For whom the phone rings

Kyle Smith

My phone stopped ringing recently. No matter what settings I adjust, calls go straight to voicemail. The fear of missing a friend’s text or call leads me to pick up the phone and check it even more often than I already do. (An unhealthy amount.) So when I saw I had missed a call from Davin Reckow, I was both annoyed and intrigued. What could the Redline Rebuild hero need from me?

Dropping what I was doing, I called him back.

“Hey, missed your call. How’s it going?”

“Oh, pretty good. Say, you don’t happen to have a balancer for a Corvair hanging around, do ya?”

Corvair harmonic balancer
On a Corvair, the harmonic balancer also drives the alternator and cooling fan via a V-belt. Kyle Smith

The harmonic balancer is a humble piece on most cars. It dampens the resonance and torsional vibrations that come from a multi-cylinder engine. Some Corvair engines have harmonic balancers, some don’t. Those that do have a decent chance of experiencing a failure if their balancer is swapped for the solid pulley of the other engines.

Davin was in the throes of attempting to bring a Corvair back to life for Hagerty’s Will It Run? YouTube series. This meant he needs the right parts, and no one in Traverse City, Michigan stocks Corvair parts except, well, me most likely.

“Any chance you can bring that spare over to the shop?”

Of course, I said yes.

harmonic balancer failed
The rubber between the inner and outer rotors is critical, and it can fail over time—like this one has. Kyle Smith

I couldn’t help feeling honored. This was Davin, a man who has helped me on dozens of projects by lending advice or tools or clarifying my understanding of a system or problem. He has been a mentor to me in the 12 years he and I have known each other. Who am I to be helping him out?

Well, I’m the guy who has spent 20 years relatively obsessed with the air-cooled wonder that is the Corvair, a car that Chevrolet released to the world in 1960. The same car that shared few parts with its contemporaries at a time when the U.S. carmakers were really putting in effort to stretch tooling costs and lower MSRP. It was things like all those unique parts that likely shortened the Corvair’s lifespan, ignore all the drivel about that lawyer-turned-politician and his book. Corvairs have always been a little odd and often to its own detriment, so when you have a friend who might know more about them than you do, you call.

Not having the puller I needed to remove the balancer Davin needed, I had to get creative. I grabbed a piece of angle iron from my small stash of stock, drilled three holes in it to match up with those in the crank center and in the threaded puller holes. In the center I used the threaded foot from a shelf to which I had added casters, and then I scrounged up a few bolts that matched the threaded holes in the balancer. The shelf foot wedged between the crank snout and the puller so that, when I tightened the outer bolts evenly, the angle iron pushed on the snout and pulled the balancer right off the crankshaft’s taper.

Corvair balancer with puller
Kyle Smith

A crude tool, but it made the job quick and easy. As a bonus, my solution would fit between the rear engine mount and the pulley when the engine was installed in a car, the situation that Davin and I were tackling. I talked him through what parts could be left in place for the balancer swap and recommended a course of action. I also called out a few Corvair-specific problems he could expect to encounter, including:

  • The nests that form under the “turkey roaster.” (This phrase is slang for the sheetmetal that sits atop the engine to direct the cooling airflow.) It’s a perfect animal home, and, when occupied, blocks all the air that should be forced down through the cylinder and cylinder head cooling fins.
  • The mechanical fuel pump diaphragm, which often fails in a manner that floods the crankcase with fuel.
  • Last but not least, the heater ducting that can cut your driveshafts in half

Like I said, weird cars. Nearly every make and model of vehicle has some kind of intricacy or weird insider knowledge, though. That’s part of the fun in this hobby—mentally amassing thousands of facts and figures that only apply to very specific situations. Do I need to know the proper valve-lash tolerances for the ’68–69 L88 Corvette engine? Not at all, but I do: .022-inches for the intake, .024-inches for the exhaust.

Corvair on lift
Kyle Smith

Being called upon by someone that I see as knowing more than me is something of an honor, but the more I thought about it, the less that feeling had to do with Corvair stuff. It had more to do with the general feeling of helping someone with whom I shared a mission: To save vintage vehicles, keep them on the road, and ensure any and all knowledge is handed down, logged, or otherwise preserved.

It is within our human nature to feel the need to be needed, to know that our specific knowledge and skills matter. Nothing feeds that innate desire like being asked to help. And when the person asking is someone we respect, the warm and fuzzy feeling that we matter is only amplified. Studies show that this feeling of purpose and value releases dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin within our bodies. These three neurotransmitters are the fuel, air, and spark that make a human run correctly.

Corvair at shop door
Did we push the car to the door or did the Corvair drive out on its own? You’ll find that out later. Kyle Smith

All of that warm-and-fuzzy can come from picking up the phone and asking your friends for help, whether you actually need it or not. Consider this a call for you to go out into the garage and do something—but you have to call friend over to assist.

It doesn’t matter if the work on your project doesn’t get done, or if it takes a lot longer; sometimes the maintenance we truly need is for ourselves, just sharing our expertise and having it appreciated. So call a friend. Just not me, because my phone still doesn’t ring.


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    Balancer failure is much more common than some would thing. Often while not a total failure they can spin on the ring. LS1 are just pressed on and can fail or spin on the rubber when the engine has higher HP added.

    We should all mark the balance to tell if it has spun.

    Much like Rob’s “Pay It Forward” article, this piece shows us the value of being just plain kind and helpful. Whether it be for a pal of a total stranger, I truly believe that most members of the car community are as good or better as anyone at displaying the attitudes of sharing and caring. 👍

    There was someone that would rebuild the Corvair balancer, & They guarantied their work.
    Unfortuniatly, no one in the aftermarket sector is willing to make new ones, since the Corvair market is so small.
    The Corvair Community as a whole, tend to be Good People, willing to help another fellow Corvair owner in need.

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