Friday, May 16, 2008


The chemicals shown on the left are all you needed to assemble an early Volkswagen engine (ie, 1100 & 1200). The valves were so small that relatively weak springs were enough to close them. Since the springs put only a modest load on the cam & followers, a special break-in lubricant was not needed.

Except for its color -- German 'permatex' was black -- the standard American stuff worked fine for sealing. If the crankcase parting-line was badly corroded we'd spin a few strands out of a hank of silk embroidery thread and embed the strands in the thin layer of Permatex we had painted onto the parting-line of the left-hand half of the crankcase.

Permatex was also applied under every washer on any stud or stay that had oil on the the other side. Or on this side, which is the case for the four lower head-stay nuts in each of the heads. Oddly enough, although this has been a standard VW assembly procedure since about 1937 a surprising number of today's experts ignore this vital step. And wonder why their engines leak :-)

Ditto for the Loctite, which the German mechanics I learned from adopted as soon as it became available. Prior to then they used gasket shellac, but only after carefully cleaning the threads of all debris & oil, another of those 'unimportant' steps usually ignored by the modern-day expert.

Shortly after the introduction of the 1300 a wide range of thread-lockers and thread restorers became available, and not a minute to soon. The explosive increase in VW sales in the early '60's caused many engines to be damaged by unqualified mechanics. Having no experience with air-cooled engines it was common for American mechanics to assume the VW's torque values were incorrect and apply the Model T Torque Rule, which was as tight as they could get it... plus one turn. I'm sorry to say that's still the case with many VW 'mechanics.'

When the 77mm barrels of the stone-reliable 1300 engine were bored out to create the 1500 engine we began to see an increased frequency of case-shuffling and accelerated cam wear. Volkswagen was aware of the problem and began work on an aluminum-cased 1700 engine but it would not appear on the scene until 1968. In the meantime VW issued a number of SB's and SN's (ie, Service Notes and Service Bulletins) telling us to dope the cam & lifters of newly assembled engines with molybdenum disulfide grease, and to '...locally treat' various gaskets to prevent them from leaking.

To be honest, none of it did much good when they over-bored the 83mm jugs to create the leaky, trouble-prone 1600 engine. Then came the untimely death of Heinz Nordhoff and the engineers -- real car people -- lost control of the company, to be replaced by accountants more interested in short-term gains than long-term quality.

Nowadays it takes a bit more than a can of Permatex to assemble a reliable, durable leak free engine from VW components, especially so if you're building a big-bore stroker suitable for powering a light airplane.

Not according to the experts, of course... those wunnerful folks will look you right in the eye and swear all Volkswagens leak. Or at least, all the ones they've ever built :-)

At the time Volkswagen of Germany stopped making air-cooled engines there were a lot of Service Notes and Bulletins that hadn't been incorporated into the Factory Workshop Manual and in so far as I know, they never were.

Do you like barbecue? Most folks do. Of course, there's half a dozen different styles of 'barbecue' and a different sauce or rub for each, with variations based on the type of meat. The picture above shows the ingredients for one style of barbequed pork. To have it come out right you not only need to know which ingredients to use but how much of each, and -- believe it or not -- the sequence in which they are mixed and the method the sauce is applied.

All of which are considered unimportant details by someone who doesn't know how to cook.

A VW engine converted for flight is an airplane engine. It's not a dune buggy engine nor a hot-rod engine nor something to take to the drag-strip. The sad thing is, a lot of people don't know that.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Rudyard Kipling

My grandfather thought Rudyard Kipling was the worst sort of bigot even while admiring him as a man of letters. He had quite a few of Kipling's books that we children were encouraged to read. I imagine my dad had to run the same gauntlet. In fact, one of dad's favorite expressions was, "An engine can't lie to you," which I later learned was probably taken from Kipling's "The Secret of the Machines."

...We are not built to comprehend a lie,
We can neither love nor pity nor forgive, ...

I'm guilty of using the same expression, especially when someone insists their VW engine converted for flight produces some prodigious amount of power. Pointing out that engines can't lie... but people selling them can... usually gets me an angry message or two from someone insisting their converted VW really does produce a hundred horsepower or more. And the surest proof of that is the fact they own it... because if it didn't produce that amount of power it would mean they had been cheated, which is impossible because they happen to be a physician. Or an airline pilot. Or some wealthy champion of industry. Or whatever.

But such messages also tell me there's a lot of folks out there who have never read Kipling :-)

The Secret of the Machines


Rudyard Kipling

WE WERE taken from the ore-bed and the mine,
We were melted in the furnace and the pit—
We were cast and wrought and hammered to design,
We were cut and filed and tooled and gauged to fit.
Some water, coal, and oil is all we ask,
And a thousandth of an inch to give us play:
And now if you will set us to our task,
We will serve you four and twenty hours a day!

We can pull and haul and push and lift and drive,
We can print and plough and weave and heat and light,
We can run and jump and swim and fly and dive,
We can see and hear and count and read and write!

Would you call a friend from half across the world?
If you’ll let us have his name and town and state,
You shall see and hear your crackling question hurled
Across the arch of heaven while you wait.
Has he answered? Does he need you at his side?
You can start this very evening if you choose,
And take the Western Ocean in the stride
Of seventy thousand horses and some screws!

The boat-express is waiting your command!
You will find the Mauretania at the quay,
Till her captain turns the lever ‘neath his hand,
And the monstrous nine-decked city goes to sea.

Do you wish to make the mountains bare their head
And lay their new-cut forests at your feet?
Do you want to turn a river in its bed,
Or plant a barren wilderness with wheat?
Shall we pipe aloft and bring you water down
From the never-failing cisterns of the snows,
To work the mills and tramways in your town,
And irrigate your orchards as it flows?

It is easy! Give us dynamite and drills!
Watch the iron-shouldered rocks lie down and quake
As the thirsty desert-level floods and fills,
And the valley we have dammed becomes a lake.

But remember, please, the Law by which we live,
We are not built to comprehend a lie,
We can neither love nor pity nor forgive,
If you make a slip in handling us you die!
We are greater than the Peoples or the Kings—
Be humble, as you crawl beneath our rods!—
Our touch can alter all created things,
We are everything on earth—except The Gods!

Though our smoke may hide the Heavens from your eyes,
It will vanish and the stars will shine again,
Because, for all our power and weight and size,
We are nothing more than children of your brain!