EVERYTHING WAS AS IT SHOULD BE, UNTIL THEY TRIED TO FIRE UP THE Y-BLOCK. THERE WAS NO OIL PRESSURE – NOT EVEN A FLICKER OF THE GAUGE NEEDLE
THIS was a barn-find. A faded 1954 F100, dust-laden and swallow-pooped, with four stuffed tyres, squatting behind two tractors. The guys knew what it was, incredibly straight and mostly free of tinworm. This was the first model to be fitted with the mighty 239-cube Y-block, after the venerable sidevalve V8 was finally put out to pasture. The pair haggled over money with the son of the late owner and came back with cash and a trailer.
It was now destined to return to the roads as a street machine. They cleaned every damn thing, ripped out the engine and auto, and, not knowing anything much about rebuilding Y-blocks, gave this to a performance guy to recondition. He came back to them after a couple of days, saying that the pistons and crank had done too much work. He could get 11:1 slugs out of the USA plus a roller cam, the crank was grindable, and the valves could be refaced, but they would need new springs. They said okay to his estimate, and went on with new blue paint, flash upholstery, and low-profile tyres on blue-centred, as-wide-as-they-could-fit alloys.
The truck was looking good. The carbs and wide manifold came back from a specialist induction shop, the auto was rebuilt with a high-stall torque converter and manual-shift valvebody, it already had a nine-inch rear axle that only needed a clean and new seals, and they contracted a guy to run hidden wires front to back.
Finally, the Y-block came back: gleaming and clean in new paint, triple two-barrels proud above an almost dead-white manifold, a nice pair of headers hanging off each side, and for something more reliable, a Mallory distributor to trigger the high-voltage electronic ignition.
There was huge enthusiasm to bolt on the chosen C6 auto and slide that and the engine back in, hook up all the gear and temporarily refit engine exhaust pipes with the old mufflers. Then it would be trailered to a local shop for new bigbore pipes and stuff, which would create a full twin system.
The fuel tank had been cleaned, a full set of gauges would tell them everything about the health of the engine, and even the starter motor had been restored with new bushes and brushes. Everything was as it should be – until they tried to fire up the mighty Y.
They knew it would run, as there already had been a 20-minute test session at the engine builder’s, and so it did after they had pumped fuel to the old twin-throat carbs. But there was no oil pressure. Not even a flicker of the gauge needle. Damn! Must be a dud gauge; go borrow another one from Joe. Fitted that, fired the engine, no different. Joe reckoned his gauge worked.
They rang the reco performance guy, who said he would come out with a master gauge. Arrived a half-hour later, plugged his gauge in and said: “We’ll have pressure when you crank the engine with the sparkplugs out.” Then the moment of truth arrived: his beaut gauge never even twitched. “Guys, you’ll have to pull the sump off. I’m too busy for that; give me a ring if you find anything weird.”
That didn’t go down too well with the hard-yakka blokes, but they did this anyway, looking up at the oily insides from underneath. Nothing had dropped off or out of where it should be, including the small pancake oil pick-up, so they decided to pull the base off the oil pump and crank the engine to see if the pump had drive from the camshaft. The base fell off onto the concrete, and there was only one gear inside.
Where the hell did the other one go? Must be here somewhere. They did an eyes-on-concrete search and just about dismantled the ramps. No gear. They then checked that the drive to the only gear inside the pump was fine.
They finally figured that the pump idler gear had never been fitted, and rang the engine guy. “Impossible!” he said. “I had 70psi hot on the test bench. That gear must still be somewhere on your floor, and something else must be causing your loss of oil pressure.”
“Mate, the gear isn’t anywhere inside our shed. That gear must still be at your place.”
“Bullshit! We did pull the sump after that test bench run, just to check that everything was okay. But I swear my young bloke refitted everything.”
Impasse. So they hunted again for the phantom gear. Then the mobile rang: “Ah, hi there. We found the gear. Sorry guys. Me young bloke took the pump apart when the sump was off, just to check, and your gear fell off the bench into the rubbish bin and he forgot all about it. Probably dreaming of some sheila again. I’ll be right out to refit it.”
An hour later, they had oil pressure, and shared a beer with the still-apologetic engine builder.