Guest post by: Dick Russ
Editor’s note: Every year during the Great Race we see and hear stories of those who go the extra mile to keep their car in the event. In 2014, it was Jeff Fredette changing a transmission after Day 3 to try and hold on to his overall lead; in 2015, it was Pat and Patrick King trying to keep their Cadillac on the road. Well, here’s a story of Dick Russ from Oklahoma City and what he and his team went through trying to make the Great Race start. Unfortunately, it did not have a happy ending, but you can get the sense of the other side of racing. But on the bright side, they will be ready for the 2016 Great Race. Dick wrote this article for his car club’s newsletter.
Last November I was reading a car magazine and came upon a notice of the Great Race in June while visiting Mike Cook a dear friend in Montgomery, Texas. You might recall that Mike was here last month showing his white XK8. I really should mention that when we were at Mike’s it was to attend the services for the loss of his wife Sammie.
Anyway, back to my story. Mike and Sammie had been married for 39 years and with the loss of his wife I felt that it would help if he got away from his surroundings for awhile and suggested that we enter my E-Type in the Great Race and he could be the Navigator and I would be the driver. As I’m sure many of you are aware that the Great Race (which came through Oklahoma City the 21st) was
from St Louis to Santa Monica, California. The route was to try and stay on Route 66 as much as possible. So with that said, we mailed in our $500 registration fee (which I had to convince La Neal this was a once in a life time event and Mike and I needed to get away).
I received a letter in January from the Great Race Director that our application had been accepted and upon receipt of the $7000.00 entry fee they would send us the Race Packet. I called the Race headquarters immediately regarding the fee. Jeff the director said that the individual fee was only $5000.00 and I had checked the box for a sponsored car which was $7000.00. At that point I told him I felt that even $5000.00 was more then I wanted to spend. He then suggested that we pay the $5000.00 and go looking for sponsors. I told him I would think about it and was reminded that the end of January was the cutoff date and we were the last entry.
I called Mike and told him what was happening and I felt we should back out of the race. He then suggested that we each pay half the entry fee and go looking for sponsors. If we don’t get sponsors we will still be in the race for $2500.00 and since this is a once in a life time affair we should do it. So with that we sent in our money and started beating the bushes for sponsors. It seemed reasonable since we had six months to find a sponsor or sponsors that surely we could find one ore more to pay the sponsors fee.
We were both excited to be participating in such a great event and driving the E-Type (which was running great) would be a blast. Let’s see, did I say “running great”. No sooner had we sent our money in that the clutch failed in the e-type. How is this possible? It only had 9000 miles since restoration including everything new or rebuilt. Regardless of how it happened, the engine had to be pulled. So La Neal and I took the car to our hangar and proceeded to pull the engine. Once we had gear box/clutch separated from the engine it was easy to see what happened. The throw out bearing which is a block of graphite had totally disintegrated.
I called XK’s Unlimited that I had bought the clutch from and they were extremely sorry for my problem and said they would send me a new clutch and throw out bearing. Now for the rest of the story: I bought all the overhaul parts for the engine from XK’s and after the engine was back together I wasn’t real happy with it. The engine was noisier that what I thought it should be so while waiting for the new clutch I decided to pull the oil pan and check the main bearings. When I had the pan off I found the lower chain Tensioner lying in the bottom of the pan. I then pulled one main bearing to find it was destroyed. Now it was turning into a major teardown. Once the head was off and the timing chain cover removed it was evident what caused the bearing failure. The remains of the lower chain Tensioner was chewing up the timing chain which was distributing metal throughout the engine which means a total overhaul was needed.
With some major machine shop work needed (which I cannot do) I took the crankcase and crankshaft to a company in Yukon that had a good reputation for quality work.
If you saw the movie Money Pit you will appreciate the rest of my story. I ask them when they thought they would have the machine work done. The shop foreman said “TWO WEEKS”! Bear in mind it is now the first week of February. With the race 5 months away that would not be a problem or so I thought. Two weeks later I stopped by their shop to see how they were doing. They had done nothing! I still had plenty of time so again I asked how long. So what did I hear: “TWO WEEKS”. I complained a little and they proceeded to tell me how busy they were and they would try to get on it next week. Now we are into March and still no engine work.
I called the shop and they proceeded to tell me they couldn’t get to it and they sent it to another company in OKC that will do the work I requested. They said it should be ready next week. So when next week rolled around I went to see about my engine to find out that the company the sent it to didn’t realize the cylinders were numbered from the rear of the engine and they installed all the main bearing caps in reverse and machined line bore backwards and would have to redo the work. How much longer; you guessed it: “TWO WEEKS”.
Now we are into the middle of April and no engine. My big cushion of time is gone and it certainly won’t be ready for our Concours unless I get it immediately. Finally I got the call I had been waiting for the past 3 months that the case and crankshaft was ready. Fortunately I had all the parts needed to put the engine back together and with LaNeals help I think we can make Keels and Wheels which is the 5th of May. Time wise we had the engine back together and installed may the 21st and ran it the 22nd. That still gave me eight days to break the engine in (or so I thought). The engine seemed to be running fine so
Our first drive after the initial run was to Ponca City. The engine seemed to be running ok but using more oil than it should. I just figured the rings havened seated yet. So with that I would just take it easy as we headed for Keels and Wheels in Bay City, Texas.
Little did I know we needed an oil truck to accompany us. We used 4 quarts of oil going down and 5 quarts coming back. With this kind of oil consumption there is no way we could drive the Great Race so I told LaNeal we had to pull the engine again and find out what was going on. So Monday May the 4th of May we pulled the engine again. When I pulled the head each piston was soaking in oil. I called XK’s regarding the rings they sent me and found out they were not compatible with the AE Pistons I had in the engine and they did not have the AE Rings. The only company that had them was Terry’s Jaguar and at $200 I had to buy them like it or not.
Fortunately I had all the parts I needed so when the rings arrived we were ready to put the engine back together. LaNeal is really a great help especially when it comes to assembling the engine and installing the pistons. As I was installing the pistons she was guiding the rods into position on each crankshaft journal. When we got to number 6 piston for some reason it didn’t want to go into the cylinder. As it turned out it was not lined up correctly and jamming against the crankcase. This was not a problem other than having to pull it back out and reposition it correctly which we did and continued the assembly. Once done we proceeded to reinstall it in the e-type. I thought to myself; I’m getting to old for this stuff but it should be the last time since we rebuilt everything. Once we got everything installed we were ready to start it. LaNeal was in the car so I told her to start the engine. The engine made about one resolution and froze up. I got under the car and tried to turn it over but it wouldn’t budge.
I hated to say anything at that time but when LaNeal ask what now, I had to tell her we had to pull the engine again to see why it wouldn’t turn over. Now you can count; this is the third time we have had to pull the engine. Once out and apart again I noticed the number 6 piston was off center in the cylinder, not much but just a little. So I proceeded to pull the rod cap off the rod and it was jammed solid. Finally after several tries it came loose.
Remember when I said the rod struck the case during installation, well apparently it knocked a small piece off the casting loose and it jammed between the edge of the rod and the crankshaft preventing the engine from turning over. Once I remove the small piece of metal (about half the size of a BB) the engine turned over smoothly. So no big deal, it was just a bunch of wasted time and labor.
At least we found the problem. Now back together again. The engine ran perfect after the initial break-in. Finally it was running perfect and we were ready for the Great Race in two weeks.
Mike came a couple of days early so we could make sure everything was ready for our 15 day adventure cross country to Santa Monica. Wednesday morning we had the car loaded and ready to roll. Our first stop was in Tulsa for a photo shoot with our Sponsor Tulsa Jaguar/Land Rover. As we were heading east on the Turner Turnpike I mentioned to mike I was concerned about the oil pressure. It seemed to be dropping a little, but not seriously.
As we were getting close to our Tulsa destination I saw the oil pressure suddenly drop to zero followed by a large explosion and smoke everywhere. I told Mike we just lost our engine and coasted towards the next off ramp. Fortunately as we reached the stop sign there was no traffic because I sailed right through it and coasted to a stop in the Quick-Trip parking lot. Momentarily we just sat there is a form of shock. I then said “let’s get out and see what happened”. Upon raising the bonnet it was evident as to what happened. There was a gaping hole in the side of the engine and the rod cap lying on the header pipes.
I called Tom Bloomfield at Tulsa Jaguar to tell him what happened. He expressed disbelief and said he would be right there. Within ten minutes he arrived and said he had a rollback wrecker on the way to pick up the car and take it to his dealership. He said he wanted me to come with him back to the dealership to pick up a courtesy car for us to use until I figured out what we were going to do. Talk about great courtesy service. Mike stayed with car as we headed to the dealership where they had a new Land Rover waiting for me.
My next call was to Jeff at the Great Race to tell him what happened. He said he was really sorry and just let him know what are plans were.
When I got back to the car Mike said there was no sign of a wrecker so I called Tom and he said he would get right on it. In the mean time I had an idea. I called Charlie Blankenship in Norman to see if by chance he just might have a e-type engine available, realizing that would be a million to one odds. Charlie said he had a e-type engine he overhauled for a customer that never paid for it and never came to get it. It has been sitting in his shop and that I was welcome to it. Just think about it for a minute; what would the odds be that an engine was not only available but overhauled and never run since overhaul. All we had to do is pick it up and install it in the car.
I told Mike about it and that with a little luck we could still make the Great Race. I knew I could pull the engine and install the replacement in about 8 hours. So if we got right on it Thursday morning we could have the car running by evening and leave for St Louis Friday morning to join the start of the Great Race the following morning. So we rented a U-Haul truck and trailer in Tulsa and headed for Oklahoma City. Unfortunately by the time the wrecker picked up the car and we picked up the U-Haul and drove to Oklahoma City it was to late to pick up the engine.
Thursday morning we got up at 6:00AM and headed for Charlie’s to receive our gold mine. When we arrived Charlie had the engine ready to load on our trailer but didn’t seem very happy. He said the engine even though overhauled, wouldn’t turn over and suggested we would probably have to pull the head to see what’s wrong. He then said he checked his records and the overhaul was done 15 years ago and the engine had been sitting back in his warehouse all that time. Still it was a find for me so we loaded it in the trailer and headed for my hangar in Bethany.
Mike and I immediately installed it on my engine stand and proceeded to pull the head. Once we got the head off it was evident why it wouldn’t turn over. Two of the cylinder had a lot of heavy rust caused by water in the cylinders. So much in fact I told Mike we were now officially out of the race. Eight months of planning right out the window. But at least we had an engine. So we continued to disassemble it to see what was needed to get it in running condition. For most part it only needed new cylinders and pistons (from the corrosion) after sitting 15 years. The crankcase and Crankshaft were in good condition as was the head. The oil pan had a couple of holes in it. It seems Charlie had sold the oil pan to a friend and took his damaged pan in on trade. At first I thought that’s ok because I could use the pan off of my engine-wrong! After we got the engine out of the e-type it seems the rod had also punched a rather large hole in my pan so large it was not repairable.
Not having an oil pan at the time didn’t seem like a big problem until I called around trying to locate a used one. The cheapest one I could find was from Welch’s Jaguar and it was $750.00. So with a closer look at the damaged pan I had I concluded I could get it fixed which for the record I did and it looks like new.
The aftermath of all this is no race this year, but we are registered for the 2016 race next June which is from San Francisco to some place in Illinois west of Chicago. All the trip will be in the northern states and should be a delightful drive.
I know I have said it before, but now for the rest of the story. I got a call from Harold Eiseman with a interesting question. He wanted to know what the serial number of the engine was that I bought from Charlie. It seems that 15 years ago he bought a e-type from a local man without an engine. And since my engine was overhauled 15 years ago and never retrieved by the customer would it by chance be the engine out of his e-type. So I checked the serial number and low and behold, it came from Harold’s E-Type. Now you know the rest of the story.
While waiting for the crankcase to be machined by Pats Automotive here in Oklahoma City Mike and I decided to tear the failed engine down to see what might have cause the rod failure. My first suspicion was a rod bolt failure. But after pulling the oil pan it was evident as to what happened. Lying in the bottom of the oil pan was a rod but off of rod number 1. I was very critical about making sure all the rod bolts were properly torqued to the specified torque. So why would it have come off if properly installed. I called the company that manufacturers the after market rod bolts and explained what had happened. The service rep ask if the rod bolts were new and I mentioned I bought them XK’s and installed them in the engine three years ago. I then proceeded to tell him about the additional rebuilds. With that information he said there was no doubt as to why the nut came off and the engine threw a rod. The Bolts and nuts made by ARP are extremely high strength stretch bolts. Which means the bolts are tightened (torqued) by measuring the stretch of the bolt rather than by torque alone? He said that I could have possibly been ok by using them twice but not the number of times I did. He further said that in reality they should have only been used once and by my reusing the same bolts over and over again I stretched the bolts to where the lost the ability to retain the nuts which subsequently lead to the engine failure. So by my reusing the bolts a failure was emanate. So with that said, I now know to NEVER reuse the rod bolts (at least the high strength ARP bolts) at overhaul.
The next day I received a call from Bill Terry of Terry’s engines that is also a sponsor of our car in the Great Race. Bill is an old friend from way back. He said I have had so many problems with the old engine, as a friend if I will bring the engine to him in Illinois he will rebuild it to make sure I have a good engine for next year’s Great Race. Now how’s that for a great friend? So when the machine shop got the new sleeves in the block I headed for Benton, Illinois to have my engine rebuilt by an expert.
When I arrived at Bill’s headquarters on Monday I was surprised to find him in a three story brick building. The first floor was where he receives customer engines as well as where he performs his inspection, disassembly and overhaul. The overhaul portion of TT race engines was located in the west end of the building and was spotless where he performed his magic on the Jaguar engines.
The first order of business was to clean and inspect the crankcase and all the engine internal parts. He then carefully measured all the parts including weighing the rods and pistons for balance. Each part was then carefully preassembled in preparation for the assembly. What was really interesting was how clean he made sure everything was during assembly. Bill has a technician Steve Lampley that works for him that does a lot of the assembly while Bill scrutinizes the fit and function of the parts installation. One rather neat part of his engine building is the Engine Build Sheet (which he provided with the engine). It lists every internal part of the engine with the dimensions, and all clearances so you know specifically how the engine was built.
The engine assembly was completed by late Wednesday evening and loaded in the back of the Cadillac Wagon for my trip back to Oklahoma City Thursday. I arrived back home late Thursday afternoon. Friday morning LaNeal and I headed for the hangar to remove the engine from the Cad and start the buildup for installation in the E-Type. Hopefully it will be back in the car by Sunday and driving a few days later.
One thing for sure, we’ll be ready next year’s 2016 Great Race