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1918 Buick E-35 Wrist-Pin Disaster/ Engine Rebuild Project


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*Note: This had been covered on a previous thread which was deleted (and probably shouldn’t‘ve since many folks had contributed valuable information) after concern over content posted to these forums being searchable via a google search. I still have concerns about that, though fact remains: The method Buick used to secure the wrist-pins is the weakest point on cars still existing — there is a need to know.*

Edited by Ben P.
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In June 2018 I did a Craigslist search for a ‘2015-2018 Cadillac ATS’ ‘6 - speed manual transmission’. This is what popped up.


1918 Buick E-35 (4 cylinder) restored by the owner in 1968. He had just passed at age 96 and it was being sold out of his estate. He owned it for 50 years. I was told that it had sat unused for 10 years after he had become too frail to use it. He had noticed the carburetor developed a flooding issue and he felt it also needed the vacuum-tank rebuilt — a job he started but never got up the energy to complete.

 

Just a nice little touring car. I’d been messing with ‘old’ cars since age 12, but those were all 50’s-60’s junk that were obtainable when I wanted one. Knowing this would be a ‘whole new ballgame’ I dragged my feet at first hoping someone else would buy it.

 

I was working for Toyota at an assembly plant and we work in MI just like they do in Japan — 12hrs. per day 6 days a week and every other Sunday. Weeks went by and finally one night I woke up at 2:00 in the morning thinking about it, “If I don’t get down to Detroit to look at it somebody else is going to buy it.” So I called that morning to arrange it see it. Drove across the state after work and bought it on the spot (went in to work on 3hrs sleep the next day too). The asking price was well within this universe and I don’t haggle. Just not the way I was raised — if you ask too much you’re just not worth dealing with.


Getting it home - had to wait for a Sunday off. But again I went back to work on 3hrs sleep.

 

 

 

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The first thing I did was drop the oil pan. Didn’t notice anything wrong or out of place. The oil was surprisingly amber in color. Grabbed each connecting-rod and noticed no perceivable movement. Cut new gaskets and re-attached the pan. Also changed the oil. I did notice the spark plug on cyl #2 was fouled up - or at least dirtier than the other 3.

 

Went through the lubrication instructions in the original owners manual (aka ‘Reference Book’), opened each grease cup, refilled, and gave each a turn. That was a BIG mistake others corrected me on after I thought to ask about improving drivability (i.e. the suspension) after I did drive the car. My god that was a rough ride. Anything above 20-22mph I thought the car was going to blow apart. I should have extracted all the old grease, inserted (at least temporarily) zerk fittings, injecting new grease until all the old was pressed out. Larry Schramm invited me out for a ride in his ‘13 Buick as a reference point. Afterwards I got to see his ‘08 chassis and he gave the springs several good downwards shoves and there wasn’t so much as a squeak. I could’ve fallen over. Invaluable point of reference. Taking the springs apart and applying a fine layer of grease is also on my to-do list.

 

I rebuilt the vacuum tank with a kit from http://www.classicpreservation.com/vactankkits.html. It went off without a hitch. The gas tank was clean and dry, though I did re-line it with a kit from https://www.por15.com/POR-15-Fuel-Tank-Repair-Kit. Of course I did the math wrong (you have to turn the tank every 20 min during cleaning and drying — being a cylinder tank we’re talking about a 3 1/2” strip being covered at a time) so I went in to work on 3hrs sleep again.

(Using the POR-15 product may be another mistake. Don’t know yet. 30 yrs ago I had a Studebaker tank done with RENU, but it was applied to the inside AND outside of that tank and I just didn’t want that mess on this one. That tank started out though with rust holes the size of walnuts. The stuff works. Perhaps I should have tried it just on the inside.)

 

 

Edited by Ben P. (see edit history)
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I took out the spark plugs and lubed each cyl. with a small amount of oil. Also turned the hand crank and it cranked the engine with very little effort. All the valves moved and were free.

Reattached the spark plugs, attached a new 6-volt battery, using the starter and not the crank I tried to start it.

No start though it would briefly fire a few times. Eventually it would run but never any longer than 60 seconds. It was spitting and backfiring (right out of the exhaust valves) - I tried and failed to correct the timing. Also the marvel carb. was a mess - at one point I swear I had gas coming out of the exhaust pipe!

Must've had that carb. off 6 times. Sent for a rebuild kit - only thing useable out of the whole darn thing was the main paper gasket and the felt for the fuel adjustment needle. The needle STILL dripped gas and I ended up taking a bit of graphite infused water-pump packing and sticking that up in there and that stopped the drip. I did install the new air-valve spring that came with the kit. The float needle valve from the kit was too big, so with toothpaste I polished the old one and the seat. Installed a synthetic float from Gregg Lange. This did stop the flooding. (NO, the kit was not from CarbKing).

Even though it wasn’t running well or long, I did see the vacuum tank was cycling. I don’t know that it was ever (actually) a problem.

 

 

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As predicted, I was in over my head with this car and out of desperation begged a guy famous for his work on early REO’s to take a look and get this thing to run. In January he did.

The timing was way off and he advanced it, “a LOT”. I couldn’t find a timing mark and neither could he. He found the top of the #1cyl. with a wire. A compression test showed: 50-55-50-55, not ‘bad’ for a 100 yr old car. He spent 20 hours on it and got it to run ‘more like a car’. He did scold me for the spark plugs being not kept clean (I thought, “Huh”. Had just cleaned them all and noticed #2 dirty the 1st time.)

He did exclaim that the car smoked, “The smokiest car I’ve ever had in this shop!” He wondered aloud if the oil hadn’t been overfilled. I thought that sounded like something I might do... Plus I had been running detergent oil anyway — and bought into that MYTH of what that can free up.

Changed the oil when I got home, noticed it was quite dirty and black. But again assumed it was carbon freed up by detergent.

Dan’s hand written receipt noting the SMOKE makes me laugh every time I see it. He asked me to bring the car back in ‘warmer weather’ to set the timing to better adjustment.

 

Oh — he also threw away the air-valve spring that came with the kit and re-installed the one that had been in the car. It was the wrong size.

 

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As soon as the frost was out of the ground (in Michigan that means June) I started it up. It ran quite nicely. No backfiring, though at times the power would just wiff right out. Made a few videos and sent one to the last owner’s son who said, “Sounds great!” I remember thinking, “Whew, glad to hear that because to me it just sounds like an old car.” Took the aftermentioned wild ride where dried-up dusty springs and topped off grease cups with 10+ year old crusted up grease couldn’t allow for anything more than 20-22mph....


I did notice the water-pump leaked more than it had last fall. Fully unscrewed, the left packing-nut didn’t allow enough room to get anything wider than a gauge between it and the pump. After consulting people on this forum, someone suggested the starter/generator would have to be removed in order to access it. That was the way. I had been cautioned that the S/G weighs 60-70lbs. That sounds about right, but let me be a little more explicit — 60lbs is a heck of a lot of weight 3’ outside your center of gravity while leaning over a fender! DO NOT DO THIS ALONE.

 

Larry Schramm took one look at my w-p shaft pictures and said it looked like it ought to be replaced. I agreed, but was more interested in diagnosing why the power would suddenly disappear and why it was still belching BLACK SMOKE after I had changed the oil and very carefully saw that it was not overfilled.

 

I did make one mistake while removing the S/G — had removed the distributor cap and let it hang by the spark plug wires, but forgot to detach the wire between the cap and the mailbox-coil. So as I was bringing down the S/G (3’ outside my center of gravity) that wire got tugged free. Upon re-assembly I crimped it back on the best I could, but when I went to start it there was some sort of electrical event. Couldn’t see it from behind the dash, but there was a loud ‘pop’ and a little mushroom cloud of white smoke. Checked the crimp again and tried starting again. Same thing, “POP!” White smoke.

Perhaps it’s the coil-wire or maybe I hooked another wire back up wrong. I don’t know, but I thought, “Well, now’s a good time to change the oil pan gaskets....”

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So, the oil-pan gaskets....

The one’s I made leaked, so I had ordered a set from Olson’s. When I took the pan off I noticed the oil was really black and dirty. But again, this really did not shock me as I’d been running detergent....

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Then I found this in the pan.

Or at least the broken tip down on the right in the picture below. The rest I actually had to find with a strong magnet - it had drained out with the oil change.


The moment I realized it was a broken cotter-pin my heart made one great thud that made my ears pop. At that point I became KEENLY interested in cleaning out the oil pan rather than go look for where it had come.

 

Then I found something else: That copper tube that runs the length of the oil pan - The oil is picked up by the oil pump, sent up to the gauge on the dash, then back to that tube inside the pan. That tube has 4 holes in it. One serving each connecting rod trough. It was designed to fill each evenly and equally. Mine didn’t. The one serving cylinder #4 had a clog. It was getting just a drip. Never would have known that without testing it because there’s enough oil in that return line to overflow all the troughs once the engine is shut off. Running - it was being starved.

 

To clean it I did exactly what the 1918 ‘Reference Book’ said to do “three or four times a year” — washed it out with gasoline. It took 20 min. of pouring tiny amounts of gas into the line to get it to clear out and all 4 to flow evenly.

In other words, broken cotter-pin or no broken cotter-pin — this engine was about to be cooked anyway and I didn’t have a clue.

 

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Edited by Ben P.
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Satisfied the lines and pan were clean, I called Terry W. who said, “Don’t button it back up until you know where it came from”.

Went under the car - all (16) cotter-pins for the bearing and con-rod studs were all there. While under there I texted my brother. Told him what I found and that all the one’s on the studs were accounted for. He said, “Someone might have dropped it in there. But, huh.”

I went to bed.

Next day I went back under the car. Looked up into the cylinders and saw⬇️

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Which looked a little different than the other THREE, which looked like⬇️
 

Sure enough, the cotter-pin had come out of a wrist-pin (described as ‘piston pin’ in the parts-book). Never did find the other TWO that were missing. The 6 gouges were easy to find though. Finger stops right in them. The gouges in #2 were deeper than the rest.

Cylinder #3 was the only one without gouges, and remember, that was one of the lower scoring cyls. on the compression test in January (50-55-50-55).

 

So I don’t know when this happened. It was definitely blowing black smoke in January. Dan said the plugs were fouled up. There was one fouled up when I got it. Oil was already turning black after 1 run by January, I assume the 3 wrist-pins had broken free by that point. Not that it matters. To think of it, if the rebuild done during the 1968 restoration lasted only 50 years — that’s incredible. Should have been due anyway.

 

 

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Removed pretty much everything from the engine in order to pull it. Got down to the exhaust manifold - as I was pulling it away from the engine these little steel rings (called ‘manifold pilot tubes’ in the parts-book) came popping out of it and bounced all along the floor of the shop. Had just looked at the parts-book, but didn’t even know they were in there. Took 3 days to find all of them - and I keep a pretty clean shop. I thought, “This is nuts. I can’t even keep track of all this stuff.” Later told the engine rebuilder and he said, “Oh yes, the Jesus Rings! You unbolt the manifold, they come popping out, they go, ‘ring, ring, ring’ as they bounce all over the place, and you say ‘Jesus’!” (That’s exactly what I said too.)

That was another mistake - should’ve disconnected it from the exhaust pipe 1st. Then I couldn’t unbolt the exhaust pipe. Called a friend who suggested heating the bolts with a torch. At that point I called him back and said, “Bob, I heated those bolts and now I’m only rounding them out. BTW, the greatest length of this exhaust pipe is cast iron. If it ever falls off it’ll probably pole-vault this car right off the *** ****** road!” He said, “Now don’t get FRUSTRATED!”

 

 

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“This is nuts”.

Sick of losing stuff, and realizing it would take months to coordinate the same day off with my brother’s or friends anyway, I called a local shop and asked if pulling and shipping this engine was a project they’d be interested in.

They were, and now at long last (7 months later), that has happened.

Where exactly to send it for rebuilding, I had some ideas on, but have been talked out of it. The chief concern now is to keep it in as few hands as possible as losing stuff is the greatest risk. I had asked them to remove the water-pump shaft so I could take it to Larry Schramm to have a stainless steel one machined, but they seemed to think that ought to be done by the same machinist who does the rebuild, “Pretty simple, pretty standard part done on any rebuild of an engine like this.”

Perhaps that’s true, but I’d rather have that job in the hands of someone who’s just done several of these recently. So when it reaches that point, we’ll talk.

What is certain, is that on this tiny little 4-cyl, that engine either had to be lifted or removed in order to access that w-p shaft! Unlike the bigger 6-cyls, there is no nut on the back of the timing gear case - it is one piece with the block. The only access is the front cover, and with the engine in the car that cover is blocked in by the front frame X. Can’t even unbolt it in the car.

That is now accessible.

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So today, we went up to retrieve the now engineless car — which was a change in plans, because initially the shop had preferred that it stay there to the point the rebuilt engine was re-installed. Again, on the fear of losing stuff.

 

It all went off smoothly and without problems except it took a couple hours this morning to get the locks off the trailer. Ice storm over the weekend. The door locks were froze up. The hitch lock was froze up. Never did get the pass. door unlocked. But it’s home — and now I have no excuse to not have attended to some of the other items on the to-do list:

Remove all the old grease and insert zerk fittings, disassemble and clean the springs, lube the springs, w-p shaft... Larry also pointed out something else I hadn’t thought of: The oil pan itself. That needs to be stripped and checked out. 10 years sitting idle with oil in it. Where’s the water go? The bottom. Who knows what’s actually under all those layers of paint. Wouldn’t want it under a freshly rebuilt engine to have it heat up and discover it’s actually Swiss cheese. Can just see that happening.

 

That trailer btw, that’s the one decent decision I made in all of this. Man that’s a nice trailer. Car fits in it with the top up - all 7’ of it. Rides flat the whole way. Empty or loaded it stays on the road. No bouncing. No drama. Travels straight. If it weren’t for the rear view mirrors you’d never know it was back there. Only wish I had gotten it 4’ longer — could’ve fit another car.

 

 

 

 

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After the damage was discovered I made a bit of noise regarding the danger of the cotter-pin design — which I had certainly read about on this forum though it didn’t sink in....

ADade had an identical engine in his 1918 Buick E-34 Roadster his father-in-law restored, also 50 years ago. He too had ordered a set of gaskets from Olson’s since the one’s he made leaked. At my urging he went to check the wrist pins.

Apparently his father-in-law knew what he was doing and why — he had eliminated the cotter-pin design. See picture below.

This picture is going along with the engine to the rebuilder. The rest of the car is ‘correct’, but these cotter-pins are GONE. The bottom line with these engines is this: The people who designed and built them in 1918 never dreamed they’d ever see as many as 20,000 miles — let alone still be on the road in 100 years. Simply weren’t built for it.

Somewhere (I’ve misplaced it - will post it when it turns up) I have a newspaper ad for a 1918 Buick with newly re-sleeved cylinders — in 1919! When I found that I thought, “Gosh, I wonder WHY?!”

 

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  • 2 months later...
Posted (edited)

Well, two months later the engine is in the rebuilder’s shop. They went through the entire thing and found everything in, “very good condition — much better than we expected”, except for a chip in one tooth of the (metal) timing gear — and of course the three wrist-pin gouged cylinders. The camshaft was good, crankshaft was good, even the flywheel gear was good, “not a mark anywhere”. 

The timing gear they estimated had 50,000 miles left on it. At MAYBE 600 miles per year it’ll certainly outlive me. Sticking with it.

They are commencing to resleeve the cylinders, and are ordering new aluminum pistons with a modern wrist-pin design. Since these are made in California this means it’ll be delayed for the duration of this pandemic situation — which is just fine because the estimate signed today was double the cost I had expected (took me 10 hours to be able to talk about it too).

So I may not get to drive this car this year after all. But we go forward....

 

Edited by Ben P.
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  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

Wrote about these elsewhere, but as I had trouble finding the post later - am reposting it here where I know to find it:

https://forums.aaca.org/topic/339040-has-anyone-tried-these-blockley-clincher-tires/

These are the tires decided upon for this car. Was planning on placing an order for 5 in May, but as money isn’t moving at the moment decided to press ahead this week.

Looking at the tires on it when I got it I knew they were old, but chanced 6-7miles on them anyway. At some point after the engine damage was discovered I looked into them and found at least two of them had to be at least as old as me (“Olympic, Made in Australia” - out of production by the early 70’s).

That discovery spurred me into looking into new tires. By accident, came across these new Blockley’s. What stopped me in my tracks was the authentic looking diamond tread design. It hasn’t been available for 80 years — once Montgomery Ward pretty much took over the by then obsolete ‘clincher’ tire market (predominantly for very used Model T Fords).

If you know clincher tires you know they are all made in Vietnam or Thailand. These are no different, but are made to the owner of Blockley’s own design in his own molds and out of his own purchased rubber stock — not the junk locally sourced.

They should fit the bill.... They aren’t cheap, but are extremely competitive considering the known quality and longevity of Blockley’s previous products produced for the past 20 years. The VAT tax does NOT apply to US buyers or anyone outside the EU. As these are new, there is not yet a US distributor. All orders are direct. Someone in California beat me to ordering them and reported his import/duty charge was $150 for 4 - still very competitive. Blockley reports that they are still taking/shipping orders while complying with social-distancing guidelines.

Will update once they come in.

 

 

 

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Edited by Ben P. (see edit history)
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  • 3 weeks later...

Sorry about the misadventure with the wrist pins. Now my car had quite fat heavy duty kotter pins in it and no cylinder damage. The cylinders are worn out but there's reason for that.  I know that my dad re-ringed the engine at least once so he may have replaced them. My new pistons aren't supposed to need them. My car was made into a truck in 1948 and used as a field sprayer for 20 years, driving in dusty fields in low gear with only the stock air "cleaner"  ( They take out the gravel and the stones.)  I haven't looked into the transmission yet, but it made a lot of miles in low!

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Posted (edited)

Yeah I think I know that air cleaner you’re talking about Allan. When you get a chance could you take a picture of it? My car only has the ‘air intake’ opening (bottom pic below) and never had a filter — which was incredible to me but I saw a guy with a similar car that he had fitted a 1920’s ‘aftermarket’ air filter to. I believe he said it was, “Good enough to keep rocks and horseshit out.” Hugh L. rigged up a sock filter for an air cleaner and I think that’s the way I’m going to go.

 

It’s incredible that your car survives after the truck treatment (and I’ll use this excuse to throw in a couple of my favorite pictures out of the family album).

Top pic below: 1926 Chevy, which actually started as a truck, but by the late 30’s the wood body was so bad it was removed. (Photo from 1944 or 5) Shortly after that it had deteriorated even further so it was converted into a ‘buzz saw’ for wood. It survived in that form right through the 1960’s. Remnants are probably still on the farm but I’ve never knowingly seen them.


Middle pic below: Taken in 1921 on a farm just outside Flint, I had seen this incidental photo in the album my entire life and had always assumed it was a Model T since they were poor farmers. After owning my ‘18 for about a year (which the prior owner had bought in pieces off a farm just outside of Flint) I finally noticed the one in the album is definitely a D or E-35 Buick. Same car appears in other incidental photos and is definitely a Buick, but there isn’t a clear enough shot of the windshield frame to tell if it’s a ‘17 or ‘18.

Same car? Almost not a chance, but out of a total 47,251D + E-35’s sold domestically, I figure the odds are far better than that of winning the lottery.

Nice thought anyway. Some cars choose their owners, and while I can’t say this one chose me, I can honestly say I wasn’t looking for this one when I found it either.


Ben P.

(Top pic: Just noticed the diamond tread tires! Guess it survived into the 1940’s after all.)

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I think I lied about the air cleaner. It's my truck that has the little cylindrical one.  ( I also have a 29 IHC).

I looked at the carb and doesn't look like it had one

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Naw you didn’t lie. The memory assumes a lot or otherwise fills in the gaps - or at least mine does. Can’t remember what I did this morning but can remember a bunch of stuff that was never so....

Speaking of memory, placing ⬇️ here where it can be found again. The fact that these cars never had air filters kinda scares me. Bought the car because it was obviously restored by a purist, but once again, they didn’t expect these cars to ever see as many as 20,000 miles — if you want to keep the thing around... Certainly not sending a bunch of dust up into the XX thousand dollar rebuilt engine.
https://forums.aaca.org/topic/331336-driving-my-26-buick-master-six/?do=findComment&comment=2017881

 

 

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  • 1 month later...
Posted (edited)

Well, the lockdown stuff and not being paid threw everything off for a while. Engine is still in the rebuild shop waiting for parts that cannot yet be built (which is just fine because the projected price as quoted about made the teeth fall right out of my head - you guys who do all the prep-work and disassembly on your engines BEFORE sending them to the rebuilder are really keeping a large pile of money in the bank, let me tell you.) but the 5 new tires and correct thick butyl rubber tubes with brass stems arrived today. Direct from Blockley England just 5 days after placing the order — a shock to me because I had ordered a small part from a supplier in England last winter and it took something like 5 weeks to get here. Must have been sent on a very slow boat.

 

I have a bit to figure out yet, but will post the total price here for tires, tubes, shipping, and import duties (again, no one outside the E.U. is subject to the scary looking VAT Tax!) as the prices were still quite comparable to the Made in Vietnam crud the antique tire monopoly has been dumping on us here. If you have clincher tires that aren’t 40+ years old they were made in Vietnam. Someone tells you different they are either lying or just plain wrong.

If anyone has clincher type (aka ‘beaded edge’ in England) tires, or would like to switch back to the correct clincher types after the typical 1950’s straight-side home job conversion, these Blockley’s just might be the ticket.

Really thrilled to get these. This diamond tread pattern hasn’t been in production anywhere for at least 80 years. (The 1944 or 5 picture I had, I’m reasonably certain those tires had been on that truck for many many years at that point - that truck drove a day out of Detroit once and never left the farm. In fact it still could be there, though I’ve never knowingly seen pieces of it.) The owner of Blockley Tyre designed these himself and he really hit the ball right out of the park. Dead ringers for what came on these cars new.

 

Now comes the fun part of me learning how to mount them. I’ve read all the horror stories here. Have all the car’s original tools including rim spreader and tire irons. Thinking of throwing a tire-putting-on party but not sure who I could get to show up for it. No beer allowed.

That might not happen till 4th of July though, in the middle of several big projects at work.
Enough...

Ben P.

P.S. These are 30 x 3 1/2”, they have an entire range of other size clinchers and straight-side too. Here is a link to their website: https://www.blockleytyre.com/search

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  • 2 months later...

(Not a peep about the engine rebuild, which is fine because I’m still scraping up the pennies to pay for it - plus I’m not in the mood to hear about it anyway.)

 

Still haven’t come across the 1919 (or whatever it was - practically new - I forget) ad for a 1918 E-35 with re-sleeved cylinders that I found and misplaced, but I did find ⬇️ today looking at pictures of a 1916 D-35 recently sold at auction.

So, for my own records I’ll just put that here.

Yep, that’s the same 170ci engine - introduced in 1916 and ended in ‘18 with the E-35/4.

The real McCoy. Check out that date (They must have barely used it - I’m surprised it lasted that long).4337B18A-6022-466A-96EB-AFFA22BD32E4.jpeg.3d39191c32ec382b4f234bfc7bd0ffaa.jpeg

 

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