El Camino Nitrouso

Big Block Rebuild Blues in C Flat

hen we last visited, my friend and mechanic Abe Simpson had taken apart the 402 Rat motor that had been transplanted into my El Camino and verified what he already suspected. Whoever rebuilt the 402, which had less than 1,500 miles of use since I bought the Elk, had evidently used a “dingle berry” brush to hone the cylinder walls and, as a result, much of the piston rings never saw contact with the block.

The Rat made noise and smoke more associated with a John Deere combine diesel engine than a gasoline-stoked V8. When I drove it, as soon as the engine got above 2,000rpm a bad combination of piston blow-by and a blown head gasket would result in a pressurized crankcase, water jacket passages and evidently the radiator.

The results? The Elk going down the highway at speed appeared to be steam powered.  The water in the cooling system spewed out of the three-inch Flowmaster pipes in a trail of steam startling those following too closely, as they needed to use their windshield wipers on a clear day. It didn’t take much drive time to relieve the cooling system of most of its liquid, which in turn sent the temp gauge needle to the extreme right and the oil pressure needle to the extreme left.

To make matters worse, the Elk’s ill-fitting window and door rubber made such a racket above 70mph that your ears didn’t know if you were being tortured by the CIA or attending  a Mariah Carey concert. All you knew for sure was that you would confess to water- boarding Mother Theresa after about 30 minutes in the speeding Elk for just a little peace and quiet.
So after the last shakedown cruise, Abe and I retired to the P&R Lounge (dogs are welcome) where we confronted the reality that after five years of thrashing on the Elk it was now going to need an engine rebuild before it could be really be driven more than a quarter of a mile at a time.

So, we took the engine parts and pieces and moved them to my nearby storage unit and  started to plan on how we were going to put together a new engine for El Camino Nitrouso. After a couple of rounds of Papst Blue Ribbon long necks we decided that what the Elk needed was a whole new engine. We would build an L-88 clone complete with  factory Chevy aluminum heads.