Disaster Strikes Twice - Austin Healy

This story starts out like so many of our British car stories. A small minor problem suddenly becomes a major disaster. Last fall when Michael and Rosanne hosted the Red Rock tour, Joel Goldberg and I decided to do the event. His car had been running fine and all was well with the world. When he showed up at the Dunkin Donut shop he stated that his temperature had soared up to about 230 degrees when he shut it off. Upon investigation we discovered it was low on coolant. It took about 2 quarts to fill the radiator. This should have been a red flag, but the car started fine and seemed to run okay. When we got to the first stop Joel stated that "Red Baby" was gasping on the hills and seemed to lack power. Could not see any visible problems so we continued the mission. After the picnic Joel headed home and stated the car seemed to run fine headed for the barn.

A few days later Joel decided it is time to flush his radiator and see if that might help the engine heat problem he had on the run at Red Rock. He flushed the motor a few times and when he tried to start the engine to flush the last residue out the engine would not start. After a telephone consultation I suggest it might be the electronic ignition. Joel decided to send it back to the (electronic ignition) dealer for a checkup. They call him a few days later and stated that they checked it out and it worked fine. The problem was, they could not find it to send it back to him. It took about a month to get it back. Wayne Hedrick and Joel install the electronic ignition back in and went to crank it up. All they get is the click-click-click of the starter trying to engage. Again, not good. Some more telephone consultation. I have them check the relay and it checks out. Joel then removes the starter and it bench checks good. Now I am stumped. I decided to make an on-site inspection so I motor on over to Joel's house and check everything again. No luck. I now suspect really bad things, such as a spun bearing, etc. Crawling under the car with long pry bar I try to turn the flywheel. Not happening. Joel gets a pan so we can drain the oil and drop the pan. What comes out looks like chocolate milk! The missing coolant has been found. Now we have a clue. While looking with a flashlight at the pistons I discover number 3 and 4 cylinders have rust all around the bottom of the pistons. Now i know why the engine will not turn, since the rust has frozen them in place. Giving Joel the bad news, we set up a date to remove the head. We assume a blown head gasket so will order a new gasket and other parts needed.

After the parts arrive we set about removing the carbs, manifolds and the head. Easier said than done. Always little glitches to slow down the process. We get the head off and discover the gasket is not blown. What gives? A check with a straightedge shows a nicely warped head. Getting more expensive by the minute. We pull the caps off number 3 and 4 rods and try to bang the pistons out. Takes a big hammer for sure. Rust and crud at the bottom of the cylinders keeps it from an easy exit. After getting them out, we noticed the rings were solid in the lands and they had to be oiled up and pried loose. Again, big red flags waving and we missed them. Since the engine would turn easily with 3 and 4 pistons removed we did not bother to pull the rest of the pistons. Since there was no rust in those cylinders we (I) assumed all was well there. Joel will take head to machine shop and when finished we will hone 3 and 4 and put it back together.

The gasket arrives, the head is machined and a date is set for Wayne, Joel and I to put the engine back together. Joel is getting antsy to get his car back on the road after a few months on the jack stands. It goes together with no major problems and Wayne does his stuff with the electronic ignition. Everything is hooked up and we finally get to crank it over, and over, and over. Nothing is happening. Lots of spark and can smell fuel. Resort to starting fluid. Nada.

Deciding to do a compression test I brought my tester a few days later and we discovered there is no compression to speak of on any cylinder. How can this be? We had done a compression test about a year before and everything was great. Not anymore. Those red flags are beginning to smother me.

No choice. Off come the carbs, manifolds, head and all the other stuff. We knock all the pistons out and discover all the rings are frozen in the lands, including 3 and 4 which we had loosened up before. We ordered a new set of rings. About a week later I had a new set of standard rings on the pistons. Rented a cylinder hone and ring compressor and put the engine back together smartly. Checked the compression and had about 130psi on all cylinders cold. Good to go. Fired up the bugger and it never sounded so well. Joel is now tooling around the neighborhood acting like he is somebody.

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