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What the hell’s been going on with the Toolmonger Shop Truck Build? Well, for a while, a lot of nothing. You may have noticed that the economy isn’t exactly stellar, and honestly we just didn’t have the dough to mess with it for a while. But we’re off the dime, and the truck’s on the move again.

Once we got the engine out and on its stand we discovered we had a lot of work ahead of us. (Remember: a “free” truck is never free.) Time did a number on this truck, and its previous owner had ridden it hard and put it away wet more than once. Under the hood was just as rough as the interior and body work. In fact, it was worse.

Old auto repair wisdom states that dirt washes off; it’s what’s underneath that counts. What was underneath this pile of nasty was, well, pretty nasty, too.

Back before we pulled the engine we took the truck to our favorite local mechanic, who took a look and suggested that the lower engine just needed to be cleaned on the inside and the pistons and crank were fine — but the upper engine had to go. Most of the seals were gone and the heads just weren’t right. After a little shopping online we decided to forgo rebuilding the heads and just replace ’em. So our job now that we had easy access was to strip the old motor down to the block.

If you’ve never taken an old-ass engine apart before, this is what you’re likely to find. There’s buildup and scoring on almost everything — lots of black, gunk, and nasty s#!t. At least everything’s easy to get at now that the engine’s on a stand — even our crappy 2×4 stand. There’s more room to work and you can get a better bead on trouble spots.

A good manual will make the whole tear-down process a lot easier, but we didn’t have hundreds of dollars in our budget for factory manuals. So instead we just shelled out $25 to AllDataDIY.com for online access to their tech material on our make and model. Sure, these old V8s are pretty simple, and you might be able to get away without some online help. But a decent manual provides a clear picture of what has to come off as well as where you can find bolts long since MIA under caked layers of muck.

Just go slow and work from the top down. Remember everything went on at one point, so it’ll come off. You might blow through a couple cans of penetrator (and end up busting out a heavy wrench) but even the nastiest bolts will come off. Our friends at Stanley lent us a set of their Professional series auto tools — reinforced and heavy walled for engine work — which made things a little easier.

Our first clue that this wasn’t going to be pretty came when we pulled the distributor. The shaft read like a core sample from an ice flow. It said “dirty times ahead.”

Eight bolts and a few screws after the distributor came our first moment of horror. The intake manifold and valve covers came loose and the true scope of 200k plus miles was laid bare for us to see. It wasn’t pretty.

The valves were all caked over or stuck open. Some rods were slightly bent and others looked fine. Coolant ports were gooped up and springs were filled with so much spent, dried-up oil that the rockers had a tough time compressing them.

Thankfully we’d already decided to scrap the heads, springs, rods and rockers. So, an hour of wrenching and three hours of careful scraping and wiping with plastic knives and chemical loaded rags later, one side of the block was ready to go.

The other side was just about as bad. But one night of hardcore scrubbing got us where we needed to be to stop: a clean engine sans heads.

Next up: we order our parts.


16 Responses to Budget Shop Truck Build, Part 5: Engine Teardown

  1. Maxebitda says:

    i’m going home to change my oil…

  2. jeffrey immer says:

    you are depressing me, i wanted to get a cheap ass truck to make as my pick things up truck, know i see i have a long road of cleaning, not what i signed on for, bring on the math instead

  3. Flabby Boohoo says:

    Thanks for this, I love reading this stuff. Good luck with the project!

    Aren’t you worried about the lower being just as gunked up at the upper?

  4. Toolaremia says:

    That is some horrendous gunk. That engine exceeded the recommended oil change interval many, many times. I had the same engine in my 9C1 cop Caprice and it looked nothing like that at 175k miles.

    BTW, you may know this, but that TBI unit has a habit of wearing out the throttle shaft bushings. I don’t remember if you plan on replacing it, but you should. Either a Holley unit or an “Ultimate TBI” from various online shops would do for a reasonable cost. Hell, I think I have a Holley unit in a box somewhere I’d let go cheap.

  5. Melvin says:

    I find this job to be a lot more pleasant if you take the engine down to the local u-do car wash and get the out side good and clean. $10 and an hour’s time saves a lot of dirty aggravation.

  6. MattC says:

    I’m glad the project is back on. Wow, that is some serious neglect of maintenance by the previous owner(s).

  7. Chris says:

    Frankly, after seeing those photos, I had to go back to the first post on this topic to confirm whether the thing was even *running*. I see that it was…barely.

    The photo of the valvetrain reminds me of those Castrol commercials where they dump a bucket of sludge on the character.


  8. Cameron Watt says:

    Oh, my.

    It doesn’t seem worth the trouble to me. These engines are so cheap and plentiful, it hardly seems worth all of that effort.

    Oh, no. I feel a sermon coming on…

    I’m fond of saying that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

    Where I am, on Vancouver Island, you can find a suitable engine for that truck for about a day’s pay; if you have time to look around. There’s even a chance, if it’s a private sale, that you’ll get a working transmission thrown into the deal.

    I get the impression that if you look at the range of used-but-running engines, yours is towards the nasty end of things. My opinion is that you should throw that engine in the scrap metal(beer fund) bin, get a used engine on the cheap, and be running tomorow.

    Of course you’re buying another can of worms but some sources are better than others, right? If you want certainty then there are plenty of guys who build engines, do it well, and offer warranties; you might even fine one that’s cheap too.

    That’s my two cents on that.

    @Melvin: Regarding the car wash suggestion, amen! Those guys are supposed to have sediment and oil separators on their drains so you should be able to drag it down and spray away without any guilt.

  9. Shopmonger says:

    Ok sorry Sean for not letting you know this trick earlier….. So right before you take the engine out…….. get it nice and hot…….. Then take about a gallon of Kero, or diesel and pour it in the crank case……Take off the distributor and run your drill down to the oil pump with an extension. Run the pump as fast as your drill can handle. Then drail the oil….(remember that there is more fluid than nromal) This “Steams” the inside very well and saves lots of time. By the way this trick is also great for when you get a leak of coolant into the oil.

    And of course take this mixture to your local recyclers, or use it in a garage oil burner…. (not you Sean too many wood chips)

    Also another fun way to recycle your oil, is on garage projects I use it some times as a finish for benches, takes a long time to dry, but makes it very water resistant……(drys in 3-7 days with sun)


  10. Toolhearty says:

    Cameron Watt has a valid argument. At what point does one say that this motor is just not a good candidate for a rebuild?

  11. Abe says:

    A cheap horsepower improving trick for these engines is to raise the injectors up slightly by using a gasket made for a chrysler throttle body. All else being stock it’s good for about 10-15 HP.

  12. JB says:

    When you get this back together run some Delo 400, Rotella, or any other high detergent diesel service oil through that engine. It will help clean it out and keep it clean. And change that damn oil every 3k miles O.K.!?

  13. steve says:

    well….? it’s been like 7 months, where’s part 6?

  14. Dro0o0o says:

    Deciding to not rebuild the short block (lower end) was a decision (I presume) made on the fact that there is still good compression in the cylinders. Despite the gunk on the “open” areas of the upper block such as under the valve covers, in the lifter valley, and along the outer shaft of the distributor, the critical areas in the short block are probably still within suitable specs. Main and rod bearing surfaces are probably still fine. If the crew working on the truck had the time, energy, and access to outside diameter micrometers and a dial bore gauge, they *could* check the specifications on the crank, main caps, and connecting rods. But the cylinder and piston condition is a good indication of the general health of the rest of the short block.

    “Steaming out” the short block by filling up the crank case with diesel fuel or “white oil” is an old trick that has stood the test of time because it works so well. Moroso and others even make an oil pump priming tool that used to be priced under $20.00 and works like a charm.

    Going with a set of remanufactured Vortec cylinder heads is an economical and time-efficient choice for this project as rebuilt heads for a small block chevy of that particular vintage are done hundreds at a time. (I used to disassemble, clean, and check combustion surface level on at least 30 V-8 and 4.3l V-6 cylinder heads per day.)

    I’m looking forward to Part 6 and seeing the rest of this project. Keep us posted.

  15. ToolFreak says:

    You should pull the oil pan while that thing is out and on the stand, its probably full of the sludge that’s all over the top end.

    You might not be rebuilding the lower end, but taking some of it apart and cleaning it out, plus the fresh gaskets or sealant when reinstalling, will keep all the top end work from being in vain.

  16. hmbemis says:

    So what happened with this? You guys finish it or what???

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