Decided to go for a drive yesterday and have a look at that core engine that I missed seeing last week due to weather. Also did some shopping for workshop stuff and had lunch with my dad Jim and Barry's wife Linda.
In the afternoon, I finally made it to the home of the guy I've been speaking with on the phone on and off for a month or so. Ed is a salt of the earth retired gentleman, looking to clean out his collection of "anything mechanical" as he calls it. He is a retired machinist and tinkerer with a focus on antique tractors and building working models of late 19th / early 20th century internal combustion engines. A quick look around his barn (it was kinda dark in there) shows both his attention to unique and rare items and also lots of discarded stuff he picked up at junk sales and auctions. Unfortunately, a good bunch of it never made it to the restoration phase and now he just wants to start clearing it out. It's kind of like the places Mike and Frank from American Pickers love to go digging in.
Climbing up an old wooden ladder into the loft, Ed leads me to a corner of the upper barn floor where he uncovers the Corvair engine we've been chatting about.
Cut right from the donor car it came from, it sits still attached to it's transmission and motor mounts. Everything appears to be there, but my first glance tells me this is probably at best a 1964 model, but likely 1963 or earlier. I can tell by the generator mounted on the top front corner. GM started to replace generators with modern alternators around this time, so it's still possibly a 1964.
One of the issues that made me want to attend in person to see this core was that Ed is not online or using e-mail, so describing where to find the casting numbers verbally is an issue. He did have a look, but the only number he found was the cylinder firing order stamped on the cooling shroud. This is the same for all Corvairs regardless of year, so not much to tell from that.
Scraping under the requisite dirt and grime, we found the engine casting number:
T = Tonawanda
12 = December
18 = 18th day of December
YN = many possible blocks (damn)
According to my manual, YN engine block code was a commonly used code meaning the engine could be from 1961, 1962, 1963 or 1964. It gets even more clouded as the 1960-1963 engines were either 140 or 145 cubic inch engines. From 1964 onwards the displacement was 164 cubic inches (the block I need) but the 1964 engines have smaller head gaskets making them less suitable for conversion than later versions. Some 164 cubic inch engines were rated at 95 hp and do not have the harmonic balancer (torsional vibration dampener, also needed for the conversion). This doesn't account for cars built towards the end of 1963 that might have 1964 generation motors in them.
Although it is possible to use a 1964 block, it's not ideal.
Okay, what about the heads? Are they usable? Don't know until we check the casting numbers. Which for some reason don't exist!
I started by cleaning off the crud with brake cleaner and then used light application of a wire brush.
I don't know if the casting numbers are missing from the heads, or perhaps they've corroded away completely but they aren't visible, even with a good light source. The one in the left picture (above) doesn't seem that badly corroded to obliterate the casting numbers, but I'll be damned if I can find them anywhere.
Another oddity is a stamped number "3" that appears to have put there sometime after leaving the production line.
So this just deepens the mystery of what exactly this motor is.
I borrowed a 1/2 inch drive extension (something I need to add to my "go-kit") and tried to turn over the engine using the front pulley bolt. Solid as a rock (didn't expect it would turn).
Peeking through the cooling shroud, the fins of the heads seem clean enough, but you can't tell anything from a little peek. The rest of the engine shrouding and valve covers seem pretty roached.
I think I might offer to purchase the whole thing for scrap value alone to use as a practice engine to disassemble. Perhaps there might be some value in that or some of the internal components I can trade with or send in for core exchange.
The quest continues..... <sigh>
I'm going next week to look at a core engine that is for sale.
The older gentleman who is selling it can't recall what year chassis it came from and by extension what generation engine it is. I've given him verbal instructions on where to locate the block and head casting numbers, but he says the only number he can find it the firing order stamped on the shroud. Not sure what more instruction I can give him as he doesn't have email to send him an example picture. I think it's a combination of not understanding where to look and not understanding what I'm looking for.
Now, I know a couple things (or at least I think I do). The firing order is the same for all Corvair motors as they came from the factory regardless of year, so that won't tell me anything. I know from the shop manual what the firing order is.
What I can't find anywhere in the conversion manual or shop manual is where exactly the firing order would be stamped on the shrouds.
So, my questions become this.... where exactly is the firing order stamped on the shroud (or elsewhere on the engine) AND was this stamping done for specific model engines only (is that a clue to what generation it might actually be?)
E-mail sent to the Corvair Jedi, William Wynne.
I'm still going to see the motor as I have other means to figure it out and I'm right in the same town for work meetings next week anyhow.
Also have another lead for a core engine.... waiting on answers for that one too.
In the meantime as part of my shop clean-up, I've assembled a "go kit" for evaluating any engines that I get to see in person:
I can feel the force working :)
Spent the day yesterday travelling to southern Ontario to have a look at a couple of core engines for sale that I found online. One guy advertised a core motor still in the car (asking $400) and the other guy has a core motor partially disasembled in his shed also for $400.
I picked up my Dad at my parents home near Barrie and we headed for the day to have a look.
Our first stop was a little town near Woodstock. A guy there had a Corvair engine that he bought as a spare parts engine for this custom trike he is also selling:
He claims it will do over 100mph, and it's a cool looking ride, but not something I'd be interested in riding or owning.
Unfortunately, the spare engine he has is still installed in the back end of the car that it came from the factory with, making it difficult to see completely. At some point in time, the rear frame of the car was chopped off just in front of the rear fenders, leaving the rear frame, engine compartment, rear hood and part of the bumper. From what I've read, this is a fairly common practice by people salvaging a derelict Corvair car. That's unfortunate as there is always someone looking for the other parts of the car. Taking these engines out is apparently easy but I've never done it and I don't know the history of the car or reasons someone would hack it apart like this one.
This boneyard example was sitting on two flat tires with the driveshafts still attached to the transmission and both fenders cut away. No glass or tailights, but the trunk lid is complete. Nothing really salvageable on the frame.
Once we pulled the tarp of plastic away from the engine, this is what we saw. Seems promising and better preserved than the rest of the frame....
On closer look it's easy to see the engine and components are mostly there. The cooling fan spins freely on it's bearing. I won't be using this part for my conversion, or the shroud that surrounds it. From what I understand, the magnesium fan was introduced 1964 models and was the standard for the balance of production until 1969, so this indicates an engine that could be suitable for me. Everything seems complete, even if not attached in the right spot at the moment.
So my next step is to search for the all important block casting number. As I posted in an earlier post about Corvair engines, the block number is fairly easy to find, but hard to read when covered in dirt, grime and associated mouse droppings typical of any engine left out in the elements. Thankfully, the block casting on this engine wasn't difficult to find or to clean:
So this block number is T0914RH
I have discovered however that the serial number on the engine cases is often not enough to define the nature of the complete engine. The "T" in the code is useless, since all Corvair engines have a serial number that begins with "T", meaning Tonawanda NY, which is the engine plant responsible for building all Corvair engines.
The four-digit numeric code "0914" only gives you the month and day of manufacture (in this case September 14), but unfortunately GM decided the year was not significant. And the two letter suffix code often stretches through numerous production years and engine variations (i.e. what heads, carbs, etc.), so this stamping on it's own is not specific enough either.
I don't need to be specific on year, as long as it is a 164 cubic inch block 1965 or newer. "RH" indicates this block is from 1965 to 1968 engine production run. All those engines were 164 cubic inch, so this is the right block for my needs!
The next and just as important thing to determine are what heads are attached to the block. The only acceptable heads for aircraft conversion are 95 or 110 horsepower non-smog heads.
It didn't appear that this engine was smog pump equipped, so this indicates the heads are likely correct.
GM created lots of combinations of blocks and heads and for the most part they were interchangeable. Sometimes heads of different specs were installed one at a time, meaning an engine might have heads of different compression, HP or displacement!
This engine appears to be installed just as it came from the factory, including all the extra tin and baffles between the block and engine compartment walls. This makes it next to impossible to confirm the heads are in good shape and to obtain the casting numbers to ensure they match and are what I need.
Another issue I had to consider was how to get this home and where to work on it. I plan on rebuilding the engine in my basement shop but this won't fit down the stairs!
I'm certainly not going to pull the engine from the frame in this guy's backyard just to find out, so I'd have to haul the whole back of the car home with me. Then it might not even be the right heads. Frustrating to say the least.
The seller offered to come down to $300 from $400 for everything, but I'm wondering if I might be buying more trouble than it's worth.
We headed out for our next stop near Hamilton.
This gentleman and I have been communicating by e-mail over the past month or so. He sent me pictures showing a perfect candidate block and matching heads for a 110HP Corvair. He made it fairly clear that it was partially disassembled and his asking price was firm at $400.
After stopping for lunch, we arrived at his place. As we walked up the driveway, it became VERY obvious that this guy was an old car enthusiast who lives and breathes Corvairs.
We became fast friends and his knowledge about Corvair cars and engines was vast. So much so, that when I originally asked about a 1965-69 110HP engine he says he knew that I was an airplane guy. He apparently gets asked for these engines all the time by airplane guys like me.
In my limited experience so far, I've realized that Corvair car enthusiasts fall somewhere on either end of the scale when it comes to people using Corvair engines for airplanes. They either outright dismiss aircraft builders as lunatics or accept them as fellow motor-heads. Thankfully Brian is the later. The way he figures it, as long as he doesn't have to fly with it, he's happy to source parts.
He showed us around his shop and I felt privledged to see some of the amazing restorations he has done and the amount of Corvair parts he's accumulated over the past couple of decades. I don't think anyone coming off the street like we did would have been privy to seeing his collection, truly amazing. We had such a good time talking engines and rebuilds (Dad is a motor-head too) that quite honestly I forgot to take any pictures.
He explained his rationale for the $400 price tag. He's become familiar over the years with what aircraft builders need (and more importantly don't need) and what condition engines should be in to be candidates for any rebuild. In addition, he has a side business rebuilding motors for other Corvair car owners and $400 is what he charges everyone for a rebuildable core.
Now, I could have walked away from his shop with a correct and complete motor for $400 out the door and loaded in the bed of my truck, but I chose not to.
I'm trying to decide what the better option is. Do I start with a derelict car, work on getting it home, getting the engine out in hopes that the heads are right? I "should" be able to sell off anything salvageable from the engine compartment (carbs, shrouds, intakes, blower) that won't be used for my conversion and the balance of the materials to a scrap metal dealer for cost recovery. That's a fair amount that would probably cover at least my trailering costs or more. I might even break even!
Or do I just buy a core from the Corviar guy? It would be a big step head start compared to all the work involved with the wreck and I could start right away in my basement shop. I truly get the feeling that Brian the Corvair guy is interested in seeing me succeed, I know the parts are right and it's really no gamble on being able to sell salvaged stuff I don't need.
I set out to learn new skills so the first engine definitely offers that over the core from Brian. But I don't think it's worth the hassle of dragging it home or wasting my time.
I've got some leads on something closer to home still that still haven't been fully explored. Maybe they will be good. I'll try to follow them up first, otherwise, I think I've found my source.
Time to order the conversion manual.
Time for a bit of a rant. Why does it seem so easy to get excited about things but ever so hard to make them happen?
Over the past weeks I've been actively searching for the right project to work on, but haven't been able to make any progress. Things that I've found are either way overpriced, way above my budget/capabilities or too far away.
I did however find the perfect airplane advertised on line. It is ready to fly home and it just about meets everyone one of my requirements except one - price.
It's listed price is above what I am able to afford at this point in time and I'm not sure if the seller is motivated enough to come down in price enough to make it inside my budget.
I could easily take a loan or line of credit out to buy it, but I don't think I'd be able to sleep at night with that debt.
Guess I'm stuck trying to balance this funk I'm in against moving forward. Frustrating.
I am reminded of a quote I saw recently from singer Jimmy Buffet:
"Searching is half the fun, life is much more manageable when thought of as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party"
Hopefully this will start to happen for me and my hunt for meaning moves along. I hate the feeling of being in neutral.
So I called up "Mr. L" and drove out to his property to have a second look at the Corvair he had there. If it's the engine I'm looking for, I plan on bringing it home.
I wasn't able to glean much info last time, either from him or from the casting number on the transmission housing.
This time, I brought some tools and some printouts from my research on the internet.
Here is the engine as it sits in his "boneyard":
As you can see, it was at some point cut right out of the car it came from, so it still has the transmission, generator, cooling shroud, belts, pulleys, oil cooler and of course the ever present dirt, grime and mouse hoardings. This is typical of these types of engines, or any for that matter in boneyards across North America, a real shame. The secret is find that one that isn't completely roached.
I managed to get a 3/4" socket on the harmonic balancer nut and the engine turns over surprisingly easy. There doesn't appear to be anything more than surface corrosion and the drive belts are tight enough that it turns the cooling fan and generator as I crank it over with the ratchet. I pulled the oil dipstick and the oil seems relatively clean, not burnt and no water in it.
There are two prime production number stamps (cast into the motor parts by the factory) that I need to locate. One on the block, and one each on the heads.
Unfortunately, the location of the engine block stamping which will confirm the engine year and horsepower is buried under the generator and pulleys at the front of the engine. It is located on the block, right behind the oil filter mounting boss and fill tube, like the picture below (kind of hard to see in this example picture):
I was reluctant to start pulling off all the accesorries just to see this number, when it might be easier to find the head casting numbers. These are on the end of the heads (like the example below):
I used some advice on one of the Corvair engine forums and used some brake cleaner fluid and a rag to remove the accumulated grime from the engine and managed to find matching cast numbers on each head (which means the heads came together from the factory this way and have not been swapped out individually). My subject engine heads had this casting number on them:
So according to the printout I took with me I can deduce the following....
Knowing this, I no longer really need to see the engine block stamping. My plans require a later model block with 164 cubic inch displacement and heads that match, ideally 110 HP, no smog heads. These weren't introduced until 1964, so this motor will not work for my conversion.
I thanked "Mr. L" for letting me have a look and promised to stay in touch regarding my adventure. I'm disappointed as it would have been good finding an engine this close to home, but it's not to be this time.
I did learn some things on where to find casting numbers, what else to look for. I also met Mr. L, a real gentleman. I hope my journey leads to more people like him.
(or "finding an engine")
I've decided a Corvair conversion will power my airplane. It truly fits the definition of low cost, reliable and easy to operate and maintain. It is air cooled, comparable in weight to similar engines for it's range of horsepower and has a long track record of reliable service in homebuilding. Even better, the conversion process is a perfect way for me to learn some new skills.
Chevrolet made 1.7 million Corvairs during the 1960s. Although it can be argued that the Corvair automobile in all it's variations were a commercial failure or success, the fact remains that Chevrolet poured millions of dollars into the development of the engine, giving it a very strong block, simple valve-train and phenomenal cooling capacity (it was a rear engine air cooled car after all).
From my research, a decent core suitable for conversion should be about $100 to $150 dollars, depending on the amount of work that needs to be done to clean it up. The majority of the fittings, fan shroud and accessories like the alternator, pulleys, carbs etc. won't be used in the conversion, so those are "worthless" to me, but could be sold if in serviceable condition. The conversion requires a complete rebuild of the block, cam, crank, pistons and heads so it doesn't need to be in running condition.
A few weeks ago, I placed an ad on an internet classified site seeking to purchase a used Corvair motor.
I've already had three people contact me! I didn't think is was going to be too hard to find one, but I didn't think it was going to be this easy either.
Now, one thing about the internet is that in most cases responses to ads come from all over the place. Two of the three are in southern Ontario, about 3 to 4 hours from me, so dropping over on whim to look at something is problematic.
I've made contact with both of them and I know for certain that one of them is exactly the model year of block and heads I'm looking for. The owner even asked if he could guess (correctly) that I'm an aviation guy. He wants $400 dollars, but I know that the engine is already apart and clean. I also suspect he knows this a desirable motor for aviation conversions and is trying to maximize his profit.
The other contact of the two seems very reluctant to tell me much, so I'm not as comfortable driving all that way to see something that may or may not fit, but it might be an option if he can confirm what year car the engine came from. It is still in a car though, obtaining it easily may be a problem.
Probably the most interesting contact so far has been a random e-mail I got from a guy who saw my ad. He gave me the phone number of his father who lives 20 minutes or so from my place (in fact 5 mins from the stable where my daughters horseback ride).
I called the father and he tells me he isn't sure of the model year, but I'm welcome to come have a look. So today when I dropped of the girls at their riding lessons, I drove over to this guys place to have a look.
"Mr. L" as I'll call him is one of those guys who collects "things". His large property is literally a storehouse of old machinery, cars, snow machines and small equipment. But like a lot of people who collect things, he admits to never really getting around to doing anything with them. Unfortunately in most of these cases the collection of "things" usually ends up as junk rotting away.
He walked me back to a corner on his property, and there among some trees, old wheel rims and headlight bezels was a Corvair engine still mated to it's automatic transmission. The motor had obviously been taken right out of the car as the mounts had been cut by torch from the frame.
Now, I should have been smart and taken the information I have on where to find the engine block number stamp and head stamps, but I didn't. Good or bad though, the engine still has all the cooling baffle steel surrounding the cylinders and heads, making it hard to see any stampings. This might be good though as I think this would have protected the block and heads from the elements. I did manage to take a picture of the casting number on the transmission bell housing, maybe I can obtain something about the year from that.
We didn't discuss price because he agreed that not knowing the year prevents me from making an offer. He did agree to let me come back again with some tools, remove a minimum number of shrouds I need to to get at the casting numbers before making a decision. Maybe I'll take a chance and offer him $50 dollars and see if he'll let me take it off his hands as it sits. At minimum, if it isn't the engine suitable for conversion, I can salvage parts and sell them, or maybe sell it for scrap.
Let's go to Google and see if I can find anything from the casting numbers.
As I mention in my previous post, I had firm plans to visit a guy who was selling a project ultralight today. I had a great discussion about my plans with him and he seemed keen on seeing the project go to someone like me looking to get flying and share that with others, especially youth.
Several times I told him that I was interested but wouldn't be able to get down until this weekend. He led me to believe this wouldn't be a problem and to call him later in the week. I thought we had an agreement pending a visit.
I should have realized things weren't going in my favour when he was refusing to return phone calls and e-mails about a meet time once we got to southern Ontario. I never did hear from him even by text message. I did call another number (I assume a home number) that I had for him and was told by a female that he was out of town. When I asked her about coming to see the plane, I was told that the plane was already sold.
Now before anyone says anything, I own some of the responsibility for not placing a deposit or arranging some sort of "hold", but I guess I also made the mistake of taking his word for it.
Several more calls and e-mails have gone unanswered as of this writing. Knowing my interest I would have thought it reasonable to contact me and let me offer a competing bid, or at very least tell me it had been sold so I didn't waste my time coming down to see it.
On the way back north, I stopped to look at another airplane for sale. It is similar to the one I had wanted, and is according to the owner very close to being airworthy.
Accordingly, he has priced it fairly high. Just a cursory look at the airplane (the seller wasn't there) tells me a story of someone who just keeps throwing good money after bad. This leads me to believe that it's overpriced as it sits, and I think he knows it. I'm going to do some research on this particular model and see if I can get it for a much better price.
In the meantime, I'll be over here licking my wounds from the first one - while I continue to look online for something else.
Time until takeoff
Husband, father and 911 dispatcher. Long time pilot with a licence that burns a hole in my pocket where my student loan money used to be. First time aircraft builder. Looking to fly my own airplane.