Starting a New Engine

Starting a New Engine
By Don Terrill (c)2005

Nothing is more nerve-racking than starting an engine for the first time. Here are some tips and reminders for getting it right:

Prime the oil pump - It's best to do it right before startup, but anything is better than nothing - even if you just pull the coil wire and crank it (assuming you're not breaking-in a flat tappet cam).

Set the lash - I recommend setting the lash on the tight side for startup. Given the low rpm it probably doesn't matter, but it is a move in the right direction.

Set the distributor - This is where many racers have problems. Here are two methods I use:
  • Rotor location - Turn the crank to 30+ degrees before TDC on the compression stroke of cylinder number one and install the distributor so the rotor points to number one plug wire on the cap. For more accuracy, consider any mechanical/vacuum advance the distributor may add at startup, and which edge of the rotor tip actually does the firing - usually it's the trailing.
  • Spark - The method above should work like a charm, but for a little more assurance you can pull the number one plug wire off at the spark plug, loosen the distributor so it moves easily, install a spare plug in the end of the wire, ground the plug by putting the threads or ground strap in contact with grounded metal on the car, turn the ignition on and then quickly turn the distributor back and forth with your hand to find the exact point where the spark happens.
Crank extra timing in it - Everyone wants to be safe when they start a new engine, which leads many to starting with little or no ignition advance - which leads to hot exhaust valves and glowing headers. Don't be afraid to run more than normal - with little or no load, or rpm; nothing bad can happen.

Double check the plug wires - Want a sure way to set your hair on fire? Just mess up the plug wires and put your face over the carb as the engine is cranked. If that doesn't sound like fun, give the wires one last look-over right before startup.

Use a known carburetor - This is no time to be trouble-shooting a carburetor. If you have any trouble getting the engine to start, you can rule out the carb since you used one of known quality.

Check fluids - Not many people miss the oil, but I have seen the aftermath of engines run without coolant - not pretty.

Funny observation: Have you ever noticed how many people show up to watch a new engine being started? I swear, men have a sixth sense that tells them when someone is about to start an engine, and they show up in mass. I've joked I was going to set up a grandstand and start charging for admission. Is it me or have you noticed the same thing? My advice: Don't tell anyone when you plan on starting your engine. Let the peanut-gallery go to the theatre where they belong.

Tips for tuning after start up...

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