Old Car Engine (Repair and Rebuild)

Once you've decided to rebuild your old car's engine, the first step should be make a plan and a budget. This should include all parts needed, and any machine work you will need to outsource.

old car engine build

Read: Does My Engine Need A Rebuild?

Chances are you'll be buying a some new tools. In addition to hand tools, they'll be several specialty tools needed as well.

valve spring compressor tool

Read: Tools Needed For An Engine Build

NOTE: Tools are generally not included in an engine budget, because they don't go with the car if sold, and they'll likely be used again.


To pull an engine out of a car, you need an engine hoist.

Engine Hoist - Buy or Rent?

I've always rented or borrowed an engine hoist when needed. Most major auto parts stores offer two-day rentals, but you must leave a deposit, usually with a credit card.

classic car engine build

Remember that you'll need an engine hoist at least twice, once to remove, and once to reinstall. If you think you'll be doing more than one engine removal, consider buying one.

Engine Removal

Before removing the hood, mark where the hood hinges go. This will help with re-install later. Pulling the engine out with the transmission attached is harder, so if you can, try to separate them before lifting the motor out. This will save you time later on.

Once it's out, you need to mount it to an engine stand.

Engine Stand

You can rent or borrow an engine hoist, but you need a good quality engine stand. Stay away from those cheap $50 specials - get a good, heavy-duty stand. If it's a classic American V8, a 1,000-lb minimum capacity with dual front wheels is a good choice.

Chevy small block on engine stand

My engine stand is a Hein-Werner with a 1,250-lb capacity. I've had it for over 30 years and it's seen it's share of motors.

Engine Tear-Down

With the engine securely mounted to a stand, engine tear-down can begin. Cleaning and tagging everything taken off the engine will make the reassembly process a lot easier.

TIP: Put parts in marked boxes and keep them out of the way.


Bottom End Rebuild

Inspection and rebuild of the bottom end includes harmonic balancer, oil pan, oil pump, pistons, rods, crankshaft, and of course, the cylinder bores. Once the engine block is completely stripped, it's probably taking a trip to the machine shop.

Engine work that is frequently outsourced includes having the block chemically cleaned, new cam bearings and freeze plugs installed, and having the cylinders bored (if needed). Your engine may also need cylinder head work.


Top End Rebuild

Automotive cylinder heads with high-mileage often need machine shop work. This may include new valves, guides, and springs.

automotive engine rebuild

Tools needed for disassembling, cleaning, and measuring cylinder heads include a valve spring compressor, gasket scraper, and a digital caliper.

old car engine repair

Lapping valves does not take the place of a valve job, but it does confirm whether or not one is needed.


Camshaft Replacement

Before computer-controlled engines, the 'brain' of the engine was the camshaft. Vehicle weight, engine compression, transmission type - these factors and others must be considered when choosing the right cam for your engine. Replacing the camshaft on any engine requires methodical disassembly, inspection, and careful reassembly of parts.

camshaft installation


Pontiac 389/400

389 Pontiac engine

Read: Pontiac 389 Engine Build

1965 GTO with Tripower

Read: Tri-power Carbs and Manifold

Dual Quad 1965 GTO

Read: Dual Quad GTO


Small-Block Chevy V8

All classic American V8 engines have performance potential, but early Chevy V8s have more performance potential right out of the box. This is largely due to it's already good breathing characteristics, coupled with the availability of good factory and aftermarket performance parts.

Read: Gen-1 Small-Block Chevy

Read: Old School Small-Block Chevy Build

best heads for gen 1 sbc

Read: Best Heads For Gen-1 SBC


Chevy Stovebolt Six

First introduced in 1929, the Chevy overhead-valve inline six-cylinder engine remained in active production until 2001, a total production span of 72 years.

Stovebolt 6 engine

Read: Chevy Stovebolt Six


Flathead Ford V8

Although offered in several displacements, the Ford Flathead V8 remained the pretty much the same throughout it's production. Any part needed, including replacement blocks, are still available!

Read: Ford Flathead V8 Identification and Specs

Flathead Ford performance manifold

Read: Flathead Ford Performance Upgrades


I've heard rebuilders say intial engine start-up is both fun and scary. Using the correct engine assembly lube will give you piece of mind.

start up grease for engine

Read: Best Engine Assembly Lube


Engine Swaps

Modifying a car to fit another engine, or modifying an engine to fit another car, is only the first step in an engine swap process. Once the motor's installed, it's a multiple series of "mini projects". The transmission, cooling, wiring, etc. all need to be gone over and be properly functioning.

engine swap basics

Read: Engine Swap Basics


Engine Oil

The 10W-30 oil your car left the factory with is not the same 10W-30 that you buy today. There are more flat-tappet hydraulic cam failures than ever before, brought about by inferior foreign lifters as well as the removal of ZDDP additives from motor oils.

Read: Best Oil for Classic Cars

car maintenance you can do yourself

Read: Best Oil For Daily Driver


Related Articles:

Getting An Old Car Running

How To Lap Valves

Spray Paint Engine

Tools Needed For An Engine Build