$25K Project Dino: Engine rebuild was a budget-busting, quad-cam quagmire
The fuse of my personal ticking time bomb was a 28-cent nut. Although that rudimentary fastener’s specific job will never be known, it was most likely one of 32 little soldiers tasked with holding the valve covers in place. This nut was originally one of the least important parts of the entire car, but it had worked its way into a position to ambush the 2.9-liter Dino V-8. That motor, you might recall, came in the 1975 Ferrari 308 GT4 that I’ve been restoring—and sometimes writing about here.
(Last year, editor-in-chief Larry Webster set forth on a bold path to fix up the 1975 Ferrari Dino 308 GT4 he bought for $25,000. He wasn’t sure our fine readers would be all that interested in hearing about it, but your vigorous responses proved otherwise. The last installment in the Dino article series published this past February, when the Ferrari had its first test drive. –EW.)
About the time of my last update, I separated the engine from the body and sent the two large assemblies to specialists. The body needed rust repair and new paint. The engine, which I got running after it had been sitting for 20 years, seemed fine to me. I changed the timing belts and paid a neighborhood kid $200 to scrape and clean up the grime. I planned to simply reinstall it in the freshly painted body. Our Marketplace editor, Colin Comer, called me a fool and said I should have the engine rebuilt while it was out. Easy for him to say—he’s not paying the bills.
Comer persuaded me, though. He happens to be friends with the founder and owner of a Ferrari shop near Milwaukee called GT Motorsports. Last December, I carted the engine there and met Al Pinkowsky, who opened his one-man garage in the mid-1990s and has worked on the Italian cars ever since.
I’ve found that recommendations from people I trust are by far the best way to find the artisans to do this work. Pinkowsky quickly discovered that the aluminum intake manifolds—they connect the Weber carburetors to the engine—had corroded around the steel bolts that hold them in place. One technique to break these parts free is to heat them, let them cool, and then repeat. There’s a risk of damaging the manifolds, however, which cost about five grand for used replacements. This is where you want someone like Pinkowsky holding the torch.
The scenario reminded me why I was hesitant to rebuild the engine in the first place. It ran fine, so let sleeping dogs—and stuck manifolds—lie. Also, there was no way Pinkowsky could predict the total cost for the job. He didn’t know the degree of stuckness until he started. Eventually, he had to break off the studs and have a machine shop drill out the remains. You can hear the cash register ringing, right?
In April, Pinkowsky texted me: “Finally got the manifolds off!” The parts were so gross with corrosion, it became obvious that any sort of future engine work beyond routine maintenance would have required removing the engine. Might as well go through the struggle now.
Then he found the valve bucket. This part is a small steel cup that sits between the top of the intake valve and the cam lobe. It moves as the valve opens and closes. That little nut, which probably fell into the valvetrain when the cover was off, had wedged under the bucket and nearly destroyed it. Who knows how long that nut lived there and what havoc it could have caused.
Meanwhile, another specialist, Dave North of Magneti Marelli Distributor Restoration, refurbished the two distributors. I have to admit that I only have a partial understanding of how these things work, so when North asked if I wanted to stay with the mechanical points or switch to an electronic replacement, I didn’t know how to answer. Since I’m always paranoid about being stranded on some remote back road, I stuck with the points under the fantasy that perhaps I could fix them. North supplied an exhaustive report of the origin and calibration of the two distributors.
Last September, I returned to Pinkowsky’s place and handed over a $20,000 check, which I considered a more than fair price for the expertise and the hours of work he put into my engine. That price included all of the machine work and a list of parts saddled with Ferrari prices. The seal kit alone, which includes gaskets, O-rings, and main seals, was $1500. Considering that I paid $25,000 for the car, I’m close to doubling what I spent on it.
I haven’t even covered the bodywork, paint, or interior work yet. These projects are not for the squeamish.
This article first appeared in Hagerty Drivers Club magazine. Click here to subscribe and join the club.
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