Piston Slap: Stupid Question, or Stupid Answer?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap stupid question or stupid answer

TTAC Commentator tresmonos writes:


I recently wrote you about my dilemma of m y dying cavalier and should I purchase a ST Focus when they come out. My question is: how easy is it to convert a v belt to a standard ‘grooved’ serpentine belt? My ’84 Diesel Fox body has mostly sat since I’ve started my new job, but back when I had time and excellent southern weather to work on it, I had rebuilt the alternator, rewired the main line from the alternator to the battery (removed the high voltage line from the main loom) and was messing around with different pullies to see if I could solve the age old dilemma that plagues these diesels: thrown v belts.

The v belt drives the alternator and the water pump. Diesel Fox’s are rare as those v belts get tossed, octogenarians would limp their beloved Lincoln home, then crack their Ford meth inspired, paper thin, specific head to a BMW M21. Sad grandma and grandpa.

Rather than keeping 3 spare belts, a socket set, and my balls in the trunk of the car at all times, I’d rather be lazy about it. The rebuild didn’t seem to help. The rewire addressed my laziness of not disconnecting the battery: blown fuse links from arcing of wrenches to alternator when tensioning fresh v belt, fuse links now have ‘quick disconnects.’ I also got over the ‘let me try to replace fusible links with a in line fuse’ phase of my life. Fun times.

Do you think I should upgrade the old assed 90 amp alternator instead? I would have to ‘jumper’ the external voltage regulator, etc. This would be easy as I’ve already prepped the wiring to handle a bigger alt. Or will that further load the skimpy little v belt and make it fly off into the sunset like all the other v belts I’ve lost on my joy rides?

I’m not even sure the Ford bastardized L21 could take a serpentine belt conversion due to how the V belt sits between the serpentine belt and the engine. I laugh at the terrible service illustrations in this Ford manual. No way in hell you can get a screw driver in to ‘tension’ the v belt as they describe. But the illustration gives you an idea of what I have to work with:

I got all the other fun diesel specific manuals, to boot. The guy I bought this baby from was a mechanical genius.

Hope this gives you some cannon fodder!

Sajeev answers:

Well yes, it certainly does. You see, I’ve finally started watching this TV show that all my friends, family and co-workers believe I should know very, very well. So I decided to finally DVR it. The show is Top Gear, and they play it on some TV station in the UK. Or something like that.

And while the show is pointless, full of Internet-grade trolling, packed with reality TV worthy drama for absolutely no good reason AND is borderline racist…well, it does come in handy when responding to questions like these.

But first…let me tell you why I’m fuming mad.

  • Son, let me tell you about the Fox Body Continental. It was made on a unique production line in a unique factory, with a unique name not associated with the Lincoln brand. It is a Continental, and you should at least mention that once!
  • But no, you insisted on always referring to it as a “Fox Body.” Which is like referring to a $50+ steak as just another hunk of meat. It’s disrespectful. This was the test bed for so many famous Fox Body parts or models. It’s why the SVO had a good suspension and fantastic brakes. It’s why that other famous Mustang Fox with a V8 engine became sorta-kinda-less flimsy, had a better-ish suspension and sported a fun little 5.0 motor after a lot of testing in Continental mules within Dearborn, circa 1985. (According to a report from Car and Driver, back in the day.)
  • And when Ford had the balls to slip behind BMW and swipe a Steyr engine during the diesel rage in the 1980s, when GM pissed away so much on their terrible oil burners, they made a rather fantastic radiator for this respectable motor to live inside an, ahem, Fox Body. That al-you-mini-um radiator so conveniently slipped into the 1993 Mustang SVT Cobra R. That’s right: R…son!

So say it with me: this is a Fox Body Continental with a Diesel motor.

It is the best example of–what could be–the most exciting/tweakable/patriotic platforms ever to come from Ford Motor Company. If you disagree, put some MKS badges on it, tell everyone it’s actually a Volvo under the skin and do some degrading thing that Jeremy Clarkson might suggest.

So perhaps you can see why I don’t necessarily see the problem with your car. It’s quite perfect as-is. It, quite frankly, was Detroit State of the Art for the time. Would you go into the Lourve and paint eye brows on the Mona Lisa?

NO! You just deal with it and enjoy a time piece that you can mess around with on weekends. That said, I do have one of those Ford-Steyr Diesel manuals you mentioned, and I agree…they are totally useless.

My Mark VIII recently developed a no-start issue and this manual was absolutely no help at all. Sometimes I wonder why I even purchased it…to make my library look even geekier?

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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2 of 16 comments
  • Wheeljack Wheeljack on May 07, 2012

    Couple of thoughts: While not diesel powered, my parents owned 3 of these continentals from roughly 1988 to 1998. The first one was a gunmetal gray 1986 model with a burgundy leather interior. It was bought at an auction with high miles and while not horrible, it was the worst of the 3 we owned from a condition perspective. Conti number 2 was a 1987 2-tone metallic blue with a dark blue cloth (?!) interior. This car was in excellent shape inside and out, but my Father could tell that Mom missed her leather, so alas this car didn't stay long. Conti #3 was a 1987 with Rose Quartz metallic paint and a taupe interior. This car had a mere 58K on the clock and was lovingly cared for by it's previous owner. It stayed the longest and proved to be trouble free during its tenure. There were a lot of really exceptional details on these cars, true examples of "coachbuilt" type attention to detail. The way that both the front and rear windsheilds were fitted and trimmed out (especially the rear), for example. The extra length of the front door, the in-set hood that required pretty precise tolerances and fitting for the time... Back to the diesel...when I was a Ford rep, one of my dealers had a customer with a Mark VII with this engine - yes they did build them. He had around 225K on it at the time (late '90's) and loved the car. He was holing out for another Lincoln coupe with a diesel engine to trade in his beloved Mark VII...wonder if he still has it?

  • MRF 95 T-Bird MRF 95 T-Bird on May 08, 2012

    Keep this diesel going it's a rare breed. A 30MPG plus luxo-cruiser. Back when I owned my Fox body 87 T-Bird with the 3.8 TBI I had the 90 Amp alternator conversion done. It did improve the performance as well as keeping the lights and gauges from dimming at idle. A worthy investment for any Fox body. My 3.8 had a serpentene belt but the A/C had it's own V-Belt. Any misalignment will cause belts to slip and lose battery charge. As far as the pulley goes just use a pulley tool for alignment. Any decent auto store sells them. I had this issue with a Olds Toronado Diesel I once owned.

  • SCE to AUX Good summary.I still think autonomous driving should be banned until some brave mfr claims Level 5 capability, and other distractions like games and videos should only be available for stationary vehicles.As for the A/C, I just turn a knob in my Hyundai EV.
  • MrIcky My bet is flood.
  • Lou_BC "A Stellantis employee recommended the change after they had a near-miss with an emergency vehicle they couldn’t hear."I was at a traffic light and the car next to me had the stereo cranked. My whole truck was vibrating. A firetruck was approaching lights and sirens. They should have seen it since it was approaching from their side. Light changed and they went. It was almost a full on broad-side. People are stupid. A green light at an intersection does not mean it is safe to go. You still have to look especially at a "fresh" green. Idiots run the light, an emergency vehicle is coming, or it's icy and vehicles can't stop.
  • Lou_BC My kids drove around in a 2 wheel drive Chevy Colorado crew cab I bought off a neighbour when they were moving to Alberta. We kept it 4 years but sold it recently due to various engine codes popping up and the engine sounding more tired. It was one of the inline 5's known to have soft valve seats. All I had to repair was new front brakes and rotors, a wheel bearing and a battery. Both kids wrecked a tire clipping a curb. My oldest backed into it with his pickup which required a grill and headlight replacement. We bought a 2008 Corolla as a replacement for my 19 year old. It came with 4 new summers and a set of decent winter tires on rims. We'll run that until it looks like it will implode/explode. My oldest currently has 3 Cherokees (2 for parts), an F150 "Jelly bean", and a Mercury Grand Marquis. Insurance is very expensive for young drivers. That's why beaters can save some money. I haven't put them on my new truck's insurance since that would add around 90 per month in costs. I'll add my oldest to it temporarily so he can use it to get his "full" driver's license.
  • Arthur Dailey I grew up in an era when a teenager could work pumping gas or bussing tables and be able to purchase a vehicle for a couple of thousand dollars and drive it with 'uninsured' status.If a parent advised on the purchase of the vehicle, they would most often point us to a large, stripped/base version, domestic sedan with the smallest possible engine.These cars generally had terrible driving dynamics and little to no safety features, but were easy to work, had large bench seats/interiors and not enough power to get out of their own way.