Justy Little Project Car: The joy of a good machine shop, and a rogue Nissan Axxess

project-lead I don’t understand it. Even though I live near the birthplace of speed and some kind of important race track, engine machine shops are hard to come by. I drove 40 minutes one way to the machine shop when I rebuilt my WRX’s engine, and they even had to send the crankshaft out to another shop to get serviced because its journals were too small for their machines. My co-workers at a car magazine at the time had no suggestions. I expected triple the hassles when rebuilding an abandonware 3-cylinder, but shortly before I tore my Justy’s engine down, I managed to find a more local shop. A friend stumbled across a pamphlet of theirs that listed a bunch of services and standard prices. When I saw lightening and balancing, crank knifing, and head work services all at attainable prices, visions of a high-revving, high-compression, 100-horsepower Uber-Justy danced in my head. 20151019_222130 I looked up the address and my phone navigated me to an unmarked shop in a bad part of town. I found out that Daytona Auto Designing has been around for decades, and get all their business by word-of-mouth. I was surprised when Joe and Shawn Bergeron, the father-and-son owners, both knew what a Justy was and were actually excited to work on it—a welcome departure from the “Yeah, I guess we can” attitude at the V8-centric shop that bored and was bored by my EJ205. justy cylinder head I asked Joe to inspect and grind the crank, inspect the cylinder head, inspect the block and cylinder bores, and check the front engine cover for cracks. justy front engine cover I was waiting on their reports before I ordered the requisite $600 in parts. If the engine’s front cover ($485) or crankshaft ($510) had to be replaced, I would have sent the engine to scrap instead and found another use for Justy Little Car Shell. My regular check-ins with the shop as they inspected each part yielded good news. The bores were in good shape, and I’d be fine with just a fresh hone. The front engine cover, pictured above, cleaned up well and was miraculously crack-free. They lightly planed the mating surface to make sure it was straight. justy oil pump They did reveal a few problems. For one, the oil pump and its shaft were scored and needed replacing. That’s standard procedure for an engine rebuild anyway, but it was indicative of just how worn out this engine was. Part of the problem also was that the oil pump’s pressure relief valve was stuck open, so there was a major loss of oil pressure all the time. The pump shaft rides in that aluminum front engine cover, which is another problem area for these Justy engine covers, but thankfully mine was not badly worn. The crankshaft was fine, but it required grinding off 0.010-inch on all the journals to remove the scoring. (Pictures of that in my previous post.) justy exhaust valves The six intake valves were fine, but its three exhaust valves were badly burnt. The one on the left is noticeably not round anymore. Same for the one on the right, though it’s hard to see in this photo. The middle one is so badly burned that it’s noticeably smaller than the other two. This was the valve adjusted so tight it was stuck open. Desoto Fireflite A short interlude: During Thanksgiving week, the guys moved their shop to a new building in a better part of town. They now have a display window where they can show off some of the engines they’ve built, and a much better storefront on U.S. Route 1 (rather than a side street off of MLK Blvd.). IMG_20151204_125710 The day I shot these photos, they were still setting up the display window. There was some kind of Ford V8 (I forget what), a Desoto Fireflite, and a third engine on stands. A six-cylinder diesel head that they were working on was on a rolling cart in the front room. IMG_20151202_122404 When I visited their new location for the first time, I noticed a car I’d never seen before parked just down the street: A 1990 Nissan Axxess. Nissan Axxess These were a one-year-only minivan with sliding doors on both sides, besting Dodge to that design feature by six years. It replaced the Stanza Wagon and preceded the much more van-like Quest. The name also easily anagrams to Assexx butt stuff. Desoto Fireflite Daytona Auto Designing Anyway. Back to business. It was clear that a rebuild could move forward, so I asked Joe—who has a pair of pistons tattooed on his left forearm—about the best way to get more power for the least money. He said milling the head and decking the block for a higher compression ratio would help a lot, as would some mild porting. He showed me how sharp the angle was for air entering and exiting the combustion chamber, and said it wouldn’t take much porting to see a big improvement. For a couple hundred bucks, he could take 0.040 inches (1.0 mm) out of the combustion chamber (by milling 0.010-inch off the block deck, and the rest off the head) and do the port work. By my calculations, this should bring my compression ratio from the stock 9.1:1 to about 10.2:1. Joe said that would have a better payoff than boring out perfectly good cylinders (which come with the added expense of new pistons), it should still run fine on pump gas, and it wouldn’t require an adjustable cam gear. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKtfIkRE2XA What’s the cam gear got to do with it? Milling the head in an overhead-cam engine changes the distance between the crankshaft and the camshaft. If you change that distance enough—that is, move the camshaft and crankshaft closer together by milling a lot of material out of the head—it will make a substantial difference in valve timing. That’s partly why adjustable cam gears exist: to put the cam properly in phase with the crankshaft after a serious increase in compression ratio. I made the short video embedded above to hopefully better explain this, if you don’t mind my unscripted mumbling. Assuming a 5-inch diameter cam gear (2.5-inch radius), milling 0.040 inches retards the cam phase by less than 1 degree. The actual distance between your crankshaft and camshaft doesn’t matter. This also applies to DOHC engines. The formula is: Arctan( amount removed / cam gear radius ) Justy ported head Enough trigonometry. Here’s a pretty picture of the excellent job Joe did porting the head. Justy cylinder head Reassembling the head, Joe noticed there was a lot of slop in the rocker arm assembly. He decided to shim them so they’d stay properly aligned on the center of the cam lobes. He did this at no charge. Joe told me the camshaft did show some wear, but was still in OK shape. When he gets his cam grinding machine set up, I may bring it in and have him grind it to a more aggressive profile. Justy piston connecting rod Joe also looked at the new bearings I got, and while doing some test-assembly (after cleaning and honing the block, checking the ring gap), he noticed something missing. The connecting rods have oil squirters in them, which shoot oil at the bottom of the pistons to keep them cool. The old bearings had a hole that this oil would travel through, but the new ones did not. He offered to mill new holes for me. Then he assembled the bottom end and verified all the oil clearances. And installed new chain sprockets on the balance shaft and crankshaft. All at no charge. justy-engine In the end, I paid somewhere around $750 in labor, including a tip that was entirely too small. Considering how much work these guys did on my engine, how much extra they did for free, and how polite and welcoming both Shawn and Joe were whenever I had questions, I need to figure out a better way to say thanks. Now that the holidays are over, I can actually afford to send them a gift of some kind—just as soon as I come up with something. I’m open to suggestions, so leave them in the comments. If you live in the Daytona Beach area and need any machine work done, please give them a ring. They have no online presence and you won’t find them on Google Maps. IMG_20160108_093848 [Photos copyright 2015 Hooniverse | Alan Cesar]

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