank it continued around 360 degrees and smacked my arm HARD. That bumper meant you were standing directly above the crank with no way to get your arm out of the way in a hurry. At the emergency room the trauma doc just could not understand how you "crank start" a vehicle. Finally I sent him to the medical library to look up "Chauffeur's Fracture". I wear the 10' scar on my arm as a badge of distinction. Are you a real old car guy if you never broke your arm cranking one? Al Pruitt told me that when he worked at the Zimmerman Museum near Harrisburg they were trying to crank start a Stutz. Out of frustration one of the shop guys tried to kick start the car. It backfired, driving the fellow's knee into his jaw and breaking it. Be careful out there.

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The Byron Carter of Cartercar fame comes to mind with this thread.  Byron died of complications related to a cranking incident which eventually lead to the invention of the electric starter.

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On 5/27/2019 at 4:59 PM, Modeleh said:

It’s also possible to restart the engine using the impulse mag without touching the hand crank but the engine must be warmed up and not let sit for more than about ten minutes.  The 414 cube T Head 4 cylinder in my pal’s ‘13 Lafrance is able to restart that way.  It is running on the original mag that has never been rebuilt.

 

It's called "starting on the switch". Years ago I was involved with a 1923 Silver Ghost RR that had only 14,000 miles on it from new. It would start on the switch after standing for an hour. You turned the ignition on and flicked the advance lever... if the valves were really tight, at least one cylinder would still have a charge in it from when it last ran. Reputedly, some cars could stand overnight and do it but I've never seen one.

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The 1905 Packard that I used to drive 85 miles to Hershey has a distributor and dry cells. It was often possible to restart the car by pushing the contact and moving the spark controls rapidly from full retard to full advance. Once when this method didn't work I went to start by cranking but had not reset the spark - broken wrist number one. It was not possible on the cars I was around to start by cranking with the spark fully retarded since some decent spark was necessary. The trick was finding the sweet spot so that there would be enough spark to start but not enough to kick back. Got it too advanced once and voila - broken wrist number two. This happened with the Bosch DU4 without an impulse coupling. These wonderful devices  have a spring which  releases and spins the mag armature at a fast speed before the piston reaches TDC. Result is strong spark without spinning engine. Also, compression releases were quite common on larger engine cars and even on an early two cylinder Knox. The purpose was strictly for easier starting and the the release handles were usually right under the radiator where they could be reached by the person cranking the car.

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On ‎5‎/‎27‎/‎2019 at 12:22 PM, TerryB said:

Kick starting motor cycles is what I did a lot of, never owned a car that required hand starting.  What is said so far also applies to motorcycles.  When you know where to set choke and throttle you can save yourself a lot of effort and wasted energy when kicking.  And single cylinder motorcycles do kick back and can do leg and foot damage.

I was thinking the same. probably took well over a year for me to fully understand what was happening inside my motor and how to efficiently start my panhead hot or cold.  Now I have it down pat.  And every bike is different.

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