Piston Slap: The Manhattan Project

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

Thaddeus writes:

I’m looking to build more in depth automotive knowledge, and I think that (re) building a motor in my Manhattan apartment is a great first step. (Wife be damned.) With the hot summer coming around, and no vacation days left, this would also be a great summer hobby to keep me inside and cool.

I’m currently thinking about finding an old Ford flathead, as know how, and books on these is readily available–do you have a better suggestion? I’m looking for a block that’s well documented, has parts, or spares to be had, and won’t require a CompSci degree to fix or tune . . .

The end state of this project is to put it into some sort of hotrod, but that’s another question–for when I have a bigger apartment.

PS: Sub question…should I even attempt to fire this thing up inside if I get it built?

Sajeev answers:

And I thought I was nuts for making a mess in my apartment’s kitchen after rebuilding a set of power window motors. Wow, just wow.

And with that, consider me your enabler. But I’d recommend something that’s less of a dinosaur and makes more power, more efficiently. Get a small-block Chevy or Ford V8 instead. These motors have plenty of documentation, more available parts in the aftermarket or junkyards, and I betcha everything is far cheaper than the niche flathead market. The only downside to going Small Block V8 is the relative complexity of an OHV motor versus the valve-in-block design of a flathead. But I think it’s worth it.

Since I am single and somewhat proud of it, I’ll let the B&B tackle your “married guy starting an engine in a Manhattan apartment” idea.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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4 of 37 comments
  • Tedj101 Tedj101 on Jun 26, 2009

    >>Rod Panhard has the only semi-practical suggestion. A V8 is going to be too heavy to get it out of the apartment. I’m not sure how much a motorcycle weighs, but definitely less.

  • 50merc 50merc on Jun 26, 2009

    Dear Sajeev, I too would like to increase my knowledge of internal combustion engines by (re)building one. The problem is that I am an astronaut and currently orbiting the earth in the space shuttle. As you'll understand, it is not easy for an astronaut to carry a flatheard Ford V8 into the spacecraft, nor is there a lot of room for a workshop. Any leaks of antifreeze will become atomized clouds which sort of messes up the ventilation system, let alone our lungs. The solution, I decided, is to start with an old, simple Cushman Eagle motor. It's air cooled, so no coolant problem, and the noise and exhaust fumes should be only minimal disturbances for the crew. After all, the co-pilot has taken up dairy farming, and that damn cow poops all the time.

  • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Jun 26, 2009

    50merc : most importantly, what does your significant other think about all this?

  • JEC JEC on Jun 28, 2009

    Honestly, it isn't economical or worthwhile to rebuild a motorcycle engine unless you throw reason and rationality out the window. It costs LESS to buy a complete running bike than it does to completely rebuild a mc engine (or even partially rebuild) with new parts. But I have done it, on my Suzuki SV650. I got a spare ex-race motor with lots of go-fast work done to the top end (and a shot bottom end) and did a simple switcheroo of parts with my low-mile stock engine. It cost me all of 500$ for the complete race motor, and then it was just my time to swap parts. I did this in my basement and my living room, carrying the motors around myself, including up and down a flight of stairs to the basement. I still have a set of cylinder heads sitting on my bookcase - the bike itself is long gone. The last time I did engine work on my Ducati I took the heads off and had them on my office desk. It was exam time at school, so between chapters I would sit and lap the valves and do the clearances. Very zen.