Mon 9 Jun 2008
This week I replaced the head gasket on my 1930 Model A Ford Sport Coupe using the instructions from page 1-123 of The Model A Ford Mechanics Handbook Volume 1, by Les Andrews. I thought this would be an easy job, and while it wasn’t easy, it is definitely manageable. Just be sure to allow plenty of time. Including the other parts of my life, and other interruptions, this job took me about 3 days.
My buddy Devin gave me a great tip on getting the head off the block. After draining the water out of the radiator, and disconnecting the water outlet pipe (but before removing the distributor or spark plugs), loosen up all the bolts an 1/8 inch or so, and leave them on the studs. Now start the engine. The pressure from the first cylinder igniting should pop the head loose, and as soon as it’s loose, the engine will die. Now you can remove the spark plugs and the distributor, along with the rest of the nuts. I still had to use some persuasion in the form of a dead-blow mallet to get the head all the way loosened up so I could lift it off.
Also, I don’t have a engine lifting bracket or a winch, so I just put some cloths down (so I wouldn’t scratch the paint), and stood on the frame, straddling the engine. It seemed to work fine, but you have to make sure you have a place to put the head once you get it off. I put down a thick towel in front of the windshield and set the head on it until I could get over to the side of the car and move the head over to my work table for cleaning. It’s pretty heavy, so be careful and don’t hurt your back.
I cleaned off the carbon from the underside of the head and from the tops of the pistons, then used a shop-vac to make sure I had gotten all the funk out of there. One thing you don’t want hanging around in your engine is funk. Make sure that the surface of the head, and the top of the block are perfectly clean and smooth before you put your new gasket on. It is imperative that you do everything you can to get a good seal with the gasket. I used the new premium head gasket from Snyder’s that doesn’t require the spray-on sealant. It looks cool, and I’ve heard good things about it.
Also, be extra careful when tightening the nuts on the water outlet pipe. I’ve been told that they break easily, so I only tightened mine to 45 ft/lbs instead of the recommended 55.
After all my work, I was ready to go out for a drive. I put the key in the ignition… and the car wouldn’t start. You can relieve yourself of the disappointment I felt by setting your timing before you try to start the car. Once I did that, things seemed to work fine. Also, don’t forget to re-torque the head nuts after 500 miles of driving.