It has been a long time, but I still remember – despite the snow on the roof. I had to go through a flathead Ford to try and seal it up and clean the engine for a restoration project.
This was about 35 years ago. At the time I found fairly quickly that when it came to gaskets I was going to have to either find new old stock (NOS) parts or get new stuff from off-shore. As a rule, the NOS gaskets and seals were dried up, rusted, water damaged. As a rule, the offshore parts were not well made, didn’t fit, or were made of inferior materials. Not a particularly good prospect.
For many, this particular view of the market remains. They still believe that when dealing with old iron, you have to use, modify, and suffer with defective, obsolete or inferior gaskets and seals. The result is a reticence to tackle what can often be quite profitable engine building. Who, after all, wants to get involved with a project that will mean a lot of re-do and re-work and arguing with the customer?
What some still don’t realize is that there’s been a resurgence of vintage engine building. Along with this resurgence has been a similar and supporting flow of updated and improved parts, including gaskets and seals.
Underlying this is an idea that just simply restoring an engine using NOS parts is not enough. Technology has moved on, there are better ways to seal an engine, and we (as well as the customer) want it.
A great example of this would be rope rear main seals. Originally made from asbestos, a material that is apparently worth life imprisonment to possess, then moving to synthetic fiber, and finally to much better Teflon and graphite impregnated material, they ALL leak (the synthetics are by far the worst). Well, perhaps just seep. In any event, if you use them you will have either a pan under the car or oil stains on the garage floor. These seals REQUIRE that at least a small amount of oil MUST pass into the seal to lubricate it or it will overheat and burn out – they HAVE to leak to work.
Another example would be head gaskets. Some of the vintage stuff and early repop were just not designed for anything but a few thousand miles on bone-stock engines at 40 mph. Others were technically better, but when blocks and heads were machined could not compensate for the increased compression. Others were early attempts, without benefit of adequate technological experience, to mate aluminum and cast iron together – the resulting scuffing made for early failures.
Today we have much better gasket materials, improved designs, and even upgrades such as lip seal replacements and vastly improved materials for the old rope seals. This means that you now can build an improved, tighter, and more reliable vintage engine that is not a yo-yo in and out of your shop.
The larger, more mainstream gasket companies have contributed to this with their research and product development that moved technology forward. Some have made good efforts to upgrade their product lines (where coverage of vintage engines was maintained). However, anyone can understand that when you operate a volume business, especially where the vast majority of sales come from late model repairs and rebuilds and supplying OEMs, the much smaller market for vintage engines is not a priority. So let’s respect and thank the big boys for their contributions and for the products they have upgraded, and understand where it may not be practical to expand into niche markets.
However, engine building is becoming more and more a niche market demanding that products be supplied for these low-volume projects. It’s a sigh and a relief to discover that Yankee know-how and entrepreneurial spirit has once again risen to the task. There are now dozens of smaller sources that specialize in individual engines, individual makes or vintage engines overall and have developed a healthy and growing pool of upgrade gaskets and seals to fit our needs.
So keep in mind the fact that you can upgrade a number of components, including many gaskets and seals, with parts that are known to be reliable, function properly and reduce or eliminate perennial leak or failure problems. Don’t settle for or become victimized by problems that can be solved.
At the same time, be aware that you will probably have to do a little quick research to find out where these parts are located. Be prepared for a little internet research, make a few calls, and you’ll soon discover that for almost every engine, there’s a group of dedicated people who have done the leg work for you and are happy to share the wealth.
As you may know, I’m editor of WebRodder.com where there are currently over 3,100 pages of free tech info available, and that’s just ONE of many places to find tech info and parts. It’s what we do. The other day, in response to an inquiry, I started looking for information on an engine that LOOKED like an Ardun conversion on a Ford V8/60. Within a short while I discovered that it was a Brazilian-made Simca engine, built in small quantities back in the ’60s, where I could obtain one, what the cost is, what the general concerns and quirks are for this engine, and what parts availability is. There was no magic involved.
Believe me, it’s a LOT easier to get details and upgraded seals and gaskets for that Nailhead Buick, Flathead Ford, Rocket Olds, Big Inch Cadillac, FE Ford or even Rambler flathead six. And the best news is that once you’ve made the effort and found what you need, you don’t have to repeat the process – giving you a consistent advantage when it comes to taking in more profitable custom-built vintage engines.
Doc Frohmader got his first car at the age of nine and has been an engine builder and performance enthusiast ever since. [email protected]
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