Engine Building 101 - Shop Talk

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For many, building engines is a labor of love, an art, if you will, and a way to showcase one’s creativity. It takes this creative drive to produce the proven combinations we strive for. For others, unfortunately, building engines is the bane of their existence and often leads to catastrophic failure.

1203chp 01 O  Art Of Building An Engine Pistons 2/2

I’ll say it, building a motor is an art. Similar to photography, basic rules apply; even so, you can take a picture a number of ways and achieve similar results. Is one way of procuring the image right or wrong? Not necessarily. Is one technique better than the other? I guess it really depends on who you ask. As a shooter, I simply say it’s the person behind the lens’ style—much like an engine builder, they have their own personal qualities that reflect in their work.

“Throwing an engine together is relatively easy; it’s the attention to detail that can be tricky.”

Over the years, I’ve met a number of highly talented engine builders; many who were nice enough to share personal information—the kind you wouldn’t learn from building a few engines here and there. I’ve heard valuable tips, learned of things to look for (and definitely things to avoid). Does that mean I could piece together a big-horsepower mill that’d stay together? I’d venture to say yes at this point, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to never take on a job you aren’t completely prepared to do. In the end, you’ll run out of time, a lot of the green stuff, and most importantly, patience.

With that in mind, consider these factors before any build: Do you have the proper tools? Do you have access to someone knowledgeable and willing to lend a hand? Are you prepared to tear the motor apart should something go wrong? Don’t let these questions scare you; if anything, they should help eliminate potential frustration. And on the upside, engines aren’t delicate by any means, and are extremely resilient.

Should you decide to farm out the engine, finding a respectable builder can also pose a whole host of other problems. We’ve all heard the horror stories so we don’t need to go into the details. If nothing else, I would simply urge you to do your homework and ask your friends, including people whose cars you admire. We’ve all had our good and bad fortunes; be sure to write in and let us know what combinations have worked out for you.

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