Knoxville Adventures

By Paul Horton (I don’t call my mom “Dorothy”):

Dorothy and I have enjoyed the National Street Rod Association’s Knoxville event for many years.  Being the first weekend in May, the change in the season from our (Cambridge, Ontario) dirty, late spring to Knoxville’s early summer (well, it’s like that to us, anyway) makes the I-75 trip worthwhile.  This year, we left on the Saturday before the event and travelled through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, and then into Tennessee.  Our fenderless, hoodless, repop Olds air cleaner on a crate motor, 32 3-window hummed along without a care in the world.

Adventure #1 took place in Bedford, PA.

We got up and were ready to be on the road at 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning to get to Virginia by about 1:30.  There had been some rain overnight.  The roof of the car had some water on it and the motel parking lot was damp, but no puddles.  Dorothy went to check out and I would meet her at the motel office.  I gave a short hit on the key and instead of the usual burst of energy from the ZZ4 small block, I heard “CHUNK!”.  A second quick hit and another “CHUNK!”.   A lot of you are wondering why I hit the key the second time.  I wonder that, too, but…

Why was the engine seized?  It hasn’t missed a beat since we fired it last August and there’s about 7,500 miles on it.  My first thought, after the second “CHUNK!”,  was that water was in the cylinders.  For non-“engine-people”, this isn’t good.  For real “engine guys”, you know how bad this can be.  Personally, my engine knowledge is somewhere in the middle, but I was scared.  We unpacked the trunk, got the room key back from the front desk, and got out the Wardlow tool bag with the “essential” tools.  But the 5/8″ spark plug socket wasn’t there.  Five of the eight plugs came out using a box end.  Water poured out of 2 plug holes.  Another motel guest lent me his socket and the last 3 were removed.  More water drained.  Cranking the spark plug-less engine blew out lots more.  Then some black stuff dribbled out of #8 plug hole.  The dipstick was just oil.  No water.  Good!  The air filter was dry.  I’d do a lot of thinking about how the water got into the engine.

Options now were to give up, call a flat bed and get hauled back to Canada.  $$$$$.  Or we could try to start it.  Maybe $$$$$, but probably no more than the hauler would cost.  Well, it fired right up, but idled rough(er) and one lifter ticked loudly.  A call to my friend in Virginia and I went with his suggestion to change the oil & filter and see how it ran.  He figured water had got into the lifter.  Sounds easy enough.  But, at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning in Bedford, PA (and probably lots of other places, too), an oil change wasn’t happening.  After exhausting the garages and “quicky” oil change places, I noticed Martz Chassis in the yellow pages.  A couple of calls and Gary Martz was on the phone and he said bring it here!  And he was only about 5 miles from the motel.  Gary and a friend were waiting for a customer who was coming to pick up parts.  Gary is a Ford engine guy and didn’t have a filter for a Chev, but his friend did and we were done.  Still no trace of water in the oil.

Side note…  What a shop Gary has!  He makes front and rear frame clips for loads of vehicles.  Check his website at  It’s amazing how talented and driven some people (e.g. Gary) are.

Well, we were off to Virginia.  The lifter quieted down within an hour and the car felt pretty good.  But it still idled rough and really didn’t seem to have the power from yesterday.  The answer to this is “dumber” than hitting the key after the first “CLUNK!”.  In Virginia, we decided to change the plugs to see if that was the power answer.  It was, sort of.  I hadn’t tightened one of the plugs in the morning after getting the water out.  It was just finger tight, so didn’t hold compression.

Now, how did the water get in the engine?  The air filter was dry when I checked it in the morning.  Turns out, it wasn’t some psycho who poured his drink into the air cleaner.  (Remember, the filter was dry.)  Over the winter, one of my “upgrades” was to put an internal tooth lock washer under the rocket-styled hold-down nut.  I hoped this would keep the air cleaner from rotating and discourage anyone from trying to “lift” my rocket.  Without the internal tooth lockwasher, the rocket seats against the top plate.  With the washer, the rocket is slightly off of the plate surface and the water can drain into the carb and then into the manifold.  Since Knoxville, I removed the lockwasher.  The car got caught in the rain and the top of the air cleaner was like a birdbath, but didn’t drain.

Hopefully, this story has been entertaining and educational.  The adventure was certainly educational for us.  And, happily, didn’t cost too much.

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