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The Vintage Car Engine

By: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 15 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Engines Vintage Cars Engine Parts

Like any other engine, a vintage car’s engine is the heart and soul of the car. It is probably the one part of the car that many vintage car owners will be most familiar with. Keeping your car’s engine well honed and in good condition will ensure a longer life – neglect it, and it’ll give out on you sooner than it ought to. With vintage cars, it also tends to be a continual battle against the effects of time. Wear and tear, rust and sourcing vintage engine parts are all problems that any vintage car owner may face.

Modern vs Vintage Car Engines

However, the good news is that vintage car engines are probably much more accessible than their modern counterparts, from the point of view of an amateur taking on a restoration project. The enclosure of the engine bay itself may only consist of covers that can simply be removed, allowing for excellent all round access. There also tends to be greater amounts of space between engine ancillaries, which provides greater access to, what would normally be, awkwardly placed nuts and bolts.

Vintage car engines are in many ways easier to work on than modern car engines. This is largely due to the very fine tolerances involved in modern engine production. These engines are usually constructed using computer controlled robots on a production line. This enables accuracy, in some instances, to be greater than within one thousandths of an inch. Such fine tolerances like this found in modern car engines are almost never found in their vintage counterparts. Vintage car engines were constructed by hand. As such they were designed to be repairable by hand, without the need for highly specialist equipment.

Vintage Car Engine Maintenance

Unlike modern engines, vintage car engines often require a greater level of care and maintenance to keep them running smoothly. Perhaps the most important aspect of this maintenance is the attention given to engine oil. A heavy grade oil should be used, as opposed to a synthetic oil. It’s important to change it more regularly than you would with a modern car engine, as it will quickly become contaminated with metallic particles that further expedite engine wear.

Engine coolant should also be selected with care. If an incorrect coolant, and/or dilution, are used it can easily cause more harm than good. The important consideration is how chemicals in the coolant will interact with the metal of your engine. Most vintage car engines mainly consist of cast iron.

Sourcing Vintage Car Engine Parts

Naturally, the older an engine is, the harder it will be to find original spare parts and undertake restoration faithfully. If authenticity is not your main concern, then sometimes parts from modern car engines can be substituted for their older counterparts. However, this is obviously not always possible.

Alternatively, vintage car clubs and specialist organisations tend to be a rich source of spare parts. As original parts are often hard to come by, members often stockpile them, even if not immediately needed, for use at a later date. They will often be more than happy to help out a fellow member in need.

Sometimes parts are simply not available anywhere. In such circumstances, don’t rule out the possibility of fashioning the part yourself from a similar alternative, or even raw material. As tolerances in vintage car engines are usually quite forgiving, a skilled machine shop will often be able to assist you in any machining and adaptations that may be needed.

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