Text and photos by Jeff Smith
Has your goal for seeking enlightenment and personal development followed the path of building high performance cars? Is your self-worth tied directly to the amount of horsepower produced by your last engine? If so, you’ve come to the right place. We’re just like you – gearheads that have been enlightened, flogged and psychologically scarred forever by the blessing/curse that is high performance cars. We’ve assembled a list of self-help ideas. No, they’re not those cheesy inspirational messages superimposed over photos of wind-blown Mount Everest. Ours are far more practical and useful while you are practicing your own automotive art – we’re talking the real definition of performance art! Those monkeys balancing 87 spinning dinner plates on sticks have nothing on a guy who can make a Big Block Chevy scream to 7,000 RPM! That’s true performance art.
After years of watching guys bleed over their cars, we’ve picked up a few tips, tricks and shortcuts that we’re passing along to help you on your next adventure. None of these ideas are new and perhaps you’ve seen a few of them before. But even if there’s only one or two that you didn’t know that will help you on your next wrenching exercise, then it’s worth the effort. (Insert cheesy inspirational message here – like “Success Starts with That First Step”… ugh) Hopefully we’ve offered a few ideas you’ve never seen before. And if one strikes you as downright useful – then our work here is done. Hey, Tony Robbins – better watch your back!
1. Stainless Steel Band Clamps
Exhaust system connections are often troublesome. What everybody wants is a connection that can be easily disassembled, takes up very little space and doesn’t leak. The classic three-bolt header flange has proven to be less than reliable and many header companies have moved to the ball flange connection that is far more robust. But our nod for the best leak-free seal has to go to the stainless steel band clamp. This device has found great favor in the turbocharger market and the demand has recently driven the price of these connectors down. This connection does require welding flanges to the pipe ends but the clamp’s overall diameter is barely larger than the pipe itself, which offers additional clearance so the pipes can be tucked up even tighter to the floor. The less expensive versions use a stainless outer clamp but ferrous steel rather than stainless flanges. These will eventually corrode, but a quick cleanup with steel wool or sandpaper will generally offer a leak-free seal. Afco and others offer both styles and can be purchased for under $50 each. Disassembly is quick and easy, which means no more messing with clumsy gaskets and three-bolt flanges.
2. Compression Lessons
Most production Small Block Chevys suffer from a common malady where the piston sits 0.025 to 0.030-inch below the deck surface. Add a 0.042-inch thick composition gasket to this assembled height and the piston-to-head clearance jumps to a horrendous 0.065-inch or more. The best way to establish a proper piston-to-head clearance of roughly 0.035 to 0.040-inch is to machine the block. But a simple head gasket swap can often get the engine builder very close. Fel-Pro offers a 0.015-inch rubber-coated head gasket (PN1094, $22.97 ea., Summit Racing) that brings the head closer to the deck surface. This not only improves the static compression by a rough half point compared to a 0.042-inch thick gasket but also dramatically improves the quench clearance to help combustion efficiency. The gasket is simply a coated stamped steel shim gasket so its best used with iron heads rather than aluminum, but the advantage is it will improve power slightly with more compression over a composition gasket. The only concern is piston-to-head clearance if your engine has a tight deck height of under 0.25-inch as this thinner gasket will place the head closer to the piston. A safe piston-to-head clearance is 0.040 inch.
3. Debunking the Power Valve Rich Idle Myth
This annoying wives’ tale has been around for decades. Forum comments continue to perpetuate the myth that using a high-vacuum rated power valve will open at idle and create an overly rich idle mixture. This myth has its origins in the truth that a ruptured power valve diaphragm will leak fuel into the carburetor’s main body cavity, where it will be drawn into the intake manifold at idle and cause a very rich idle. This is true, which leads many to the erroneous assumption that a sealed-but-open power valve would do the same thing.
As an example, let’s use a 9.0 Hg (nine inches of engine vacuum in inches of mercury)-rated Holley power valve in an engine that has a long-duration camshaft that idles at 8.5 inches when the automatic transmission is dropped into gear. Because the engine vacuum is lower than the power valve rating, the myth says this will dump fuel into the engine. The problem with this idea is that the power valve enrichment channel is tied into the main metering circuit that delivers fuel only through the boosters. The only time fuel is delivered through the boosters is when the throttle blades are opened beyond off-idle. At idle, the main metering circuit is disabled and flows no fuel because there is insufficient velocity. So if the power valve opens at idle – nothing happens because there is no fuel flowing through the main metering circuit. A higher-rated power valve will introduce fuel just past off-idle in the primary side which will certainly hurt fuel mileage and drivability at part throttle so it’s better to use a power valve that is rated at a lower manifold vacuum of 6.5 or lower. The ideal power valve can really only be determined by test driving the vehicle, but a 6.5 valve is a popular place to start. The rating is stamped into the valve in the small area surrounding the diaphragm. A 6 followed by a 5 will be a 6.5 Hg-rated valve.
4. Simple and Elegant Manual Transmission Install Pins
Stuffing in a heavy manual transmission like a T-56 that weighs in at well over 130 pounds is a much tougher proposition than doing the bench press on a lightweight T-5 or Muncie transmission. One little tip that will help line up the input shaft to the clutch and prevent tweaking the clutch disc out of place is to use a simple pair of alignment pins. We cut the heads off a pair of 1/2 x 13 bolts roughly four inches long to make them into simple studs. Screw these studs into the two top trans bolt holes in the bellhousing and you’re all set. The studs will keep the transmission aligned with the pilot bushing and take most of the transmission weight off the input shaft as it is slid into place.
As a second little tip, if the trans stops just short of fully seating in the bellhousing, don’t try to pull the trans tight to the bellhousing with the bolts. This is a great way to break the ear off the transmission case. Instead, connect the clutch linkage and have a friend lightly release the clutch pedal. As the load on the clutch disc is released, this will allow the clutch disc to move slightly for a perfect alignment and a simple push on the transmission will seat it easily.
5. Budget Electrical Distribution Block
With all the aftermarket electrical devices now available for older cars like electric fans, EFI, electric fuel pumps and ignition systems, there is a need for multiple battery and switched power distribution points. Most of the aftermarket wiring companies sell these distribution blocks, but when you need two or three at $25 to $40 each, it gets expensive. We took a walk through the junkyard and found this elegant little two-pin power block on all late ’80s and early ’90s S-10, S-15 Blazer and Jimmy trucks and SUVs. We pulled these off, cleaned them up and even retained the metal blade that ties both studs together. They’re easy to locate and we paid less than $1 apiece for them.
6. A Simple Way to Find a Key-Off Battery Discharge
Old cars are excellent at finding new and innovative ways to be annoying. One of the most common electrical problems is killing the battery when the car is stored for even a short period of time. The simplest way to identify this key-off current draw is by removing a battery cable and placing a volt meter in between the battery and the cable. This can be accomplished on either the ground or the positive cable – it doesn’t matter. The higher the voltage indicated on the meter, the greater the amperage draw. The next step is to remove fuses one at a time until the voltage disappears. This technique works, but forces you to walk between the voltmeter and the fuse box every time you disconnect a new circuit. We learned this trick from electrical technician Mark Hamilton, owner of M.A.D. Enterprises. He connects a seat belt buzzer out of an older car between the battery and the cable. The current energizes the buzzer. Now you just listen for the buzzer to stop when you’ve disconnected the proper circuit. We used this trick recently to find a current draw in our ’64 Olds F-85 that was draining the battery. It turned out to be the dome light circuit. This buzzer trick will only work on circuits pulling roughly one amp or more.
7. Spherical Bearing Throttle Linkage
Muscle cars from the ’60s and nearly all old cars use a solid rod linkage to actuate the throttle. With an aftermarket intake manifold or carburetor, this may require a different length rod. We like to use a length of ¼-inch aluminum rod, thread both ends and use two female ¼-inch spherical bearings to make a trick-looking throttle linkage. Use this with a ¼-inch stainless ARP bolt to make the connection to the carburetor or linkage arm using nyloc nuts, which will prevent the nut from loosening. The spherical bearings can often be found at hardware stores like Osh and cost about $5.00 to $6.00 apiece.
8. Modern Engine Oil Pump Mounting
Modern engines like the GM LS and Chrysler Hemi employ a crank-driven oil pump. The oil pumps mount over the front crank snout and use a hub with external splines that drives the pump. The OEs offer a very expensive tool designed to align the oil pump over the spline drive, but we learned a simple trick from engine builder Kenny Duttweiler that is much easier and cheaper. Place the spline drive over the crank snout and attach the oil pump to the front of the engine with the four bolts but only cinch these bolts lightly – enough to keep the pump in place but light enough to allow it to move. Then turn the engine over several times with a breaker bar or other tool. As the crank turns, it will gently align the oil pump over the spline drive. Then all you have to do is torque the oil pump bolts in place and the job is complete. No special tools needed. We wanted to test this idea, so we pulled the cover off the pump and measured the clearance between the pump gears and the pump body with feeler gauges. We had a consistent clearance, so the pump was centered.
9. How to Pull that Crank Gear
Big Block and Small Block Chevys press the crank gear on the crank. The simple install method is to use a 4- to 6-inch length of thick-wall aluminum tubing and drive the gear on with a hammer. But removing the gear can be a challenge. We found this excellent puller called the Posi-Lock three-jaw puller that really works well. You can find it at most tool stores or on Amazon. You will probably find at least six more uses for this puller. If you do, tell us about it!
10. ORB Fittings and Seals
What’s an ORB fitting? The initials stand for o-ring boss and these fittings have become almost standard fare in high-capacity fuel pumps and fuel regulators. These fittings use straight-cut threads, not tapered pipe thread and seal liquids with an o-ring. What many car builders don’t know is that these threads are the same as standard male AN fittings. Let’s say you’re in a hurry to assemble your new fuel pump and need a -8 ORB fitting to fit into the pump with a -8 male on the other end, but you don’t have a dedicated ORB fitting. Substitute a -8 male to -8 male flare union and place an o-ring over one end to seal it to the pump. This might reduce the flow slightly compared to a proper -8 ORB fitting, but it will suffice until the proper ORB fitting can be found. Also, common o-rings are generally made of neoprene, which are acceptable but they can be affected by pump gas additives and have been known to not have an extended life span. Look for Viton material o-rings – these last the longest and are not affected by fuels and additives. Both Earl’s and Aeromotive offer Viton rubber o-rings in the popular sizes.
11. Fender Cover Fixation
Are fender covers that don’t stay in place as aggravating to you as they are to us? We’ve seen people glue magnets to the inside of the cover to help them stay in place, but try this simple fix first. Liberate a large office binder clip from a stack of papers and use it to affix your fender cover. The best part about this idea is it takes zero fabrication work and magnets don’t stick well to fiberglass, but a binder clip will work on any material.
12. How to Set Valve Lash on Any Engine
You’ve no doubt seen plenty of ideas on how to set valve lash. Most suggestions require you to memorize or have access to engine firing orders. But there’s a classic, better idea. Just remember four words in this order – Exhaust Open – Intake Close – or EO-IC. If you turn any four-stroke engine over by hand with the valve covers removed, you will notice that the exhaust valve begins to open first. At this point, the intake valve is on its base circle. So you set that cylinder’s intake valve lash or hydraulic preload. Then continue to turn the engine over until the intake valve is roughly halfway down the closing side of its lift curve. This places the exhaust lobe on its base circle and you can then set lash or preload. Once you’ve completed that cylinder you can move on to the next. We like to start at the front of the engine and run down one side doing each cylinder before moving on to the next. This way, we don’t miss any valves. This does require turning the engine over multiple times – it will take an average of perhaps five to seven minutes to do a complete engine. The advantage of doing it this way is you can perform this technique on any four-stroke engine at any time. You don’t need to know the firing order or even who makes the engine. All you need to remember is EO-IC. And if you forget, watch the engine when it turns over – it will remind you because the exhaust opens first – EO and the intake closes after – IC.
13. Measuring Rod Side Clearance – the Right Way
We learned this technique from an old engine builder who watched us slip a feeler gauge in between a pair of rods. He said “You’re doing that wrong. You gotta use two feeler gauges if you’re going to do that right.” We long ago learned to always listen to our elders and he was right. A pair of feeler gauges does not cock the rods to one side and you’ll generally see a slightly tighter clearance when using two feeler gauges rather than one. You also may have heard that tighter rod side clearance will help reduce oil windage, but that’s not really true. The gallons of oil per minute that escapes past the rods is determined by the bearing clearance, oil viscosity and oil temperature – not by the rod side clearance. So larger clearances are acceptable – and a bit safer than tight clearances.
14. Distributor Rotation
Quick – without thinking about it or referring to a book or the internet – which direction does your distributor turn? Clockwise or counterclockwise? When this question comes up – here’s a quick way to know the answer without spinning the engine over. The key is the distributor needs to have a vacuum advance canister. Line your hand over the canister and then curl your fingers around the cap. You fingers will indicate the direction of rotation. It’s that simple. The vacuum advance can pulls the point plate in the opposite direction to advance the timing, so the vacuum canister will always pull against rotation. You can use this at bench racing sessions – and maybe win a free cold one from your friends in a friendly bet.
15. Estimate HP like a Pro
Here’s where you can look like a real professional engine builder and impress all your friends. We learned this technique from Steve Brule, the dyno operator at Westech Performance Group. They do much of the engine dyno testing for the magazines and Steve has first-hand experience with hundreds of performance engines.
First – this system works best and is most accurate on engines with 10:1 to 11:1 compression ratios and good flowing cylinder heads. With some experience you can modify the parameters if you like to get closer based on previous experience. The system is pretty simple. Start by multiplying the engine’s displacement by 1.25. Let’s use an example of a 404c.i. LS engine we built a few years ago. Multiplying 404c.i. by 1.25 = 505. This is the torque that we estimate the engine will make. Then, through experience, Steve noticed that most engines lose about ten percent of their torque at peak horsepower. So we will multiply that 505 lb-ft of torque number by 0.9 to come up with 454.5. This is our torque number at peak horsepower. Now all we have to do is estimate the RPM where peak horsepower will occur. Generally, this will be 1,200 to 1,600 RPM above where peak torque occurs. An average number is 1,500 RPM. So if peak torque occurred at 4,500 RPM, then peak horsepower will happen right around 6,000 RPM. We knew our 404c.i. LS engine had a big cam, so we guessed 6,300 RPM for peak horsepower. The formula that all good gearheads should already have memorized or have had it tattooed on their chest is HP = TQ x RPM / 5,252. So using this formula:
HP = 454.5 x 6,300 / 5,252
HP = 545
When we dyno tested our engine, the 404 actually made 516 lb-ft of torque (we estimated 505) and 550 HP at 6,400 – so we were off by 5 HP and 100 RPM. When we dialed 6,400 RPM into the equation, our peak horsepower number climbed to 554 HP. So you can see that this equation does work. We will admit that we picked this engine because the numbers came very close. So to be fair, we’ll try it again.
Our second test of the equation is with a 496c.i. Big Block Chevy with good heads and 10.25:1 compression. So multiplying 496 x 1.25 = 620. Then the next step is 620 x 0.9 = 558. We had a big cam in that engine too, so we guessed 6,400 RPM for a peak horsepower point, so 558 x 6,400 / 5,252 = 680 HP. Our real numbers were quite a bit different here with a lower peak torque of 603 lb-ft at 5,200 but a higher peak horsepower of 707 HP at 6,400 RPM. Our 496 actually made only 1.21 lb-ft per cubic inch. So our equation isn’t always accurate. But it’s usually a lot more accurate than a WAG — defined as a Wild A** Guess!
16. A Simple Rocker Arm Fix
When building a street engine like a Small Block or Big Block Chevy, not everybody uses roller rocker arms. Often, those simple stamped steel rocker arms will work just fine. The first suggestion is that if you have a combination of new and old rockers, put the old rockers on the exhaust valves and the new ones on the intakes. The old rockers are already broken in and will generate less heat. Since the exhaust valve always runs hotter than the intake, it makes sense to put the new rockers on the cooler valve. Then before installing the rockers, take a few moments and use a die grinder or Dremel tool and a sanding roll to remove the sharp edge created in the pushrod hole cup when the oiling hole was drilled. This sharp edge can be the site for a stress crack that will break the rocker arm and allow the pushrod to punch through the pushrod cup. We’ve seen this happen quite frequently. By removing the sharp edge and polishing this hole, this reduces the chance the pushrod will punch a hole in the pushrod cup.
17. Adjustable Guideplates
Pushrod guideplates do more than just keep those pushrods aligned. Guideplates actually position the rocker arm over the valve. Factory Big Block Chevy guideplates do this job very well. But aftermarket cylinder head manufacturers have learned that changing valve angles will often result in better flow. Big Block Chevys place their valves at a compound angle and this is where the problem lies. By subtly changing these valve positions, a stock fixed big-block guildeplate does not always place the rocker arm directly over the valve stem. This is not good for many reasons. The old-school fix was to cut the guideplate apart, move it into the proper position and then weld it together again. This process is time consuming so several companies including COMP, Dart and others now make an adjustable guideplate using a through bolt and nut that allow you to position the valves in their correct orientation and then merely tighten the bolt to maintain that position. COMP’s big-block guideplates are PN 4811-8 and come in a package of eight. There are similar guideplates now for Small Block Chevys and Fords that slide apart to do the same job.
18. Smack That Retainer
While we’re on the subject of valve trains, here’s another simple tip that may help the entry-level guy. Any time you have to remove a valve spring retainer, place an old wrist pin over the retainer and give it a whack with a brass or nylon hammer first before using a valve spring tool. Retainer locks do a great job of sticking to the retainer and often require a mild whack of a hammer to knock them loose. The wrist pin applies force around the entire circumference of the retainer. Use just enough force to dislodge the locks. We’ve seen guys hit the retainer too hard and the locks actually come loose and fly out! You don’t want to be that guy.
19. Voltage Drop Test
Electrical issues are some of the most difficult and challenging aspects of high performance cars. The difficult part is identifying the problem. Let’s use the example of an engine that cranks over very slowly. The quick assumption would be either the battery is discharged or the starter is bad. But rather than guess, let’s start with some simple tests. Let’s say that the starter is relatively new and the battery is fully charged. We’ll perform a voltage drop test to measure the resistance in the circuit. The test is easy. Using a pair of leads from a voltmeter, connect the negative test lead to the positive battery cable end at the starter solenoid and the positive lead to the positive battery post. Disable the ignition so the engine will not start and have a friend crank the starter motor. The voltmeter will indicate a small amount of voltage during cranking. The higher the voltage reading, the greater the amount of resistance in the cable. Generally, you would like to see only about 0.50-volt for either the positive or negative cables. If the voltmeter reads 0.75 or more, the cables or the connections have high resistance, reducing the amount of current that can pass through the cables.
A quickie test if you don’t have access to a voltmeter is to feel both the cables. If after cranking one feels warm or hot while the other is cold, you know which one is bad. Heat is the result of high resistance when the current cannot pass through the cable. This test to measure resistance in a circuit will work with any electrical device like alternators, fuel pumps and electric fans for example. For alternators, with the engine running, measure the voltage at the alternator’s output terminal and then measure the voltage at the battery. If the voltage at the battery is more than 0.50-volt lower than the alternator, then there is excessive resistance in the power charging circuit and you should fix the problem. Voltage drop values will change based on the amount of current flow, but for most high-amperage circuits, 0.50-volt is a good number.
20. Cutting Aluminum
Aluminum is the go-to material for making little brackets and mounts and stuff for street and race cars. However, cutting soft aluminum often causes fine-tooth saw blades to load up with aluminum, rendering them inoperable. But if you hit the saw blade with a shot of WD-40 or similar penetrant, the liquid tends to prevent the saw blade from loading up. Coat the blade occasionally and you can cut long sheets of aluminum with a fine-tooth Skilsaw so you don’t have to change blades all the time. It works!
21. Cam First
When assembling a new engine, always install the cam first. Do this before the crank, rods and pistons are installed. The reason is that with new cam bearings, we’ve had issues with tight bearings that won’t allow the new camshaft to slide in place. There are shortcuts to fit these bearings, but the best procedure is to install a new bearing. This is much easier with most engines if the block is not crowded with a crank, rods and pistons. So at least test fit the new cam first. It might save you some grief. And in true Murphy’s Law tradition, you will never have a problem until that one time you don’t test fit the cam.
22. Stuck Rusted Bolt Fix
Remember we told you that we’ve learned many of these tricks from the masters? We were on a tour of Racing Head Service when Ivars Smiltnieks showed us this incredibly easy little trick. They were tearing down a used Small Block Chevy with a rusted stuck block drain plug. Often, the only way to remove these plugs is to drill them out and retap the hole. Ivars used an oxy-acetylene torch (which makes more heat than propane), and heated the area but not cherry red. He then melted plain old candle wax into the thread area around the rusted plug. He allowed it to cool slightly and the plug came right out. This doesn’t always work, but it will more times than not. The candle wax acts like a lubricant between the bolt and the block and allows you to remove it without destroying the bolt or the threads.
23. How to Set Pushrod Length the Easy Way
Establishing the correct pushrod length is an important step in building a performance engine. You will need to at least check pushrod length when you change cams since the base circle diameter can change enough that a new set of pushrods is required. The procedure is actually very easy. All you will need is a pushrod length checking tool from COMP Cams and a black Sharpie marker. Rotate the engine over until Number One intake lobe is on the base circle. This is where the lifter is sitting at its lowest position. Clean the end of the valve and mark it with the Sharpie. Next, install the pushrod and then the rocker arm. You won’t need the poly lock. Now wiggle the rocker arm over the valve stem tip to make a witness mark. Remove the rocker and find the witness mark. The mark should be roughly 1/3 in from the inboard side of the valve tip if the pushrod length is correct. If the pushrod is too short, the mark will be very close to the inboard side. If the pushrod is too long, the mark will be near or past the center of the valve – as shown in this photo. Using the adjustable COMP pushrod checking tool, adjust its length until the witness mark is in the correct position and then count the number of revolutions the pushrod has been lengthened. This will tell you the correct length pushrod you need. For splayed valve heads, you will need to do this for both the intake and exhaust sides to establish proper pushrod lengths.
24. How to Tighten a Poly Lock the Right Way
We’ve seen this many times where a relatively new engine suddenly begins to clatter and run rough. An under-the-valve-cover investigation reveals a loose rocker arm and the poly lock has mysteriously backed off. Some think you have to lock the poly lock by attempting to lean on the locking Allen screw but this either results in a worn Allen wrench connection or a rocker that comes loose. The best way is to establish where the poly lock should be located for either lash or lifter preload. Then back off the poly lock roughly 1/16th of a turn and snug the Allen nut to the top of the rocker stud. Next, using your large wrench on the poly lock, tighten the poly lock against the Allen screw. This secures the Allen screw lock against the rocker stud with more force than can be generated by the small Allen wrench. Once you’ve done this a few times, you will have a feel for how much to back off the poly lock to get the desired results. It’s simple and it works every time.
25. Budget Aluminum Radiator
Aluminum radiators have quickly become a staple in high performance street cars. The only problem is that they’re often very expensive. A direct-fit aluminum radiator from any of the large companies can cost upwards of $500 or more just for the radiator. We came up with a better, if not exactly unique, idea. Perusing the mail-order catalogs, we discovered generic aluminum racing radiators that were substantially less expensive and looked otherwise to be the same as a two-row aluminum direct fit model. The first key is to find a radiator with the same core dimensions. The core is the actual finned portion of the radiator. Original factory radiators were vertical-flow with the tanks on top and bottom, but all universal radiators are now a cross-flow design where the tanks are on the side. Therefore the first thing we have to do is measure the original tank core and look for a similar core size in the universal radiators. For our Chevelle, we found that the typical Chevelle radiator core dimension is 22 w x 18 h. We then found a universal radiator from Summit Racing with similar core dimensions and it was only $189.97.
Our next move was to create four right-angle L-brackets that can be welded to the side tanks. We drilled holes to mount the L-brackets to the core support and then adjusted the brackets until everything lined up. With the brackets marked in several places, we took our tank and brackets to a local welding shop and had them Tig welded. The total cost for everything came to less than $300 for the aluminum brackets and the welding, so we saved at least $150. And if your car uses upper and lower rubber saddle brackets, this can make the installation even easier.
26. Quickie Spark Plug Looms
Sometimes a simple fix to solve an immediate problem can be used as a permanent fix. A long time ago, a friend showed us how to make a simple and effective spark plug wire loom using four small black zip ties. The photo shows how to first place one zip tie loosely around all four wires, then place one zip tie in between each of the wires and around the longer tie. Place all the zip tie connections on the bottom side of the loom and then tighten them all up and snip off the loose ends. Instantly you have a permanent wire loom. Of course, this isn’t great when used close to the headers since the plastic wire ties will almost instantly melt. But it will work in a pinch and you can’t beat the cost. If you’re looking for a more finished look, the other loom in the photo comes from Made-4-U.
27. Cutting Stainless Hose
If you have experience with rubber-lined stainless hose, then you know the accepted procedure is to wrap the hose with black electrical tape and use a fine-tooth hack saw. Have you ever done this? Often, we end up butchering the hose with stray strands of wire. A quicker, easier way to cut this hose is to use a sharp, cold chisel that’s wider than the hose, a soft metal base (ours is an aluminum plate) and a big hammer. Center the chisel over the hose and hit the chisel as hard as you can to do a clean, quick cut. This will tend to flatten the hose a little, but you can usually bend it back into shape with little trouble.
28. Charging Tips for Optima Batteries
Optima and similar batteries are designed as absorbed glass mat (AGM) construction. This means instead of a reservoir of lead plates surrounded by liquid hydrochloric acid called “flooded lead-acid batteries,” AGM batteries use a very thin acid-impregnated mat that does a superior job of coating the lead plates. Beyond avoiding the possibility of spilling acid, these batteries tend to operate a little differently. For example, the fully charged voltage for an Optima or other AGM battery is 13.18 volts compared to 12.83 volts for a flooded lead-acid battery. If an AGM battery displays 12.6 volts, it is only 70 percent charged. A fully discharged Optima will still display 11.27 volts.
Even more distressing is that many old-style battery chargers will not charge an AGM battery if the voltage drops to 10.5 volts or less. This is because with old- style chargers, the lower voltage means lower resistance which could possibly quickly overheat the battery. If you have anOptima with less than 10.5 volts, try connecting another battery to it just like you were attempting to jump the battery. This will artificially raise the voltage (and the resistance) to allow the charger to begin the recharging process. Optima and other companies now make battery chargers that can be configured to slowly recharge AGM batteries. Schmacher, for example, sells a 2/6/10-amp charger (PN SC-1000A) that can be configured for AGM batteries and you can find it for under $70.
29. More Ways to Defeat Valve Float
Jon Kaase once told us that he prefers to carefully set his valve spring installed height so that at peak valve lift the springs are close to the minimum spec for coil bind. While you might think this might be abusive on the springs, Jon says that bringing the coils very close together at peak valve lift tends to help reduce the inherent vibration of the coils, especially at high engine speeds. If you’ve ever watched a high-speed video of the dance that valve springs do at high engine speeds, there’s 30 years of engine building experience in what Jon says. So when he talks, we listen.
We had so much fun doing this that we added one more just for good measure!
30. On the Ball
When installing a new clutch and pressure plate in older hot rods and muscle cars with manual clutch linkage, take a moment to inspect the clutch release arm ball stud. That’s the stud that the clutch release arm pivots upon. If the bellhousing has seen many moons, then it’s likely it is worn – like the ball on the left. This can and does affect clutch release arm operation and can cause undue wear on the transmission throw-out bearing retainer. Be careful of replacement studs. A taller stud (right) will alter clutch release performance.