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Ask the Maestro

Copyright 1997, by Harry Pellow, All Rights Reserved.

Late at Night, while contemplating the Universe, the Maestro has pondered that Universal Question- who builds the Engines for the Stars? That's the Hollywood Stars. More specifically, who builds the Engines for the Star's 356 Porsches?

.....Rumor has it that several Stars have 356 Porsche cars. The Stars that have Taste that is. David Letterman. Paul Newman. Jerry Seinfeld. And the Maestro has always wondered what their Hollywood Engines are like. Are they nice? Are they Gold Plated? Are they built by a Vegetarian Tofu Guru?

.....The Maestro knew one (sorta) Star whose car had one of HIS engines. Mrs. Roy Oberson, the widow of Roy, sadly departed this Mortal Coil many moons ago. But she sold it to Whoopee Goldberg. And Whoopee sold it to a non-Star, a Civilian, withOUT the Maestro's engine (and boy, was there a Story there!). Now, there's no Star for the Maestro no mo'.

.....Until one day when the phone rang.

....."Maestro here," said the Maestro.

....."Uh, yes." said the VOP, an MFP. (VOP=Voice On Phone. MFP= Member of Female Persuasion) "Is this really the Maestro?"

.....The Maestro, did an introspective self-test and concluded that yes, indeedy, it be he. "Yes, my dear, I am in. You rang?"

....."Yes," said she. "I have a "friend" who has a '58 Speedster with an engine that has a problem," said the VOP.

....."Weeeeeell," said the Maestro always nice to any MFP on the phone- since it might be Mrs Maestro. "You certainly came to the right place. Porsche Engine Problem Solving is our Business. How may I help you?"

....."Well, my friend just had a Loco Porsche shop in the Hills of Beverly rebuild his Speedster's engine, but less than a week later, the fan belt broke and the engine overheated."

....."Uh oh," said the Maestro. "Did it do a lot of damage to the engine?"

....."Well, I don't know," said the VOP. "But it seems like now there are funny noises inside that weren't there before."

....."Not a good sign," said the Maestro sympathetically. "But tell me, do you know if BOTH the Red AND the Green Idiot lights came on, or just the Red one?"

....."I wasn't there, so I don't know," said the VOP. "Would it be OK if I had the owner, Jerry Seinfeld, get back to you?"

....."Hummh," thought the Maestro. "Jerry Seinfeld. Now where have I heard that name before? Doesn't he have a TV show or something?"

....."Sure," said the Maestro. "Have him call me. I'll talk to anybody."

.....An hour later the phone rang.

....."Maestro here," said the Maestro.

....."Hi," said the VOP. "This is Jerry Seinfeld".

....."THE Jerry Seinfeld?," questioned the Maestro.

....."Yes," said THE Jerry Seinfeld, modestly.

....."I heard about your engine problem," said the Maestro getting right to the point. "The fan belt broke right after an overhaul."

....."Yeah," said Jerry, more than a little disgusted. "About 47 miles after the overhaul."

....."A truly tragic too-short life," said the Maestro. "But tell me, did only the Red light come on the dash, or did BOTH the Red AND the Green lights come on?"

....."Uh, BOTH the red and Green light came on," said Jerry.

....."Oh," said the Maestro. "That's too bad.

....."How come?" asked Jerry.

....."Because," said the Maestro. "In a '57 Speedster, the Red Light is the Generator Warning light which tells you your fan belt just broke, or your generator or regulator died or some combination of the above. But The GREEN Light is the Oil Pressure Warning Light which comes on at about 6 psi (pounds per square inch). Which means it only comes on when your oil pressure is way TOO LOW! When that Big Green Light comes on, it usually means you have just been screwed."

....."Since you said BOTH lights came on, this means the oil got hot enough to drop the oil pressure low enough to light the Oil Pressure Idiot Light. But if you had 6psi or less oil pressure, while cruising Down The Road, you most likely have a very serious problem."

....."Yeah," said Jerry. "And that's why I want to send the whole CAR up to you- to have it done right once and for all."

....."Sure," said the Maestro puffing his chest up over the phone. "But wouldn't it be a little easier just to ship the engine rather than the whole car?"

....."Well," said Jerry. "I'd rather ship the whole car up. After all I've been through, I just want to get in it, turn the key and GO! That's why I want you to do it."

.....Well now, after THAT, how could the Maestro decline? After all, he likes Challenges, and this one sure sounded like a REAL Challenge! Besides, here was a chance to see what a Star's car is REALLY like. Up front and personal like.

.....Sho' 'nough, three days later, Jerry's '58 Speedster arrived by enclosed car carrier, courtesy of a district rep from PCNA (It sure helps to have the right contacts!) It also arrived on a Friday night at 9pm. (Well, the choice was either 9 at night or 7 in the morning. The Maestro, not being a morning kind of guy, chose 9 at night as the lesser evil, though it conflicted greatly with the "X-files" when the "X-Files" were on Friday Night. Hey, but that's why the gods made Video Tape.

.....Once Jerry's Speedster was safely off the trailer and into the Shop, the Maestro popped the rear deck Lid to eyeball the apparent Cause of the Problem- an inner Generator Pulley Half with its center section COMPLETELY missing- like it was MACHINED out! The Maestro immediately recognized it for what it was. Demon Art Work. Yet another Picasso-like creation of Murphy's Machine Shop. One of a type the Maestro's seen more than a few times before.

.....(Inner Pulley Half/Drive Hub Murder-Suicide pacts are usually caused by having too few pulley shims. You need a total of TEN or more pulley shims on the generator shaft. That is: the Sum of the Shims between the Pulley halves plus those Shims between the Pulley Nut and the Outer Pulley should be equal to or greater than 10.

.....Too few shims means that the pulley nut "bottoms out " against the end of the generator shaft before fully tightening the pulley halves together. Loose pulley halves will have their insides eaten out by the Cusinart-like chord-cut-outs of the pulley hub. Which, for some reason almost always causes the INNER pulley half to fail, followed by the loss of the fan belt. Followed by rapid and severe overheating of the Engine. Followed by failure of the Engine three minutes later.

.....And, to make matters worse, once the Inner Pulley half fails On The Road, there is NO WAY to "hold" the generator to take off the still-tight pulley nut- since the inner pulley half is the one that has the screwdriver slots in it and it's broken off! Fallen out.

.....Other than with a hammer & chisel, which usually destroys the pulley nut, about the only way to get the damn nut off now is with an Impact Wrench. Which you're not likely to have when the pulley fails out in the Boonies. Don't ask the Maestro how he knows.

.....Yep, too few shims is the usual cause of pulley failure problems. But when the Maestro retrieved the shims from all around the engine compartment on Jerry's Speedster, and counted, he found 9 intact shims and the remains of a 10th. The Proper Number. So what happened? Will it forever be a Mystery?

.....Maybe. Maybe not.

.....Anyhow, before doing exploratory surgery on this Hollywood Tragedy, the Maestro hooked up his 0-80 psi oil pressure gauge to the Inlet Oil Line going to the oil filter (an easy way to measure oil pressure directly).

.....Then to the shock of the assembled audience (the guy from PCNA), he fired up the fan-beltless engine for a necessarily short diagnosis. (When firing up a 356/912 engine withOUT a fan belt, you've got about two minutes from full cold to Pretty Damn Hot. But that's enough for a quick diagnosis.

....."Twenty psi" said the Maestro's gauge. The Maestro revved the engine up to 2000 RPM.

....."Still 20 psi" repeated the gauge. The Maestro revved the engine up to 3000 RPM. Then 3500, about as far as he wanted to go under the circumstances.

....."I'm STILL at 20 psi and not budging," repeated the gauge in a huff.

.....The huff from the gauge was masked by the not-so-good sounds coming from deep down inside the Lower End.

....."Well," said the Maestro to the PCNA guy. "20 psi isn't terribly good. And it sounds kinda funny."

....."Yeah, I agree," said the guy from PCNA, more used to 911 Racing Turbos that have 100psi oil pressure, and no funny sounds inside.

.....The Maestro turned the engine off and took the opportunity to eyeball this Hollywood Special. It actually looked pretty good- decently painted sheet metal. Tangerine oil filter can with black top. Nice decals. Then he got to the Details, wherein lurk the Devil.

.....Hummmh, didn't bother to plate the carb linkage pieces I see. Hummh. One powder painted strap for the oil filter can, but a plated strap for the generator. A Mismatch. Things look a lot better ifin they match- either plate or paint BOTH of the bands. Not paint one and plate the other.

.....Hummh, 6mm cheese head screws on the Vertical surfaces, rather than the 6mm BOLTS that should be there. And no special 6mm bolt with the screwdriver slot cut into it to hold the side vertical shrouds to the fan shroud. No brush cover on the generator either. Guess Hollywood doesn't dress their engines up as well as he thought.

.....It being about 10PM on a Friday night, the guy from PCNA, having completed his delivery task, wanted to get on with his life, and the Maestro wanted to watch the "X" files. So the car was secured for the evening behind the Ten Ton Titanium Doors, and the boys were about to go their separate ways when the PCNA guy's car phone rang. It was Jerry just a-makin' sure that the car arrived safely. The Maestro overheard:

....."Yeah, it arrived safely, no dents, scratches or problems. But we put an oil pressure gauge on it, and it has pretty low oil pressure and funny noises coming from inside. Looks like it'll have to be taken apart."

.....Jerry agreed.

.....On Saturday, the Maestro waited impatiently for his son's Little League baseball game to be over so he could hightail it to the shop for forensic Porsche Pathology on Jerry's Speedster. Hours later, when Andrew's team finally won 20-5, the Maestro zipped over to the shop.

.....This time, the Maestro got out and hooked up his Nuclear Oil Pressure gauge ("liberated" from an obsolete test rig at a Generous Electric Company), with a 6" dial and each 1 pound increment an eighth of an inch. He wanted to be accurate.

.....Then he attached a new fan belt between new pulley halves and fired the Speedster up. He eyeballed the Big Gauge. Nineteen PSI it read, there being no doubt. As the engine warmed up, the Maestro attached his Timing Light just to see what passed for proper timing in El Lay.

.....He revved up the engine and pointed his Adjustable Timing Light at the crank Pulley. And pulled the trigger. The Xenon Light of Truth saw Thirty Degrees advanced at 3000 RPM. Not too bad. Then he let it idle. At first it idled about 1800 RPM. Then, after a few seconds the idle dropped way down- below 700 RPM- and the spark Timing went RETARDED- to a little AFTER top dead center. Hummh, looks like they like being a little retarded in LA.

.....The Maestro loosened the distributor clamp and advanced the timing a few degrees. Eventually he was able to get 35 degrees High Speed Advance, and a couple of degrees Before Top Dead Center at idle.

.....But when he did this he found out why the LA timing was as it was. The Original Distributor, like many Original Distributors, was "sticky" coming down from high RPM. It would "stick" at about 15 degrees advance, and only come down when it damn well felt like it- reluctantly and verrrrryyyyy slowly, leaving the RPM stuck at 1500-1800. Then, all of a sudden the Distributor would decide to haul its weights back in and the idle timing would drop back down to 0 degrees, and the engine would fall to an unhappy too-low idle.

.....The Beverly Hills solution was to retard the timing enough to prevent this, though at a cost of a very low idle and hard-to-adjust, insensitive carbs.

.....With the more proper timing, the Maestro was able to adjust the Zeniths to where they ran halfway decently. And most of the funny noises inside sounded better. Would it be this easy? Would all this Southland Special need is a laying on of the Maestro's hands?

.....Are you kidding?

.....The Maestro glanced again at the oil pressure gauge. Sixteen psi. That's not good. 356 A's with the small oil pump certainly don't set oil pressure records, but the small oil pump CAN produce 45 psi at speed (on good days), IF the clearances are proper. If the clearances AREN'T proper, 16 psi is about par for the Turkey course.

.....The Maestro took down the Engine ID Number and Case Casting Number to put into his Engine Data Base (now having nearly 5,000 Engine Numbers, and far better than the Neilsons), and queried The Computer about it.

.....That's when he found Something Very Interesting! The Engine ID Number on the Third Piece corresponded to a July/August 1957 Engine- one of the rare ones made just after the end of the 5-bolt Seal Ring Era. These rare engines have the rare, WORKING Thermostatic Oil Control Valve. And this one even had the even rarer External Oil Booster Line.

.....But when the Maestro checked the Case Casting Number on the Main Case Halves, they corresponded to a May/June 1958 Engine- almost a year LATER! And, unfortunately, one that used the Cast-in-place INTERNAL Oil Booster Line- NOT the External Oil Booster Line.

.....Uh oh. A Mismatch. Possibly a BAD Mismatch!

.....The Maestro rushed back to the engine- and sho' 'nough there was NO Steenkin' External Oil Booster Line on the outside of the case, going from the Junction Block, down past the Fuel Pump to a special, "longer" Oil Bypass Valve on the lower left hand side of the third Piece of the Case!

.....So, here we have a Third piece that REQUIRES the External Oil Line, but is mated to Main Case halves that DON'T USE the External Oil Booster Line. This was not just a mismatch- this was a BAAAADDD mismatch! And maybe part of the reason for the low oil pressure.

.....It was certainly proof that whoever put this poor engine together didn't know the dangers of Porsche misogyny- mismatching case halves across sensitive eras where Major Changes took place.

.....Sometimes you get the Bear, sometimes the Bear gets you! This was one of those "Happy Bear" times.

.....The Maestro then looked up the Speedster's Chassis ID number in his data base to see which of the two engines making up this engine was the Original one. Here he got another Surprise.

.....NEITHER the Third Piece NOR the Main Case Halves were ever a part of the Original Engine! The Main Case Halves were a 1959. The Third Piece was a 1957. The Speedster was a 1958.

.....Yes, I know the engine pieces AVERAGED out to 1958, but you can't do it that way!

.....The Maestro considered the options. He could find another engine close to the Original one and build it. But that still meant working with a 356 "A" engine with the small oil pump, the Thermostatic Oil Control Valve and an unreinforced Case. Not terribly Exciting.

.....Or, he could build Jerry Seinfeld a REAL engine- with a late-model Case with all the goodies, a Large Oil Pump, late rods, crank, heads, etc. One that would motivate Jerry Down The Road, In and Around the City and County of Los Angeles for a looooong time. At Freeway Speeds. One that would be Mucho Better than the pile of mismatched poo-poo now residing in the engine compartment.

.....The Maestro called Jerry. Being Saturday, Jerry wasn't in. The Maestro left a message.

.....Sunday afternoon, Jerry called the Maestro back. The Maestro explained what he had found out about the engine- the mismatched case halves. The lack of the required external oil booster line. The desirability of having a later-model engine.

.....Jerry said: "Well, yeah, but I kinda wanted to keep the Original engine in the Speedster."

....."Yes," said the Maestro. "I understand. But clearly your engine ISN'T the Original Engine. The Main Case Halves are from a 1959. The Third piece is a '57. It averages out to a '58, but it's not Kosher to do it that way!

..... "Oh," said Jerry. I didn't know that. I assumed it WAS the Original Engine."

..... "No such luck," said the Maestro, knowing the real meaning of "assume", (it makes an "ass" out of "u" and "me").

....."But tell me," asked the Maestro. "Do you want to SHOW the car or DRIVE the car?"

....."Nah," said Jerry. "I don't intend to show it. It's my Favorite car. I just want to DRIVE it!"

....."Then wouldn't you rather have a "Modern" 356 engine in it?" (Note: "Modern 356" in this context is NOT an Oxymoron.)

.....Eventually, Jerry saw the wisdom of the Maestro's suggestion and agreed that a later-model 356 Engine would be better solution. And the BEST later-model engine the Maestro has are the Porsche Military-Industrial Engines. Especially those from a batch of 100 hour Swiss Military Engines that he's been saving for just such a Special Occasion.

.....The Last of the Industrials (how about that for a Movie title?) were made in 1973, long after the last 1969 912 rolled off the line! With only a couple of hundred very benign hours on 'em, these guys have PERFECT late-model Cases, beautiful "C" cranks, pristine 912 rods, absolutely Virgin C/SC or 912 heads, unworn Valve train, etc., etc. Even the plated Hardware looks like it was just put on yesterday. These engines were well-protected and maintained, little used and never abused. What more do you want?

.....Yes, you gotta overhaul 'em and replace the Cast Iron Cam Followers and the low-compression big bore kit the Industrials have, and the funky flywheels with the starter ring gear teeth on in a different plane, but having only 100 or so hours on 'em, the Industrial's major internals are like NEW! Primo. The finest fodder for fantastic street/race engines money can buy.

.....So the die was cast. The Maestro uncorked a Virgin 1973 Industrial. Tore it apart. Found what he expected- Perfect Parts- and began the rebuild.

.....He also pulled Jerry's old mismatched engine out of the Speedster- to find that though the visible sheet metal pieces were nicely painted, those pieces NOT visible were NOT powder painted- things like the Heater Boxes, the "J" Tubes or front plate. Oh, and the Front Plate had neither sealing rubber on it nor rubber grommet for the fuel line in it.

.....(This is a fairly important rubber grommet - needed to to support the fuel line, without which the metal fuel line can rub on the front plate and eventually cause a leak of gasoline right near or onto the hot "J" tube. Can you say "car fire"?)

.....While under Jerry's car, the Maestro discovered something even worse. The rear brake lines had been replaced by braided steel lines. That's not necessarily bad, but where the brake lines went through the supports on the axle tubes there were no tie-down clips. So the brake lines were LOOSE and dangling, free to vibrate or rub on inside the support holes. If they rubbed a hole anywhere in the brake lines, you lost ALL the brakes! (There being no such thing as an independent front/rear breaking systems in a Original '58 Speedster).

.....SURPRISE! No Brakes!

.....That's the kind of surprise one can live without!

..... Finally, the Maestro could stand it no longer and began to disassemble it. He expected to see the usual LA Stuff inside, and he wasn't disappointed.

.....The Top End was Typical- 356A Normal Rockers with the 356A pushrods with the wood inside. (Yes- WOOD inside the push rods. The wood is there to take up Volume so the itty-bitty oil pump has less to fill. Shake the push rods back and forth. Hear the wood inside? You can almost play them like a musical instrument. "La Cucaracha, La Cucaracha,...") The Maestro removed the cylinder heads. No surprises here. Typical 356A Heads, with the Brass Intake Seats still in place. Brass seats and Unleaded gas are not a nice combination. The Maestro always replaces brass seats with seats of Hardened Steel.)

.....Inside, there was the Typical Big Bore Kit to make a Normal produce the Power a Star expects, but this Big Bore was rather interesting as it had THREE DIFFERENT Oil Control rings! Two pistons had the stock, one-piece oil control rings that NPR Big Bore Kits come with. And the other two pistons had replacement Oil Control Rings. But the replacement rings were DIFFERENT from each other! Like maybe the Boys from Beverly broke a couple of oil control rings, couldn't find the right replacement and used whatever they could find lying around. Very Strange. Penny Lane.

.....One piston even had what should have been the third Compression Ring used as a Top Compression Ring. Guess they couldn't read the ring installation instructions that are printed in English, French, German, Italian and Arabic. The mechanic must have been None of the above.

.....But of COURSE, the Camshaft was an unexciting, non-blood-boiling Normal, and the Cam Followers be Cast Iron with a marked propensity to lose their heads at random times, marking the Normal's end-of-life.

.....The rods were 356A of course, which the Maestro doesn't ever use with a Big Bore Kit as they're too weak. (He has a 356 "A" rod in his Broken Parts Collection, still attached to a Big Bore Kit piston, that's been bent into a "U" shape by the copious quantities of power/torque produced by same. That's why you shouldn't use 356A rods with Big Bore Kits! Q.E.D.)

.....As expected, the crank was a non-cross-drilled, 356A crack, with the single oil hole to the Rod Journal. And it was ground to 2nd Undersize on both the Rods and Mains. Definitely not exciting. Nor reliable.

.....All in all, Jerry's "Rebuilt" Speedster Engine was about par for the Turkey Overhaul Course.

.....Before this experience, the Maestro thought that the engine builders to the Stars were just like himself- and put their Togas on one arm at a time. But now he knows better- the LA overhaulers must put on the surfin' trunks first. Then the tanning lotion. Then the Toga.

.....Whatever happened to the Engine Builders who built GOOD engines- like the ones James Dean drove? Did they retire? Or become movie directors?

.....It's another one of those Hollywood Mysteries.

.....Quite quickly, the replacement Industrial Engine came together. Got fired up on the test stand. 65psi Oil pressure, said the Big Gauge, a tad better than 16. With a 200mm clutch conversion for a 356A to handle the extra power, the Maestro expected Jerry would like the Transformation. The Maestro sure liked the Test drive, especially with the top down.

.....So, gentle reader, DID Jerry like his new engine?

.....Jerry's Girlfriend DID call back a couple of times after the overhaul, usually with questions about other non-engine problems with the Speedster.

.....And she DID say a couple of nice things about the new engine. Things like before, with the old engine, they were afraid to take the Speedster on the Freeway for any length of time for fear it would break down. Not being able to use the Freeways in LA certainly limits the driving Pleasure.

....."But now," said she. "With your Engine in the Speedster, we can go ANYWHERE! We fly down the freeway! With the top down. It's so much fun!"

.....Yes, dear. That's why we have 356 Porsches. Because they're FUN!

.....That made the Maestro's day.

.....The Maestro was hoping that Jerry might show his gratitude by displaying the Maestro's Books on his TV show. Or show a scene from the Maestro's Engine Assembly Video on the TV on his TV Show. Or make a joke about the Maestro. Or maybe, cough, cough, a Personal Appearance on his TV show. Take the Maestro, please.

.....So, gentle reader ifin you happen to see Jerry's show and happen to see the Maestro's Books or Tapes prominently displayed, (or joked about, good or bad), you'll know. And please let the Maestro know.

.....That would REALLY make the Maestro's day. And made him want to say: KEEP THE 356 FAITH! P.S. So what happened to the Pulley? WAS it forever a Mystery?

.....No, but it took a while to figure out. About six months in fact. At first the Maestro noticed that the Pulley shims used were the larger outside diameter ones used on the Generators for earlier 2-Piece case engines. The 2-piece case Generator used a different Crank Pulley and fan belt and larger diameter pulley halves, with the corresponding larger diameter shims adjustment shims. Sometimes, these larger shims hit the inside of the fan belt used on later engines, and won't let the belt tighten properly.

.....But this wasn't that either! Nope. It was until some six months later when the Maestro was about to use Jerry's old generator on another engine (he had replaced Jerry's generator with a Bosch Rebuilt on the off chance that something about it caused the pulley failure. Poker player that he is, the Maestro got Lucky- 'cause it turned out that was exactly the Right Thing to do!)

.....Just as the Maestro was putting the Pulley nut onto Jerry's old Generator he noticed something funny- the nut was hard to start on the threads of the generator shaft. VERY hard to start. So hard to start that the Maestro figured his nut was bad. So he tried another pulley nut. Same thing. Hummh. Two bad nuts? Not terribly likely. So he got out his Special Pulley Nut he uses as a "tap" or clean the threads of old generator shafts.

.....Low and behold, when he threaded his "tap" onto the generator shaft- it went on a few turns and STOPPED- like it was tight. It WAS tight all right. But it certainly wasn't on far enough to compress the pulley halves much! And THAT, bets the Maestro is what REALLY happened! The Boys from Beverly put the Pulley nut on and tightened it till it felt tight.

.....And though they THOUGHT the pulley nut was tight- after all, it sure FELT like it was tight. But it wasn't! The Generator shaft threads were distorted. Munged up.

.....Simple problem. Expensive result. THe Maestro's surprised Jerry even got 47 miles out of it.

..... Someone oughta make a movie or a TV EPISODE about it.

Keep the 356 Faith




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