1950 Chevrolet COE: Stuck Engine & the Fix!
When I was working with the previous owner of the COE, he said that part of the reason he was selling it was because the engine was stuck when he got it. Supposedly the owner before that had claimed that it ran, and when this guy got it home the engine was stuck. I’ve dealt with stuck engines before, and I have gotten them loose and running again, although those two times resulted in complete engine overhauls…. not something I wanted to tackle right away.
First I tried to see if I could turn the engine over by hand… On a cab over engine (COE), it is almost impossible to reach anything from the front, so I removed the flywheel pan cover, and used a screwdriver to try to lever on the starter ring…. nothing doing, and I didn’t want to risk damaging the teeth. I knew I needed something with more leverage, and better attachment, so I ordered up a flywheel handle tool. They were cheap, so I ordered two of them… Good thing, because the 1st one just bent when I tried to put some muscle to it! This just confirmed that it was stuck, and needed some help in terms of a penetrant to help break it loose.
So I did some research on methods to get an engine free on the internet. A lot of mis-information, some decent information, but no real clear cut direction. The one thing that did seem to be corroborated by numerous sources was a mixture of acetone and automatic transmission fluid as a penetrating oil. Since I didn’t have much time to work on it, and with my full time job having me located in China, I knew whatever I put in there as a penetrant would have plenty of time to work. I decided to proceed with the Acetone and ATF method, as I could get lots of volume pumped into the cylinders.
I mixed up about a gallon of the stuff, 50% acetone, 50% ATF, and using a hose on a gear lube bottle, I filled each cylinder up, and headed back to China!!!
Every 6 months when I was back at the shop (home visits from China), I would take the 2nd flywheel handle, and give it a try…. no success, but I was also busy with other things. In the back of my mind, I was also thinking of a bigger and better tool to make it turn.
After about a year, my brother was out, and he helped make a better tool, but it still wasn’t enough to make it turn. I also made another upgraded version of the flywheel handle tool, but it also wasn’t good enough.
At about the 2 year mark, I finally had a good idea on how to get some better leverage. I used some plate steel, and made it so that it bolted to the flywheel/clutch housing using 2 of the available holes that the clutch housing bolts to the flywheel. The plate steel was as long as I could fit under it, and measured around 18″. My nephew, ~10 yrs old, helped with the measuring and fabrication.
We crawled under the truck, and with his help holding it, I bolted it into place and tightened it down. I first tried pulling and pushing on it by hand, and I could just feel a slight amount of movement. I then flipped around so I could get my foot on it, and with a few kicks, I got some decent movement. I could then start to rotate it back and forth, gaining more movement each time! We repositioned the tool a few times, and finally got the engine turned over a complete turn. Now the upgraded flywheel tool I made could make it turn, and I figured it might be time to get it to spin a lot more… with the starter!
I disconnected the ignition wires, and then put in a 12v battery to hook the starter up to. Using a screwdriver as a jumper across the solenoid, I was able to spin it over! And boy what a mess!!! All of that Acetone/ATF mixture got pumped and sprayed out of the spark plug holes, along with a lot of build-up of gunk!
I needed something to rinse the cylinders out, and also lubricate them at the same time, so I went and bought a couple of gallons of diesel fuel. Gasoline is too explosive, and would also remove all of the oil residue, whereas diesel is closer to an oil, and yet would help rinse everything clean.
After a few messy cycles of filling each cylinder with diesel and then cycling the engine over with the starter, things were looking pretty good! It seemed like there was only 1 cylinder that had a lot of gunk coming out of it, Number 2. I’m guessing that it has a blown head gasket to that cylinder, and that antifreeze/water leaked into the cylinder, causing corrosion in the cylinder, and when it sat too long, it rusted up and prevented the engine from turning. Time did the rest of the job.
Next step, hook up some temporary wires to the coil and distributor, and see if I can get spark. Then see if I can get it to fire up with some gas down the carburetor. That will at least get it moving under its own power, and make it far easier to then perform some of the other repairs to get it driveable. Even if it doesn’t run great, its far more rewarding to have a short test drive after each additional item gets fixed. At some point I’ll have to tackle a full engine rebuild, but I want to have a bit of fun with it first!
Here’s some pictures.
First, the tools used: Clockwise from far right, the original flywheel turning tool, the modified version, the version made by my brother and me, and at the top the final version that worked.