When we started our Fall quarter of ME211, we had no engine block and big bins of worn out pumps and rusty parts. In just a few short months we were able to restore, refurbish and rebuild all those parts and install a completed engine in the Cadillac. Still a few wires short of running, to the very end this project remained a lesson in patience and perseverance. Our goal – to get the car running again – really breaks down into many hundreds of smaller projects (e.g. rebuilding the water pump) that can each contain dozens of problems on their own. So the project required literally thousands of iterations of hands-on problem-solving that spanned several hundred man-hours. It was quite an effort and, as a result, the car is in better shape and closer to running than it has been in decades. It seems like the end is in sight, though the to-do list still stretches most of the way to the horizon.
Students took ownership over smaller segments of the restoration project such as the two-man team who dedicated most of the quarter to refurbishing the carburetor. You will not find a carburetor on any modern car, so this required some detailed research and study from scratch. It also required a tremendous amount of diligence and care because of the sheer mechanical complexity of the many delicate linkages and passageways in this unit. With no computer, the carburetor must regulate the fuel/air mixture for all eight cylinders mechanically, from sitting at idle to full throttle. The students were able to completely diagnose, restore and rebuild the carburetor (including polishing the intake surfaces by hand) and in the process discovered perhaps the most mysterious piece of all: the “Venturi cluster.”
We encountered some snags in rebuilding the engine including: discovering small cracks forming in one of the exhaust manifolds, the water pump impeller breaking in half during installation, and a number of missing pieces that the car may never have had to begin with (e.g. windage tray and oil gallery plugs). Each one of these unexpected delays set us back against our plan to be running by November. Often times, when you set out to solve one problem, you just end up discovering more problems. Some days the to-do list grew more than it shrank. We also had some harsh lessons in the importance of “order of operations,” having to backtrack in some cases and undo our own work. Thankfully, the car is as forgiving as it is frustrating – and has no “black box” components – so it will eventually reveal all its secrets with time, the right-sized wrench and a big gob of elbow grease.
Altogether, the engine and transmission assembly weigh nearly half a ton. Lifting the entire assembly and “gently guiding” it into place was a major logistics (and at times physical) challenge. Amazingly, it only mounts to the frame in three places. Aligning the engine and transmission with those three individual bolt holes took many hours of precision shoving. With everything in place it is truly remarkable to see it all come together, with such tight tolerances and low clearances. Taking it apart was easy; putting it back together again was the real challenge! The Cadillac may have another 50 years in it yet.