© 2018-2023 - Macy’s Garage, Ltd.
All Rebuilt Engines are NOT Created Equal!
Since the days of the Model T, fellows with a few tools and a little mechanical ability have been
rebuilding car engines in their barns, garages, and back yards with varying degrees of success.
Sometimes the rebuilt engine ran as good as new, and other times it never ran again. As the
backyard rebuilds were often performed under a large tree that could support a block & tackle to
help with the heavy lifting, the less than complimentary term “shade tree mechanic” was born.
The TRactor engines in our Triumphs are seemingly simple designs, but judging from all of the
engines that were supposedly “rebuilt” by someone else and then come to our shop to be rebuilt
again, there must be some degree of difficulty (or carelessness) that affects a lot of amateurs and
We’ve seen an engine that was rebuilt by a professional racing engine builder where the cam
bearings were installed wrong and the rocker shaft self-destructed from a lack of oil in 100 miles,
and engines supposedly rebuilt that amounted to little more than a new set of rings and a couple of
gaskets. We’ve discovered a plastic bag with new wrist pin snap rings laying in inside the oil pan
of a freshly rebuilt engine, and missing lock tabs on connecting rod and camshaft bolts. We’ve
seen cylinder heads where the inner valve springs were left out, and the outer springs and spring
retainers were free to move around the tops of the valves in directions they shouldn’t have. We’ve
also witnessed many worn-out parts that should have been replaced, and discovered
recommended procedures that were never performed. When a rebuild doesn’t turn out as well as
expected, the choices are to spend more time and money to have it redone correctly, or throw in
the towel and sell the car!
How many times have you browsed through the Cars-for-Sale ads and seen “Rebuilt Engine” listed
among a car’s various features? It’s a fairly common claim, and if you’re even remotely interested
in the advertised model you may jump to the conclusion that “this would be a good one to buy
because I won’t have to do anything to the engine!” Unfortunately, sellers’ claims of engines that
have been “rebuilt” could either be a blessing or a curse to your new acquisition, and there’s a
better than 50/50 chance that it’s going to be the latter. Even if you’re not in the market for a new
car, you’re not exempt from the smoke and mirrors surrounding the “rebuilt” label if you have a car
that needs one.
The word “rebuilt” when applied to an automobile engine is one of those terms that will mean
something different to everyone who hears it. If you ask 100 folks what is included in a rebuild,
you’ll probably get 100 different answers. Unscrupulous used car dealers used to steam clean and
paint an engine and call it “rebuilt”, and I have personally seen one Triumph engine that had the
carbon scraped off of the tops of the pistons and a new head gasket installed that was proudly
advertised as “rebuilt”. So, in the case of a car-for-sale, how are you going to know if it’s a quality
rebuild or not? The last thing you want to do is pay a premium price for a car with a “rebuilt”
engine, and then have to pay more to have it rebuilt again. And should you need to have an
engine rebuilt, how do you choose the folks to do the job for you? Let’s start with the car-for-sale
that already has a “rebuilt” engine, and then we’ll get to selecting a competent shop to rebuild (or
re-rebuild) your engine.
In the case of a seller offering a car with a “rebuilt” engine, talk is cheap so you should ask to see
the receipts. Without receipts, you must consider the engine to be untouched! When receipts are
produced, I always check the dates first, because I've been told that the engine was rebuilt “a
couple of years ago”, and the receipts were over 15 years old! I’m also suspicious of a “rebuild”
that is “fresh” or too recent, because either the “rebuild” was necessary to sell the car (and only the
bare minimum was done), or something didn’t turn out as well as expected.
Next, you need to review the parts list. While there’s no guarantee that all of the listed parts were
actually installed, you should be looking for what’s missing from the parts list just as much as
what’s on it. On our Triumph engines, I want to see an extensive parts list, and a single receipt
that says “engine overhaul $x,xxx” is meaningless. Look past the obvious parts on the list like
rings and crankshaft bearings (mains and rods) and see if the camshaft bearings and gudgeon
(wrist) pin bushings (which are harder to change) are on the list. Same too with valve guides and
springs, and I want to see shims for the crankshaft sprocket, which tells me that someone at least
checked the timing gear alignment. I want to see an oil pump rotor and vane at the very least, and
an oil pump drive bushing is icing on the cake. Get out a Moss catalog and look at the exploded
drawings of the engine, and see what wasn’t replaced. If moving parts that could be expected to
wear are not replaced, along with new lock tabs for the rods and cam sprocket bolts, the engine
did not receive a quality rebuild and you may have to do it again soon! Try to determine if the
“rebuild” was performed in the car, or if the block was removed and hot tanked to clean it
thoroughly inside. Cylinder liners that were removed without thoroughly cleaning the block will
dislodge plenty of gunk that will plug radiators and oil passages, and not removing the liners at all
leaves crud inside that can cause overheating and quickly score your new bearings.
The third and perhaps most important factor to determine the quality of an engine overhaul is “who
did the work?” If you are buying, it doesn’t matter how proud the seller is of his engine builder,
don’t pay a penny extra for the “rebuilt” engine if the work was performed by someone that you’ve
never heard of. If you’ve ever watched any of the collector car auctions on TV, you might have
noticed that cars restored by well known marque specialists always bring a premium price,
because the specialist’s reputation gives added confidence that everything was done correctly. A
TR engine that was rebuilt by Macy’s Garage will actually add value to any car you’re trying to buy
or sell due to our nationally known reputation for excellence. (And if someone tells you their car
has an engine that was rebuilt by us, once again you MUST ask to see the receipts. We have
become the ‘Gucci handbags’ of the Triumph world, and several dishonest folks have claimed that
we rebuilt engines that have never been here!) Special tools and tricks learned from experience
are going to be utilized on every engine rebuilt in our shop, and while your local ‘Bob the Engine
Builder’ may have been in business for 50 years, it’s probably been a very long time since he’s
seen a TR engine. Chances are also very good that we rebuild twice as many TR engines in a
single year as his total number over the last 50!
You could have someone in your local club that has rebuilt most of the member’s engines and will
do a great job for you, but without national recognition and a well deserved reputation for quality, a
buyer on the other side of the country isn’t going to have much confidence if you ever need to sell
your car. If you are well versed in all things automotive, you can also rebuild your engine yourself.
Owner rebuilds can be done to a very high level of quality, but they are also at the bottom of the
totem pole when it comes to reassuring potential buyers as to the quality of the rebuild, so they
won’t add any of the value you’d hoped to gain by having rebuilt the engine.
At Macy’s Garage, we go the extra mile to inject quality into every engine we rebuild. We reside at
the upper end of the “get what you pay for” scale, so we won’t be the lowest cost option but you’ll
get the most complete rebuild and the highest quality possible. Just a few examples of our
dedication to this goal are mentioned here: We ALWAYS turn crankshafts to eliminate ovality of
the journals, which is a problem that polishing alone will never repair. We also balance the rotating
assemblies to assure the ultimate in smoothness. Connecting rods are always reconditioned by
resizing the big ends and installing new gudgeon pin bushes in the little ones. We always install
new valve guides in the head to minimize oil consumption and valve springs which have been
compressed billions of times over the life of the engine are always replaced to guard against future
failure from metal fatigue. We also ‘degree’ new camshafts to guarantee precise valve timing and
convert 4-cyl rear crankshaft seals to slow the loss of oil. Each and every part which can possibly
wear (many of which do not have a specification to measure) are always replaced so we don’t get
caught judging ‘by eye’ whether we think a part will be OK to re-use. (Normally those ‘judgement
call’ parts which get re-used will be the first to fail down the road.) And the coup de grace of all our
efforts is that every engine is mounted on our test stand and run before shipment or installation in
your car, so once it’s installed it shouldn’t have to come back out ever again!
For peace of mind as to the quality of your rebuild, and to add maximum value to your TR,
consider sending your engine to Macy’s Garage for the ultimate overhaul you deserve. Do it once
and do it right, and you’ll never regret your decision.
I received the following e-mail from Dale in SD back in 2016. Dale doesn't mention it, but I know
him from TRA National Meetings. If you own a TR2-4A and don't belong to the Triumph Register of
America, you need to join Right Now!
I have, so to speak, a 1959 TR3A that I foolishly took to a 'local shop' in October of 2012 for an
engine overhaul. I have given my self many-a-verbal-spanking since then. I would like some
information about the 8mm, or so I'm told, banjo fitting on the block that supplies the oil pressure to
the line that goes to the dash gauge.
I should note I've not seen what he's up against, since his shop is some 60 miles from where we
live. As I understand it, and it doesn't surprise me, the fitting was sealed with JB Weld, which I
found in numerous other places to seal fittings and hold things in place. The fitting, as I understand
it, doesn't fit straight in the threaded hole in the block.
What I think I'm getting at is, where can this fitting be found. It's not noted in the catalogs from
Moss, TRF or Vickie-Brit. It's not shown in the parts breakdown or in the 'exploded parts view' I'm
not sure I care about originality at the present time. I'd just like to get my car back and be able to
securely drive it. Is the fitting, indeed, 8mm thread or 5/16 inch thread, or perhaps some British
thread? From what I've seen in the view of the block in the different catalogs, there are two other
plugs in the block, if indeed this is where this fitting is, could one of these be used for the installation
of the oil fitting?
I've been waiting over three years for the garage I foolishly took it to, to get the car done and back
to me, so I'm not in a grand rush for an answer.
Really? Over three years to overhaul a TR3 engine and still not finished? We could have done a
complete frame-up, nut and bolt restoration on Dale's car in that amount of time. Twice! It's not a
good sign to have your car serviced by mechanics who use JB Weld on an engine, or those who
don’t know enough about TR's to hook up an oil gauge line! I'm pretty sure that this is only the tip
of the iceberg, and there will be more problems once the car is up and running again, if it ever
makes it that far.
I talk to a lot of people about their TR's, but because I know Dale from TRA I do remember having
a dialog with him several years ago about having his engine rebuilt here. For whatever reason,
cost or distance or some other silly reason that sounded good at the time, he opted to have the
work done by someone else. I remember telling Dale that I hoped it would work out for him, but
obviously it has not. I'm usually very sympathetic and try to help when someone doesn't do their
research and gets into this kind of predicament because they didn't know about us, but when they
make a conscious decision to bypass our shop in favor of another option, then I can't be the "go-to
guy" that will provide the answers they need to get out of trouble! Good luck to you Dale!
Just to prove that we've never seen it all, we just received this photo from a "Professional Engine
Builder" who was rebuilding a TR3 engine for a well known East-coast British car shop. The
engine builder was upset that the Revington rear seal conversion that we had sold to the British
car shop would not fit.
After listening to how many of these the engine builder had done, and how much he knew about
these conversions, and what a piece of junk I had sold to the British car shop, I finally got him to
send me a photo so that I could better understand his problem.
Before the thumbnail had finished downloading on my computer, I recognized the problem in an
instant. The "expert" from the East-coast with “all the experience” had installed the Revington seal
holder BACKWARDS! You can see in the photo that the seal is already on the crankshaft, with
nothing to hold it in place because the black seal holder is installed outside of the engine. It also
appears that he's already managed to scratch the new main bearing as well. I feel sorry for the
poor unsuspecting owner of this TR3, for they are not going to receive a quality rebuild from these
Dan bought a TR4 with a "rebuilt" engine, but it smoked and he brought it here to us. We found
that his engine had one of those accessory oil feed lines to bring oil up to the rocker shaft, which
generally supplies too much oil to the top of the head and which almost always leaks down through
the valve guides causing clouds of blue smoke. But why would someone need to install this
"band-aid" on a freshly rebuilt engine? The only things I could think of were that they installed the
cam bearings wrong and blocked an oil feed hole, or they didn't clean the inside of the engine well,
and an oil passage was blocked with debris.
When we got the engine disassembled, we got to the bottom of the mystery in short order.
Someone apparently did not have a proper cam bearing installation tool, so they cut slots in each
of the bearings so that they could be slipped into the block by hand. While these bearings are
prohibited from spinning by retainer bolts, the slits provided an easy path for oil to escape, which
meant there wasn't enough pressure or volume to supply the rocker shaft at the top of the engine.
Thus, the need for the auxiliary feed line which caused the smoke, which ultimately led to the
discovery of this cobbled engine rebuild. Another example of why I'm suspicious of cars for sale
with "rebuilt" engines.
This is where we found this plastic bag containing new snap
rings for the piston gudgeon (wrist) pins in a recently
"rebuilt" TR4 engine. Also note the debris in the bottom of
Cylinder walls in this "rebuilt" TR3 engine were scuffed
with some sandpaper, and new rings installed. They did
not seal on the poorly prepared cylinder walls. Also note
the rust in the water passages near the cylinders, and the
crud in the lifter galley.
If the cylinder liners are not removed and the block
thoroughly cleaned, all of this mess stays in the engine and
your "rebuild" will have to be done again when this rust
breaks loose and continually plugs your radiator
Don’t be surprised if your freshly ‘rebuilt’ engine continues
to overheat when all of this crud keeps the water away
from the cylinder liners AND removes volume from the
"Degree-ing" a camshaft in a TR2-4A engine is a slow
and delicate process that requires patience and
understanding to achieve absolute precision. The
special tools that we have created helps the process as
well! A new web page devoted to this operation is now
available in our "TECH" menu at the top of this page.
All rebuilt engines from Macy's Garage are run on our
test stand before shipment or installation in your car.
New bearings were installed in this "rebuilt" engine, but
the seals on both sides of the rear main cap are the
originals that were left in place. The oil poured out of
the back of the engine, to say the least!
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