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1922 Oldsmobile Model 47 Engine Rebuild


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Perhaps it's bad form since this project has been ongoing for a while, but I thought I'd document the progress so far as I am coming close (I hope!) to wrapping up this project and getting the old gal back on the road.

 

For background, in late 2018, I was lucky enough to purchase my car, a 1922 Oldsmobile Model 47 Light Eight touring car, from a local Michigan collector's estate, consisting of many amazing automobiles. The other cars in the collection were auctioned off later (many high dollar and high provenance cars), but the Oldsmobiles (mine and a 1923 Model 43 AB Brougham) were sold before the auction. They had been in ownership by the family for over 50 years, and both Olds have gone to owners very respective of the mark and the cars themselves. For background, I have other pre-war cars that I work on and maintain, although I never thought I'd own something V8 powered or of such relative rarity.

 

Fast forward to September 2019 after sorting the car to running and driving status, I've taken the car back to my college homecoming (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology) and as I am driving back to my hotel in the evening, the car, which had run magnificently the whole trip, died on a dark side street. With much help from Hagerty, I got it flat towed back to the hotel and my trailer and discovered it was a relatively catastrophic failure. 

 

I'll continue the tale in the next post.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Rusty Berg

 

Picture 1 - Car in front of major art piece on campus. I have equivalent pictures for other cars I own

 

Picture 2 - How the evening (early morning if I'm honest 😁) ended for the car and I.

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

To continue the tale of the next morning. I keep a import (i.e.  cheap) tool kit in my cars for any roadside repairs (never have been lucky enough to own a car with a complete tool kit). After the tow truck dropped me off in the parking lot of the hotel, I caught a couple of hours of shut eye, then went to the car to determine if I could get it running again (odds were very low). I had hoped to finish my homecoming, and make the trek to the Newport Hill Climb, with the intent to make a pass at the hill. For those not familiar with the event, it is worth looking up, and worth making the trek to at least once, in my opinion.

 

I started working on the car with what small selection of tools I had. Thankfully, pre-war cars and hand tools go together hand in hand, so I was able to diagnose the issue in the parking lot. After taking the cap off, I determined the rotor of the distributor was not spinning when the engine was cranked over. This was far beyond anything I could fix in a parking lot close to 400 miles from home, so I winched the car into the trailer, caught a cab, and went to the local watering hole (where I might have been driving to the hotel from the evening prior 😁) to continue my weekend celebrations as best as possible.

 

The final diagnosis and next steps to fix the car would have to be determined at my home shop. Tune in for the next posting for the details.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Rusty Berg

 

 

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Edited by rustyjazz1938
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Nice to see another one. A friend in London, Ontario has a 1920 in older restored condition and a 1918 that restoration had never been completed.

Jim

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@J.H.Boland That's a beautiful car! There are some differences though, as in 1922 they built my car on a 4 cylinder chassis with an aluminum crankcase (in addition to many other parts) to save weight. The engine is literally shoe horned in as I was about to find out.

 

@jensenracing77 I have many fond memories of my time in Terre Haute (regardless of the smell from the old paper mill). I'm from New Jersey originally, so going to college in Indiana was a great experience, and the school taught me well, and I've put the lessons to good use professionally and in the antique car hobby.

 

To carry on with the tale, I got the car home and backed into my shop, and begun the process of tearing into the engine to find the root cause of my troubles, I had hoped it was something distributor related, but I feared it was timing gears. I have a video, but I don't think I can post it directly and it's not on YouTube. Suffice it to say, a wrench on the camshaft confirmed that the necessary mechanical link between the crank and camshaft was gone. Something was amiss in the timing gear area.

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Stripped camshaft gear?  The previous owner of my 1922 Paige 6-66 encountered that, and had a new one made from aluminum, a tad noisy on startup until it gets some oil.

 

In the Paige case, I found out that the original "silent" cam gear was made of silk and resin, not the hardiest combination to last almost a century.

 

I have a gear maker in Alameda, CA (across from SF) in the event you can't find anyone closer.

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On 7/7/2021 at 7:25 PM, rustyjazz1938 said:

 

 

@jensenracing77 I have many fond memories of my time in Terre Haute (regardless of the smell from the old paper mill). I'm from New Jersey originally, so going to college in Indiana was a great experience, and the school taught me well, and I've put the lessons to good use professionally and in the antique car hobby.

 

The paper mill is long gone now so don't smell so bad these days. I am actually in Brazil, East of Terre Haute. I did not go to Rose but had a couple friends that went there. I hung out there a lot on weekends in 1992/1993

 

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@Grimy you hit the nail on the head.

 

I discovered that to get access to the timing gears the engine had to come out of the car, as the cover incorporated the front mount for the engine. So in December 2019, a couple of buddies and I during our annual holiday get together, after some delightful holiday beverages, went to the shop to pull the engine.

 

After the engine was pulled, it was confirmed the timing gear was the failure. In an odd twist, I found that Olds used a fiber gear on the crankshaft (I have more experience with fiber camshaft gears). Every single tooth was stripped, and it looks to be a combination of weak material and lousy oiling. The lubrication of the gears appears to have been through crankcase mist as there was no direct oil feed to the gears. I learned from a friend who has a 1924 Olds 6 cylinder Sport Touring that the fiber crankshaft gear is a known issue, and apparently it carried over from the light eight engine.

 

In addition to the gear issue, upon inspection of the timing gears, I noticed a more concerning issue that lead me to look more into the engine, and led me down the path that I have been on since the initial breakdown. Nothing like surprises to keep things interesting... 😁

 

I'm curious to see if anyone else sees what concerned me in the photo of the timing gears...

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Rusty Berg

 

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@jensenracing77 I'm definitely familiar with Brazil, having driven through it. I used to like taking US40 as opposed to I70 when going to the airport in Indy for a bit of different scenery. I was at Rose 2003-2007, and at the time one of the professors there had bought the Masonic lodge in Brazil. I have vauge hazy memories of some extracurricular events there... 😁

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@Dandy Dave and @Laughing Coyote you gents both hit the nail on the head. 

 

For some further backstory, I had big concerns when I purchased the car, as I knew with the relative rarity, finding parts for the engine would be an issue. From my studies and investigations, chassis parts are mostly common with the four cylinder Model 43 cars, but the aluminum V8 engine was an animal all to itself. What sweetened the deal, was that the previous owners had acquired a spare engine from 1923, by serial number perhaps one of the last ones built. The family had already taken parts of this engine to keep the engine in the car running, but it still had many things that could be used to keep my car running. The tale of getting the engine is best for in person with a cold beverage in hand.

 

Within the engine laid my replacement set of timing gears. Amazingly they were both steel! There was also an external oil line run for lubrication, that I could duplicate on my engine to source oil to these steel gears (the original setup in my engine depended on crankcase splash). Theoretically the fix for my problem would be quick.

 

That blob of weld sent me down a different path... An engine teardown was in order.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Rusty Berg

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Hi @nickelroadster,

 

Prior to 1923, when Olds switched to the drum style headlight, the teardrop shaped headlight with the Olds logo was the normal headlight. I've found examples of headlights painted black, and what appear to be nickel plated like mine in a couple of photos. I have an advertisement (which I've seemed to misplaced; story of my life) that shows my exact car. One thing I have noticed is that the top braces for my car are different than other cars I have seen, however the ad and some other period photos I have found confirmed other cars coming with the style of top that my car has. My best guess is that the top irons were somewhat weak, and improved as a running change.

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I didn't realize that about the headlights [I have a 1923].  The only time I had seen them was on a Super Sport.  I would like to see a picture of your interior.  Mine is one the the best looking original leather interiors that 870189401_47andrrentalhouse026.jpg.f9af38f4c59e9b631fc5377df1fd954e.jpgI have seen.  It is a kind of medium brown. 

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Edited by nickelroadster
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Nickelroadster:

 I had ridden in one of these Oldsmobile Sport touring cars not a V-8 as yours but a 4 cyl. during the VMCCA Nickel Tour near Orange VA. in 2016. Something in the distributer broke and put us on the side of the road. Comming down off the Blue Ridge parkway the rearend sounded like a cement mixer. The car did not finish the tour.

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On 7/10/2021 at 10:04 PM, rustyjazz1938 said:

So in December 2019, a couple of buddies and I during our annual holiday get together, after some delightful holiday beverages, went to the shop to pull the engine.

Just to interject here....the evening was similar to the show "Drunk History" on the Comedy Channel 🤪

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  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

All, 

 

My apologies for the radio silence, I was out with the HCCA touring after the Celebration of Brass at the Museum of the Horseless Carriage at the Gilmore Museum.

 

@Stude Light as you're well aware our discussions are much more entertaining than Drunk History and factually accurate 🤪

 

@nickelroadster the seat bottoms on my car were recovered, but the backs and door cards and trim are all original. Pictures should be attached.

 

When we last left off, I had mounted the engine in the stand and begun the tear down. As astute observers noticed the front main bearing saddle of the crankcase had been welded at some point in it's life. This made me extremely nervous as old aluminum like this is notoriously hard (if not impossible) to weld. My investigation unfortunately proved my fears.

 

If not evident in the photo, the parent material was cracking around the weld. Couple this discovery with further investigation that found issues with parts used in the previous engine rebuild (mix of valves, numbered pistons in wrong holes, mismatched piston types, etc) and the picture of the engine was not looking very good.

 

In the next update, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Tune in to see if it is a train 😁.

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I don't know if it is possible to use metal stitching to repair the front main bearing saddle but I would look into it.  Some people to talk about it with are the Lock-n-Stitch company in Turlock CA.  Look them up on the internet and call them up.  They make and use many products to repair items without welding.

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I have seen many of Rustys cars at various venues of late. I have every confidence that he will meet the oncoming train but will manage the challenge adeptly.  I will follow along here with interest. 

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Posted (edited)

@ericmac I very much appreciate the kind regards and confidence. I hope to see you at the Gilmore some time soon if they have the Congress of the Motor Car this year.

 

@nickelroadster The thought had crossed my mind, however I worried a bit with the loading the bearing saddle sees, plus I think the weld would have to be cleaned back to parent metal and I'm not certain how much that would take. I also have the spare engine as a possible donor, although it was already missing parts and had an unknown history, which leads us back into the story...

 

The holiday season of December 2019 was upon me, giving me time to reflect on the next steps. The bearing was not the only issue. The teardown of the engine had revealed mismatched pistons and valves (thing had a bit of a shake to it when running). I had no baseline on how well or smooth this engine should run. I know the early flat plane crank V8s are not as smooth as a crossplane crank engine (1923 Cadillac being the first I believe), in my literature searches, everything seemed to indicate the engine should be pretty powerful for the era (not just advertising as I have access to some of GMs historic archives). The car never seemed to be as powerful as one would expect especially compared to my 1927 Buick with the same rated horsepower, and 2 less cylinders! Something just never seemed right to me while the engine was running.

 

Amongst all this planning and questions, an email appeared from @Mark Santos, the OCA and NAOC advisor for this model year:

 

1930 flat head V8

$xxx- ZIP CODE REMOVED

1930 flat head V8 and several others 1930 parts. My dad had the motor running many years ago, but.... best offer. Pick up in Ocean County NJ.

 

There was a link to a Facebook marketplace ad which has since disappeared into the ether.

 

For those who might be curious, Olds never made a V8 in the 1930s (not counting the Viking engine which was not Oldsmobile branded). The blurry photos were of another Model 47 engine. Opportunity was not knocking, it was two fisted pounding on my door. Having grown up in New Jersey, I was somewhat familiar with area. I had a short window of time to get from Michigan to pick up the engine due to the holidays. I called and a deal was struck. I hit the road Friday morning, driving the entire length of the Pennsylvania turnpike to meet up Saturday morning. After some final wheeling and dealing, as more parts were found as part of the deal, I picked up a very complete Model 47 engine with a casting date a month later and only a handful of engine numbers newer than mine. I turned and burned, returning to Michigan Saturday evening. The trip was definitely worth it, and I was certain I would have enough parts to make one complete running engine.

 

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I am happy to see that you found a spare engine.  Oldsmobile claimed that these engines had the highest output per cubic inch at the time.  I kind of doubt that this included such engines as Duesenberg etc. and may have been referring to regular production types.  Mine seems to be pretty zippy for the year and was reasonably smooth.  I hate to see a block get wasted and I would put a lot of thought into seeing if I could find a way to keep it from being turned into beer cans.

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@nickelroadster Rest assured, I would never allow a fate such as that to befall the original crankcase for my car

 

@ericmac That particular contact has already been in the shop and has been pointing at different things he likes. We might have a plan pending... 😁

 

The trip to New Jersey was definitely worth the effort and time. The engine was very complete, even coming with the correct Johnson carburetor (which I have on a shelf, as folks have recommended against it's use) and an immaculate water pump impeller, which due to design tends to corrode badly in application. In the picture you can see the corroded one was from the engine I was running (and that was the best one I had). I was working with a friend to 3D model the impeller with an intent to get it printed in a heat stable material, possibly stainless, when this example fell in my lap. I'll be sure to give this one ever protection possible as I use it in the engine.

 

A cursory review even showed the engine had its original pistons in it, stamped with the plant build number (not the same as engine serial) and with the original stamp to indicate what cylinder it was. The engine was filthy and full of oil sludge, but it would more than suffice to be a solid base for the rebuild. It also had the dreaded fiber crankshaft gear, however, I had the steel gears from my other parts engine as a replacement. This was truly going to be a scenario of taking the best of 3 parts engines to make one good runner.

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I switched out my Johnson carb for a BB-1 [with and adapter] because it was spitting out fuel when parked.  The exhaust manifolds are on the inside of the V and gas in the valley made me a bit nervous.  The BB-1 did the same so I switched back and started turning the gas off at the vacuum tank before I would turn the engine off.  Use only alcohol free gas!  I have heard many bad things about Johnson carbs but I think most of them concern late twenties and early thirties versions on Cadillacs.  I have had no running problems with the Johnson but have no desire for engine fires.  Glad to see you got parts to do the engine!

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Posted (edited)

@nickelroadster when I bought the car it did not have the original carburetor on it. It had an Air Friction carburetor on it which was truly terrible. Having used the BB-1 on my 27 Buick, I was more than ready to make the changeover. It did end up being really tight in the Vee of the engine, but I've always been in the habit of turning the gas off after shutting the engine down for more than say 15 minutes just to be on the safe side. The engine really liked the carb swap, and I don't really plan to go back, as it is not a show car.

 

In studying the engine design and looking through the engine from New Jersey, I've become quite familiar with the design elements. Like many other Northway based engines, this one had fork and blade connecting rods. The engine from the car had issues with shims used on the shells that form the bearings; the engine from New Jersey confirmed my hunch that there should be no shims between the bronze shells that make up the bearing, since their presence would make the OD of the shell, which the blade rod rides on, not truly round. In tearing down the New Jersey engine, everything was filthy with really nasty black oil, but there were many original parts in relatively good shape. However, the bores were just past the limit of wear, and I discovered that one of the bearing shells had spun, taking out the locking pins in the fork style rod in the process.

 

I have a local machine shop I work with to do work on these oddball engines. He's interested in the old stuff, and does really nice work. I asked him to double check my findings on the bores, with the thought that I would have him bore it out, or perhaps sleeve it back to nominal size depending on the availability of pistons.

 

I dropped the parts off at his shop March 13, 2020... ☹️

 

The world in general and Michigan (where I'm based) decided to throw a gigantic monkey wrench in my plans...

 

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Edited by rustyjazz1938
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I don't believe that this engine was a Northway design.  The 1916 v-8 was designed both by Northway and Oldsmobile and was produced by both.  This engine was never painted Northway grey [it was painted black] and Olds spent five million dollars on new machine tools for it.   In 1923 Olds sold all the brand new machine tool [made especially for v-8s] to Wills-Saint Clair for one million bucks.

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Posted (edited)

@nickelroadster You're right, it wasn't designed by Northway. My intention was to imply however that it was a Northway derivative, based on the original iron crankcase design. It has similar Northway features such as the fork and blade rods, as well as the layout of the cylinders. R.K. Jack, the chief engineer at the Olds Motor Works at the time is credited in some sources as the leader of the design.

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  • 2 weeks later...

My apologies for the delay in updates. Work has gotten in the way, plus I've been continuing my ongoing project of getting this particular engine running as good as I'd hope. Do recall the status is still ongoing, but these postings are from a historical perspective. What this means in general is the story isn't over yet, unfortunately... ☹️

 

That being said, the cylinders were at my machinist locked down due to Covid. The bearings were going to need to be re-done. I measured all the clearances of both engines. The focus was on the rod bearings and journal diameter and everything was *just* outside of specification. Throw in the fact that one engine had a bearing spin, and I was looking for a shop to do babbitt on fork and blade connecting rods. I called around the Michigan/Ohio are (focusing on northern Midwest) to find a shop. 

 

In speaking with my machinist on the bores of the cylinders, although he couldn't actively work on them due to restrictions, he could indicate that a 20 thousandths oversize should clean things up nicely. I had an original set of pistons with worn rings that I thought maybe I could reuse (and save my wallet some pain). I should have known better...

 

This update takes is to August 2020. There were other projects I worked on, and unfortunately I don't really have any pictures related to the Olds. Too much text and not much visual, for which I apologize. Honestly, I was waiting for parts from my machinist, and trying to formulate a path going forward. More on the next update.

 

 

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Did you try Paul’s Rod and bearing? He might be able to help you with your rods. If you need pistons I will suggest Ross. They are very affordable and forged aluminum, not cast. They made the set for my 32’ Olds. 6 Pistons, rings, and wrist pins were $830 shipped to my home in MA. Egge wanted double with nothing else.

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So as I was waiting on the Olds machining to process at a snails pace due to imposed protocols, I focused on some of the other vehicles which have cropped up in my pictures, an example is attached.

 

As to the Olds, I called around and reached out to some contacts. I could tell the fork and blade connecting rod bearings were tricky to do, so I was looking for someone with some experience. I ended up getting in touch with Hart's Machine Shop in Cecil, OH. In talking with some other local SE Michigan antique car guys, they came highly recommended. When I spoke with John, his reply was that he had done fork and blade connecting rods, and that they were a pain in the @$$. I had found my shop! 😁 I spoke with my engine machinist and luckily since the cylinders were separate from the crankcase, I could get that back since it had the main bearings (he ran it though his cleaner for me) I proceeded to assemble the best set of rods and bearing shells I had from two engines as the one engine had spun a bearing destroying the locating pins in the rod (see previous post). I gathered all the parts and made the relatively short trip to Ohio to drop them off.

 

For anyone looking for babbitt bearing work, Hart's Machine is definitely an old school shop with tons of experience. I don't have many pictures, but I would encourage folks to give them a call and talk to them about what you need. They definitely helped me out, and were quite knowledgeable, and they were BUSY which is a good sign.

 

More to come on the pistons side of things shortly.

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