1939 Wraith Engine Overhaul
Detroit, Michigan

Part V - Final Stretch!


May 28-30, 2008

I worked on a number of loose ends - electrical, radiator, firewall accessories, floor boards, front bumper, heater hoses, etc. Although there are quite a few pieces yet to go, I took the car for a spin around the block accompanied by a horific cloud of blue smoke. Significantly more than with several broken piston rings, which is why I rebuilt the engine in the first place!

There were no emanations from the draft tube: must be a broken or incorrectly installed valve seal.

I pulled all of the spark plugs and found them to be sparkling clean except for #1, which was well on its way to fouling.

A leak down test on cylinder #1 was within the range of several other tested cylinders. 99.9% chance it's a valve seal.

A handful of extra seals from Fiennes should arrive Monday. Todd volunteered to loan me the tools which should make the fix a relatively quick one. (I.e., the offending seal can be replaced with the engine and head in situ.)

May 31, 2008

Time to rewire the headlight stanchions - headlights and horns. Here's one of the Lucas P100 headlamps with a new wire soldered the contact button in the bulb socket.

My car is missing the solenoid dipping mechanism but I wired it so that I could add the solenoids if found or convert to a twin filament setup at some future date.

The stanchions have been attached to the radiator U-bracket.
The generator has been (re)connected with soldered-on flag terminals.

Radiator shell, mascot and rod supports to the firewall have been installed. After the valve seal issue is resolved, the fenders will be permanently affixed.

According to my calculations, I think I have about 12-16 hrs. more work to completion.

June 1, 2008

Didn't get much work of note done on the Wraith today. Instead, fellow RROC Motor Region member Dr. Doug Wolford and I attended the Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It is put on by the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum.

The show is open to most discontinued marques: DeSoto, Hudson, Packard, Pierce-Arrow, or this 1931 Studebaker President State Sedan - you get the idea.


As long as the marque is discontinued in the U.S., it is considered an orphan. Thus, this 1921 Vauxhaul E-type is perfectly eligible.

Those are AMC Pacers in the background and a brace of Triumph TR250's (not TR4A's) to the far left.

June 3, 2008

Todd loaned me his Small HP valve removal tools. The one pictured is threaded into the spark plug socket, turned to support the underside of either valve and then locked in place.

The Rolls (or Bentley) specific valve spring compressor did not fit this very rare head, so I used one of the generic ones that he also supplied.
This is the #1 intake valve with spring and seal removed. The old seal looked fine...

...but I replaced it anyway.

Unfortunately, the car still smokes like crazy.

In an attempt to further understand what's going on, I ran the engine with the rocker cover removed. Clearly, it is flowing way too much oil to the upper valvetrain. This may or may not be the root cause of the smoke, but needs to be rectified in any case.

To accomplish the reduction in flow, a new orifice adapter with a larger restriction (smaller hole) is required.

I'm hoping the revised flow rate will solve the problem. Meanwhile, I installed additional electrical conduits as well as the radiator cross brace.


June 4, 2008

Today I went up to see machinist extraordinaire Bob Archambault in Fenton. He agreed that I am flowing way too much oil and showed me the low flow oiling arrangement on his late Thirties Buick with OHV inline eight cylinder engine.

He made up a new orifice adapter to install on my full flow filter mod to reduce the flow. This new one has a 0.040 hole instead of 0.125 in. At 20 psi, the flow should be sufficient and if not, it's a simple matter to enlarge the hole.

June 5-8, 2008

I installed the new orifice. In addition, I read somewhere that you're supposed to soak the old school (asbestos and tallow) valve seals for at least an hour in light oil prior to installation. This was not done, so I systematically removed each intake seal replacing it with the previous one that had soaked for at least an hour.

It still smokes too much, but to my eye less than before. Of course, this photo is in the shade and the previous was in the sunlight.

In addition, it has become outrageously uncomfortable to work. It's hot and very humid. So why am I busting my hump to finish this car just so I can drive in non-air conditioned discomfort to the National Meet in Williamsburg, Virginia? I drove the Shadow Saturday and her A/C was blasting cold enough to condense moisture around the air outlets in the dash.

Decision made. You will likely be seeing a little less progress in the next few weeks, but I do have a few tests I'd still like to run before I leave on the 21st...

June 10, 2008

Mike Reszka has a shop inside the building where I keep the Silver Shadow in Ypsilanti. When I was there on Sunday, we chatted about my trials and tribulations with the blue smoke. He loaned me a tester to check for the presence of CO2 in the coolant. If the test is positive and the test fluid turns from blue to green, it means I have a leaking head gasket among other things and the head should definitely come off. If negative, it doesn't conclusively disprove anything but moves head gasket issues to a much lower probability.

The previous photo is what the fluid looked like after I conducted the test: no change. This photo is what it looks like when you exhale on the pickup tube and suck it into the tester. Pretty darned sensitive.

Since I couldn't possibly have put all of the pistons in wrong and all of the spark plugs have the same small amount of contamination, it's back to valve seals and valve guides. I'm going to fashion two blanking plugs and completely starve the head of oil and see how that affects the smoking. (Don't worry, the valve train will will have sufficient residual lubrication for the test.)

June 14, 2008

In order to eliminate (or confirm) the head as the source of the oil causing the black smoke, I made two blanking plugs to cut the oil supply entirely.

The plugs, one of which is in the background, are designed to replace the banjo bolts, one of which in the foreground.

Having blanked the supply, the engine still smokes about the same amount.

Now it's time for a careful leak down test with a warm engine.

Leak down measurement
Previous quick and dirty leak down measurement from May 30th
noise through oil filler (leaking past rings)
noise through oil filler (leaking past rings)
noise through oil filler (leaking past rings)

Leak down test at 100 psi through a 0.040 in. orifice. Engine was run until calorstat opened shutters. Cylinders measured at TDC on compression stroke.

The results suggest I should run the car (with oil flow to the head restored) and allow the engine to break in.

photo credit: Richard Vaughan

June 21-26, 2008

The motoring season is upon us. A group of us from the Motor Region RROC made our way to the National Meet in Williamsburg, VA via some truly spectacular state roads in West Virginia.

I was the leader of the caravan, and was thus able to indulge my sweet tooth.

photo credit: Richard Vaughan

Earlier in the day, Pete Kohnken's car failed to proceed in Columbus, OH a block from our luncheon location at home of Motor Region members Pete and Howard.

Here she is (in the foreground) after the brief push into the garage for safe keeping.

We're not 100% sure what's wrong with Pete's car. It developed some horrifying valve clatter which was traced, in part to a loose #2 intake adjustment. After fixing that, the engine backfired damaging the starter motor to the extent that the Bendix will not withdraw.

The West Virginia route was based on a motorcycle trip that I took with friends Pete and Jeff about 10 years ago. This restaurant figured prominently in both treks: best home cooked breakfast anywhere with pie for dessert.

Roy Margenau III and I had coconut cream pie with a meringue piled half way to heaven.

Judging Day in Williamsburg was accompanied by 102 deg F temps and very high humidity.

The attendees were wilting but the motorcars never looked better.

This is a Bentley 4-1/4 Liter with one-of-a-kind Vanden Plas coachwork.

Whilst diving in and out of the shade, I managed to take a few photos of this nicely restored C-series Wraith with Windovers Limousine coachwork.

Very nice indeed.

I thought I had photographed the Inskip-bodied Wraith Town Car parked next to this one but I did not.

Did I mention how hot it was? When the field was hastily released at 2:00PM the cars and the people scattered like cockroaches.

July 3, 2008

The consensus from the Small HP afficinados at the meet is that there is nothing wrong with my Wraith that some hard miles won't cure.

Tim Payne, who was visiting from the UK, put it in the most colorful terms.

"You need to plow some fields with her! If you let the bores glaze, you're... [in trouble.] That glazing is harder than the devil's toenails!"

Back in Michigan now, I am reattaching the bodywork and plan to run her for the rest of the summer and see if the prophecies are true.

In the previous photo, the bonnet has been reunited with car after a long hiatus.

To the left, I am preparing to install new fender welt before reattaching the fenders.

July 11-12, 2008

With the fenders on, the remainder of the engine bay electrics need to be connected. These are the offside connections stripped and ready to have new flag terminals soldered on.

This is the nearside junction box complete and ready to be covered.

The front apron is in place along with the corresponding fender welt. A little fine tuning on the welt is in order.

The fog lamp has found its way back onto the car for the first time since I purchased the car. The bracket, relieved of chromium in a fire, will be replated at a future date to eliminate the gold color.

July 13, 2008

Dave Cunningham and I decided to go for it and drive the Wraith to the Mad Dogs and Englishmen show in Hickory Corners. We took all country roads on the 330 mi. round trip and varied our speed up to 53 mph or less.

Beyond break-in considerations, the other reason for the 53 mph limit was a funny resonance in the drivetrain that might be the slipper flywheel.

I need to figure out what speed this would correspond to in 3rd gear and see if it recurs.

photo credit: Gary Rock

Since all of the engine and transmission mounts have been replaced, it could also be that a preexisting prop shaft vibration is now noticeable.

As long as the the crankshaft is not destroying itself, I will be satisfied.

In other news, I believe I am still overoiling the head as this trip caused about a gallon of oil to dribble past the rear of the rocker cover gasket during this trip. I believe this will resolve what remains of the blue smoke issue.

July 18, 2008

The previously attached foglamp is now wired in and fully operational.

The "loud" and "soft" wires from the horn button were reversed so I fixed that as well.

Time to poke around and see what kind of issues might have accumulated on last Sunday's 330 mi. trip.

To begin the process of checking the head bolt torque, I removed the rocker cover and found small discrete puddles of coolant up and down the length of the head.

Clearly coolant is introducing itself into the oil somewhere. It has to be occurring in or on the head or at the head gasket.

The coolant might be coming past some of the copper tubes that are pressed in the head and form a passage for the head studs to anchor to the crankcase.

It wasn't leaking before!

Perhaps the cooling system is over-pressurizing? There was quite a coolant puddle on the floor the day after the trip.

Steam valve body EW1890, is a design shared with the Early Post-war cars and should operate at 4 psi. From this drawing it would certainly appear that it would fail shut.

July 19, 2008

This is the location of the the steam valve...

...and these are the contents. After finding this check ball rather than the pintle valve shown in the drawing, a further records search revealed that this 0.437 phosphor bronze ball is indeed correct.

The check ball rolled freely from its seat. Over-pressurization is not likely.

In other collectable car news, I spent the remainder of the day at a Buick show at the Sloan Museum in Flint, Michigan. Flint was the home for Buick manufacturing for 81 years.

The car show was followed by an after-party at my friends' Mike and Tom. They have a rather elaborate home that once belonged to Buick's president in the Twenties.

This is not the same side of Flint you learn about in Michael Moore's Roger and Me.

It rained buckets but we had fun anyway!

July 20, 2008

Back to the coolant issue: an oil and filter change revealed no egregious amounts of coolant in the oil; emulsified or otherwise.

As one might expect with a new head gasket, about 30% of the nuts on the head needed to be retorqued at least 1/3 of a turn. Since the washers under the nuts are a slip fit, it may be that the head always had a latent minor leak in one of the copper tubes, but with the head properly torqued it did not manifest itself. I will keep my eye on it.

Photo credit: Garry Campbell

July 26, 2008

Today was the RROC Motor Region Annual Picnic and Judging Event. Through a fortuitous confluence of events and a compassionate judging committee, the Wraith won the Pfeifer Award: Best of the Best.

After a 30 mile roundtrip to this event, I can pronounce the Wraith completely smoke free! The combination of the break-in cruise to Hickory Corners two weeks ago plus changing the restrictor from 0.040 to 0.030 completely solved the issue.

Photo credit: Garry Campbell

In the foreground we have two virtually identical (and rare) Hooper-bodied Silver Clouds. Immediately behind is Pete Kohnken's 1957 Silver Cloud Saloon that had issues in Columbus, OH on the way to Williamsburg, VA.

Pete found a tired valve spring on cylinder #5 that allowed the collet to free itself which led to a dropped valve.

Dan Docherty brought his vibration damper tools for me to borrow. Road testing this week revealed that the Wraith exhibits a 2500 rpm resonance in all gears. The damper will have to come out.

August 10, 2008

Today I drained the oil and coolant and then removed the oil line to the relief valves and lower radiator hose; followed by the fan assembly, fan pulley, front engine mount "A-frame" and front engine cover.

The front engine cover has over a dozen 1/4-BSF nuts and a few bolts holding it in place. Removing all of them with the engine in place is a bit of a pain.

As you can see, once the cover's off, there's another two dozen fasteners and locking tab washers to remove.

This was enough work for one Sunday. The castellated nut that holds the back half of the damper in place was addressed with Dan's vibration damper tool mentioned a few frames above. Next step is to get a gear puller in there to pull the rest of the assembly off of the crankshaft taper.

There was no coolant found in the oil and no little drops of coolant were found on the head since the head was re-torqued ~150 miles ago. The coolant looks pristine and the engine continues not smoking!

August 11, 2008

To remove the rear half of the vibration damper:

(1) Attach a gear puller along with a small piece of steel sheet to protect the crankshaft nose as shown and crank it down as tight as you dare.

(2) Eat left over Chinese food and watch a Tivo'd episode of "Mad Men"

(3) Re-tighten the gear puller and tap the periphery of the damper with a rubber mallet. Eventually you will hear muffled pop. Continue to tighten until the damper is free from the taper keyway.


Reassembly and test (minus the torsion springs) will commence tomorrow evening.

August 18, 2008

With the torsion springs removed, the damper slips at 12 lbs. (no change) using the prescribed 17-1/2 inch bar. It does seem to be a bit sticky. I used Fiennes polypropylene disks which have a tendency to do this.

I would have liked to have tried an alternative material such as Hoerbiger HO-21, but I could not locate any quickly - the car needs to be ready and debugged for September. I will up the poundage using these 0.040 shims custom made by Bob Archambault.

It turns out the 11-12 lb. spec I originally used back in December was superceded by a revised spec of 13-15 lbs. (This factoid is is spelled out on the GA drawing of the damper.) The 0.040 inch shim thickness is a calculated value intended to get the poundage reading from 12 up to 15.

The good news is that the characteristics of the vibration I experienced on the road is most probably to the low poundage setting.

With the poundage bar and spring scales attached, the new reading came to 14.5 - not bad!

With the testing out of the way, the damper is once again disassembled and the torsion springs reinstalled.

August 20, 2008

In the office, we had a lunchtime expedition to the industrial clothing store in Lincoln Park. I purchased a shop coat replete with "Jon" emblazoned on the left breast.

This will come in handy and if not, at least the dog likes it.

August 23-24, 2008

Marking the nose of the crankshaft with an alignment mark is helpful when trying to press the damper back on to the taper. It is a very tight fit over the keyways and I need all of the help that I can get.

After some mild coercion with a small rubber mallet, the damper slid far enough onto the keyway to expose the threads. The castellated nut could then be employed to bring it home.

Thanks to Gary Phipps (NM) for sanity checking my progress on the damper. Initially it refused to go on, turns out I just needed to whack it with the rubber mallet about 10% harder!

With the damper cover in place (not shown), all all of the pressure springs, shims, screws and locking tab washers are ready to be installed.

The rest of the damper is assembled, the cover back in place and the top of the engine mount "A frame" secure. All that's left is to fasten the "A-frame" to the chassis, install the fan assembly and reconnect some oil and water plumbing.

Getting the eight bolts attached to the "A-frame" is problematic. I have six of them in, the other two are resisting because the holes of the frame and chassis are not quite lined up and there is very little clearance between bolt and hole. I may have to make a "special tool".

Mobile phone photo credit: Kelly McLinden (née Waples)

It may be that obsessive compulsive car behavior runs in my family. My Dad (l) has been laboring away on a late Forties Kurtis Kraft sprint car and finally got it finished to the extent that he could do a shakedown run this weekend at Thompson Speedway in Connecticut.

Early reports indicate that he blew a bunch of fuses and had some cooling system issues but nevertheless was grinning ear to ear.

August 29-30, 2008

The rest of the engine mount bolts are attached, the fan assembly is on and the engine runs. The photo verifies I have the same valve timing as before: intake valve is open 0.025 when the flywheel timing pointer is 1/4-inch ahead of "IO" mark.

Drive test is disappointing. The noise is still there at 2500 rpm. Is it the fan? I'm going to disconnect the belt and see what happens.

Sept. 12-14, 2008

I have decided to postpone any further exploratory surgeries until I get some more miles on the car and query a few techno-luminaries to render an opinion on the RROC Fall Tour next week.

As a shakedown for that trip, the Wraith made her way to the LCCI Michiana Dunes Show in Douglas, Michigan which is about 190 miles from Detroit.

The remnants of Hurricane Ike made their presence felt. We received 4-5 in. of rain!

Between rain drops, we took some photos at Oval Beach. The operational readiness report is mixed:

  • Failed wiper motor
  • Flooded driving compartment
  • Flooded luggage compartment
  • Leaking valve stem on left rear innertube
  • Loose tailpipe
  • Shorted brake light circuit
  • Bulletproof ignition system unaffected by monsoon rains
  • 15.0 mpg (US)

Sept. 21-27, 2008

I fixed the tailpipe (or thought I did) had a new innertube installed in the left rear and dried out the inside of the car and headed for the north as part of the Rolls-Royce Owners' Club Fall Color Tour.

Since the damper is still misbehaving, I kept it under 53 mph which was not a real hardship on the network of secondary roads that we took.

Here's four of the 40+ cars filling up in Glen Arbor. That's Andrew Dunn (CA) in the Arnage and Jim Tamblyn (MI) in the Silver Spirit.

Prior to dinner on the 22nd, Hagerty Insurance sponsored a lovely beach party for us at The Homestead. The weather was amazingly cooperative for the entire trip with cloudless skies and 70 degree temperatures every day.

A few techno-luminaries had the opportunity to drive my car and came to the collective conclusion that the vibration is due to the vibration damper and that I should change the friction material to Texon T-411. We went so far as to remove the fan assembly to verify that the vibration was not coming from a fan bearing.

There are more than a few minor things to fix as a result of this ~900 mile excursion. But, she did hold together, always started on the first try, didn't smoke even a little bit and never missed a beat.

As far as big jobs go, there are two: rebuild the damper again and drop the sump to get the bung on the crankshaft nose to seal. The latter issue was not detected during the bug sprayer pressure test. The leak is not affecting the system oil pressure, but it is slinging oil all over the engine compartment.

There will be a pause in activity and we shall resume in a few months.

November 30 - December 7, 2009

In order to move the Wraith from Sherbourne Mews to her winter storage location, the one thing I wanted to address was the leak that developed in the exhaust system. The vibration damper can wait until Spring.

Root cause for the leak was a slightly misaligned manifold which in turn led to the gasket burning through at the side of the head.

In the process of replacing the gaskets and retightening everything, one of the exhaust manifold studs pulled away from the head causing a coolant leak in the process.

A previous custodian did not seem to understand that you cannot run a 1/4-28 UNF stud into a hole tapped for 1/4-26 BSF and expect it to hold.

The solution was to drill and tap the hole for a Helicoil, replace the stud and seal it with Loctite 567, an anaerobic high temperature pipe sealant.

April 5, 2009

The vibration damper has been removed once again. You may recall it was still acting up and allowing the natural resonant frequency of the crankshaft to sing through when engine rpm reaches 2500.

With new friction disks installed over the weekend, the feel and poundage were identical as installed with the old friction disks - no reason to expect this to act any differently if it were run on the engine. Time to move on and try something else.


This is the center section mounted to a new mandrel Bob Archambault and his son Jeff made for me.

Alternate shiny and dull areas give us a hint that perhaps the friction disks are not uniformly sliding against the plates.

For starters, the quality of the surface finish needs to be improved upon.

To address the finish, front and rear plates are chucked in the lathe and turned with a block of emery cloth.

The perpendicularity of the rear plate to its axis of rotation was +/- 0.001 in measured near the outer edge.

The perpendicularity of the front plate is immaterial because it is held flat to the friction disk with springs.

This photo shows the rear section chucked in the lathe as a holder for the front plate.

The center section a little more problematic. Whereas the hub face is perpendicular to its axis of rotation, the plate itself varies by .011 as it is rotated around its axis.

There may be enough meat on this section to turn it down so that it is true and still meet the minimum thickness spec. At least I won't have to spend a half hour polishing it.

If it cannot be turned down, I most likely have to find a secondhand one or have one made.

Stay tuned!

Damper Item
Rolls-Royce Specification (in.)
Measurements (in.)
Pressed Plate
0.145 min.
0.1707 +/- 0.0017
Centre Friction Flange
0.062 min.
0.1278 +/- 0.0002
Rear Damper Face (depth)
0.465 max.
0.329 +/- 0.001

April 7, 2009

There's plenty of meat left on each piece, particularly the center flange which needs to loose at least 0.011 on each side in order to restore the perpendicularity of each face to the axis of rotation.


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