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Engine of the Month Spotlight

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Mickey Thompson 3-Valve Chevy V8

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Jason Ore | 955 Automotive | Erie, PA


What happens when you awaken an iron beast after a 50-year slumber? Jason Ore of 955 Automotive described it as opening up a time capsule of sorts. The last time this 1967-’68 Mickey Thompson Indycar lapped Indianapolis Motor Speedway was back in May 1968 with Bill Puterbaugh behind the wheel. It had been sitting in warehouse storage ever since.

It wasn’t until George Lyons purchased the car in 2016 from the Mickey Thompson family that the racecar and its 3-valve Chevy V8 engine again got some attention. The end goal for Lyons was to fully restore it and show the car at the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

Lyons, an avid Indycar collector, brought the car and engine to Bob Ore Restoration in Erie, PA. Bob’s son, Jason Ore, owns 955 Automotive, the machine shop in the adjoining building. Jason had the pleasure of getting the engine in working order again.

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“We were the first people to do anything to it since it came off the track in ’68,” Jason says. “It was a time capsule. The thing leaked oil so bad – they just fixed the oil leaks by stuffing shop rags in the engine compartment. We pulled about 40 shop rags out of this car ‘s underbelly, just totally soaked full of oil.”

The 3-valve Chevrolet engine had a lot of corrosion and was sealed using o-rings. Jason called up Cometic Gasket to supply head gaskets, intake gaskets and a few other items the engine would need to make it live again.

“The engine was pretty cool because it’s actually a race engine,” Jason says. “It has a Crower camshaft, Milodon main caps, Moldex crank – we kept all that stuff as original as we could. We went through and found modern day parts for all the wearable stuff. Valve springs were a tough find. I scoured catalogs for three months trying to find something that would work in these heads because they are such a wacky design. Other than that, the thing was pretty cherry. The engine is 99 percent the way it was other than the gaskets.”

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Block work-wise, 955 Automotive touched up the line hone and had to weld the decks up. They found that two of the exhaust ports had porosity in them, so they had to fix that so the engine would hold water again.

“The magnesium valley tray, which is also a water spider, was completely rotted out,” Ore says. “There was actually nothing left of the thing. We ended up repairing that with aluminum slugs and making a whole new water spider for it, replicating the old one by going off pictures.”

In addition, the engine needed a typical valve job and cylinder head repair. However, it turned out to be a little more than “typical.”

“We used a different valve arrangement because the cylinder head is completely different than anything else,” Jason says. “The heads are Mickey Thompson specific with 16 ports. It took 12 hours to get the cylinder heads off because of hidden bolts. We found we had to take the rocker system off in a specific order. It had push rods that run down across the head and actuated rocker arms on the exhaust side that seemed to work backwards. Everyone thought it was a dual overhead cam motor when it was really just the rocker covers on the engine.”

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Despite some corrosion and a couple of funky set ups, the 50-year-old engine ended up being in pretty good shape.

“They scabbed the thing together to go race with it,” Ore says. “A couple of fuel injectors were in backward and actually sprayed fuel up out of the head instead of into the head. We fixed those things, but we didn’t do any performance updates to it. We just tried to keep the history of it.”

Parts-wise, that meant the engine has Mickey Thompson titanium rods, the original Crower cam and lifters, Clevite bearings, a small journal main and big block Chevy rod pins, PAC and COMP springs, the original Moldex crank and Mickley Thompson pistons and a Hilborn fuel injection system.

In total, between labor, sourcing parts or having stuff made, the build took a full year. Fifty years ago, this engine made 565 horsepower from 305 cubic inches. It’s now race ready once again and won admirers at the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. ν

The Engine of the Month Spotlight is sponsored by Cometic Gasket and Penn Grade Motor Oil.

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