I like driving stuff hard, even when it’s to my detriment. I mean, why build it if you’re not going to beat on it? My problem is that I’m a lot more enthusiastic in the driving department than I am in the engine-building department. Asking me to repair an engine is kind of like asking Barney Fife to fly the space shuttle. I know just enough to land myself in the dog house and that’s kind of where I am now.
After driving the pee-turkey out of our ’75 Chevy NASCAR Laguna for the past three years, the engine gave up the ghost. I’ve been driving the 408-cube solid-roller small-block on a nearly daily basis to work, to the grocery store, on local errands, to Las Vegas, to Phoenix, and most recently, through a three-and-a-half-hour, world-famous L.A. traffic jam. And it was the traffic jam from hell that sent my motor to hell. I was shaking my head in disbelief on this one. I’ve autocrossed it, drag raced it, and road raced it not to mention stretched its legs on the highway at triple-digit speed more times than I can count.
Just a few miles from home, I started hearing valvetrain noise. This engine has been great in a lot of ways, and it’s never needed a valve lash adjustment, however, on that last drive home it sounded like it needed one. I couldn’t complain, seeing how I’d piled on 12,000 really hard miles. I parked the ’Guna in the garage, nose-out, thinking I’d make a quick fix that weekend and be out on the road again.
As we began digging into the valvetrain, it became obvious that things were far worse than I thought.
I hadn’t adjusted valve lash in years and never on a solid roller. I needed adult supervision, so I called my buddy, Andy Mitchell of Outlaw Racing Engines. Andy has helped me with a bunch of engines over the years (FYI: he didn’t build this one), and we always have a blast when we get together. As we began digging into the valvetrain, it became obvious that things were far worse than I thought. The roller on one lifter had flat-spotted the needle bearings, which puked en masse into the oil pan. The lifter then took out the cam lobe and became seized in the lifter bore after it overheated. We ended up taking the lifter out with a pair of Vise-Grips. Ughh. It’s one of those failures somewhere in that zone between utterly catastrophic and fix-it-over-the-weekendbut at least we were having some fun doing the post mortem. Fortunately, the motor isn’t toast, but it needs enough work that it’s giving me that new engine jones.
You know the feeling. You’ve had the same motor for a few years; first you get used to the power, then you get bored with it. If you’re unlucky, you lose a race or it breaks. I know guys who have even committed engine suicide just so they can build another one that’s stronger. All or most of this 408 will live to see another day. The Scat rotating assembly, AFR heads, Air-Gap intake, Holley carb, Performance Distributors HEI, and COMP Gold rocker arms are all as good as the day they were first fired, and they’ll be a great basis for the start of something new. Heck, as far as I can tell, the block only really needs one lifter bore to be bushed. But this big sled needs something more potent than 560 hp, and this combo is maxed out.
My takeaway from the experience is that I like having a solid-roller motor. Nothing beats the mechanical sound and fury of roller tappets on a big cam especially in a NASCAR-looking beast like the Laguna. The other lesson I get is that if you want to be the big dog on the street, stuff is gonna happen. You buy the ticket, and you take the ride. Bad parts fail, but more importantly, good parts fail if you beat the crap out of them long enough. I’m actually looking forward to the next challenge, and when I figure it out, you’ll see it here!