Lister 5/1 Diesel

Buying Your First Engine

Starting on the long road to Enginitis

CHAPTER 1 - Finding your first (& second & third) engine
Let’s jump ahead a bit (again)
Once you have got your main collection together, you will probably remember your first engine with affection / despair /alarm/etc., as it is the one defining item that tends to set the tone for further activity. Most of us who have a house/garden/workshop full of old iron will usually and quite unexplainedly still have that first engine. In most cases it will probably be a Lister D or a Wolseley or one of the small Petters. The circumstances surrounding your first purchase whether you are a youngster, or like me, in your mid-years, is always exciting and interesting.

The type of engine and what you can do with it will guide your choices to a large degree, and while most of us get into a groove with a particular make or series of engines, the first one is always special because you have no previous experience to tilt you one way or the other.If you are going to get involved in stationary engine restoration, whether by design or accident, you will have to build up a set of contacts in the hobby which will serve you in the following years. These will be suppliers, friends with similar interest, clubs and individuals who have specialised in your particular brand and type of engine.

Most of the people I have met I still keep in touch with. Not necessarily by design but as much by courtesy and friendship and a natural curiosity about their engines and machinery. While I will not mention any names, there are about 20 or 30 people in the UK who I keep in fairly regular touch with, either by telephone or visits. Some have interests in other fields such as tractors and steam, others are into vintage cars etc. etc. All of them are interesting people in their own right, and very often they will have something to tell me about an engine for sale locally, or maybe they are clearing out some of their own.

My own first engine was a 1932 shaft-drive magneto Lister D, which of course I still have !

The following are some of the things you will need to know in starting out.

Adverts in 'Stationary Engine' magazine are a good starting point, and have the advantage of a photograph maybe. The price is usually stated in the ad, and the location and ‘phone number are there for you to call. To a lesser extent, 'Old Glory' magazine has adverts for stationary engines and equipment, and also has a wide variety of other restoration subjects. Of the two, 'Stationary Engine' (abbreviated to SE hereafter) is the better, as it is exclusively devoted to engine subjects. 'Old Glory' (OG) does have the occasional advert for something engine related which is not in SE.

Other sources are your local engine club and it's members, anyone locally who has engines, auctions and farm sales and lastly the free-ad papers such as Loot, Diamond Free-Ads and Trade-it. Of these, by far the best are the engine clubs and members. They are generally better disposed to newcomers and will also be able to show you their own facilities and other engines. Prices for beginners’ engines tend to be around the £50 to £150 range, and there is always the option of assistance with transport home and after-sales help. Club 'bring and buy' and 'crank-up' sales are worth going to, if nothing else they will give you a better idea of who is selling what, and a general idea on prices.

Don’t try to screw a private seller into the ground on price unless the asking price is outrageous to start with. A lot of goodwill can come with an engine if you and the vendor can agree on a happy medium between what you want to pay and what he wants to get for it. I have always kept in touch with people I have bought things from, and it is surprising how much other ‘stuff’ can be offered to you simply because you struck up a working relationship. Auctions and farm sales can be very good or bloody awful. I have bought things at both, and have to say that the number of people buying and selling for a living, not for a business requirement, has increased to the point where over half of buyers are probably ‘wheeler-dealers’ buying something purely so they can sell it straight on.

If you want to see this in action, take a good look at items in the Fairford sale in November (now extinct due to the actions of a few unscrupulous people) then look how much turns up at Sodbury the following weekend. These two sales are probably unfairly picked out, but it has happened time and time again and in fairness there is no law against it. The problem with it is that engines and spares prices get inflated by the number of times they are handled, each time adding 10% or whatever to the price. This added price only tends to inflate the beginners end of the market, as there are too many serious hobby buyers for the better classes of engines for them to be available cheaply.

Free-ad papers can be useful, but you have to get those from places like Cornwall or Northern Scotland to find anything decent. While delivering in Plymouth this year I picked up a copy and found a couple of bits that were very useful. It would not have been very economic to drive down specially, but as I was there, why not ? Exchange & Mart used to be quite good for this sort of thing, but it has been too slow in responding to the free-ads papers, and now is really out of the frame as far as we are concerned.

The average machinery yard will always have something around of interest, albeit not in their main line of business, and very often you can pick up an old bit of equipment for less than you would buy it in the hobby. Larger towns such as Birmingham and London are best, but you can often strike lucky in the provinces. See the 'Scrap Yard Walk' section from the main menu, this shows what a smaller yard has that might be of interest.

Note that we are not talking about car breakers here, as they will not normally get involved with old engines and equipment. Large scrap yards with a high volume of turnover will also be less than enthusiastic about something old and dirty. Try to find a small yard which is piling scrap up for sorting, and probably family-run. Ask if they have anything in the way of old industrial engines and they will probably have something stashed away in a corner. The other side benefit is that they may hear of something which they can pass on to you later.

There is nothing stopping you looking around farms and old industrial estates yourself, but a few words of guidance may be helpful:

1) Respect the privacy of others and don't go wandering on to private property without first finding out who owns the place and asking permission. It is rare to be refused if the request is genuine, and the act of asking will show that you are serious and not trying to smuggle something away without the owner knowing about it.

2) Remember that you represent the restoration movement in general when you go on private property. What you do will reflect on all others, so make sure you do nothing that will discredit the rest of us.

3) If you find something, advise the owner at once and ask for a selling price. Most owners have no need for old iron and will be generally glad to see the back of any rusty hulks. You should be able to fix a price betwen you, and make sure that you both understand what is being bought and what isn't. If you don't have the money with you, leave at least a small deposit and your name and address / phone number.

4) If you collect it yourself, make sure that you don't run over the owners favourite flower bed with your trailer, or knock over something on the lawn. Don't laugh, it has happened !

If you are unable to establish definite proof of ownership, and the item is on 'common land', it is best to involve the local Police, probably the beat bobby if there is one. Starting the process can be a bit long winded, but the Police are usually very helpful in these matters, especially when it is made obvious to them that you are trying to do the right thing. DON'T take the word of a casual passer-by, try to establish at least two separate lines of information locally, and especially if there is any likelihood of disputed ownership.

What you buy is entirely up to you, and don’t be put off by size, as the engines are still quite simple in the larger versions, they just hurt more when they fall on your feet in the workshop!

Don’t also be put off by those who sneer at the ‘workhorses’, those engines which were never glamorous in the eyes of the ‘establishment’ engine restorers. Many an engine has been the apple of a collectors eye, because it matched what he wanted to do and he wasn’t interested in other peoples opinions. Petter AV1’s and 2’s never seemed to be popular, but they are quite a tidy engine and easy to work with. The air-cooled AVA1 and 2 are even simpler as they have no coolant to worry about.

You can probably go through all the makers and find engines which current opinion says is not a good subject for restoration; just ignore the opinion. If you like it and it suits your wallet and facilities then get it and get cracking.

A small petrol or diesel engine that can be easily stripped and rebuilt without too much money is the ideal, although don't turn down a good example of the better collectors engines, such as the Petter Junior or M types (as an example) should you be lucky enough to come across one.

Defects:- Anything which is going to take serious money to put right is a minus point against a prospective purchase. Cracks in blocks and heads (repaired or not) are always going to raise question marks over the integrity of an engine, and the best repairs in the world have been known to come apart as soon as you are on your way home.

A complete engine with all accessories intact (air cleaner, exhaust, drive pulley and starting handle) is always going to be a better purchase than a rusty hulk with cylinder full of rusty water. If you already have one example of a particular type and want to buy another for spares, then that is a different matter, and that rusty hulk (like a Lister 8/1 I picked up this summer) can be a valuable source of spares which would be expensive to purchase in the normal way.

I have bought three CS diesels, all with blocks damaged by frost when the water was left inside the engine. In each case, the repair was unbelievably poor, and more work went into disguising the repair than ever went into the repair itself. Self-tappers into cast iron blocks are not a pretty sight, as is motor car body filler and plates made out of old bits of engine sump. In each case, the bottom end and cylinder head were in good condition, it was only the block that was damaged.

Seized engines can be difficult to assess, as you have no way of looking inside to see if the bore is rusty of the con-rod is welded to the crankshaft. If the vendor has no idea and seems genuine, then you will have to look at other things to see if you can discern what is the problem.

A Lister CS 3/1 I bought from a friend in Stroud (Philip) was really badly seized, and Phil thought the problem was the piston stuck in the bore. In fact, every damn thing was stuck: the piston, the big end and the mains were all jammed. It looked as if the engine had overheated and caught fire, and the extinguisher contents had got inside the engine. In the event we got it freed off, but is was not going to be an easy job and still awaits the laying on of spanners.

Missing carburettors and magnetos can add significantly to the costs of restoring engines, and prices should reflect the absence of any major items. This is where you are better off buying from a club member, as they are likely to know someone who has the required bits and pieces.

You will also come to notice that certain parts for certain engines are never, ever available on the stalls. Magnetos (in usable condition) are fairly rare, and decent carburettors are always sold before the sales field is reached, hence the advice to get to know your club members. Running spares such as bearings and gaskets usually have to be bought from a magazine advertiser, as very few are sold at stalls.

If the engine you are looking at is seriously bodged all over, walk away from it.

If your prospective engine is a runner, and you can see it puttering away, then your cup runneth over. The little beasty will demonstrate (or the owner will) how easy it is to start and how responsive it is to the throttle. In this situation, have a close look at the head to block gasket joint and make sure that nothing is coming out, like water or gases. Most of these engines were built to a pretty good standard of assembly, so don’t accept wobbly flywheels as part of the ‘ambiance’, R A Lister and Petters never built them like that !

If the engine sounds healthy, has a clean or reasonably clean exhaust and runs and goes regularly without Ex-lax, then you are probably safe to buy it. Don’t expect a response to an opened throttle like a Mclaren F1 car, most engines had relatively crude carbs and a huge flywheel to move, so it takes a few moments for the lump to respond to the engine-room telegraph. If the things misfires, or if it is obviously in distress then you will have to quiz the seller on the faults.

Broken tank straps, fabricated chain guards, petrol pipes that leak, exhausts that have holes in and silencers that don’t: these are all things that are not too much of a drama to rectify, so after allowing a bit of discount on your price, you can leave them alone. What you are looking out for is anything that is potentially expensive in relation to the base price you paid. A regular damage point is cracked or missing feet, particularly on the Bamfords with the hinged body. A missing corner/foot is going to be bloody awkward to repair, and for a newcomer this is not the sort of job to tackle on his/her first outing. Don’t be afraid to say no, even if you have travelled over a hundred miles to see the engine. Live to fight another day !

Look for a basically sound and 'all together' engine, one that sounds mechanically OK and does not show any signs of hamfistedness (you can add that yourself later on !) on things like crankshaft/flywheel keys and rounded-off heads on bolts etc.

If you have not got your trailer organised yet, then see if the vendor will deliver (for a sum to cover his petrol) If not, then you will have to hunt around to find someone to do it for you. This is again where clubs come in very handy, as there is nearly always someone that the club secretary can ask to help out, and most members are pretty obliging types. Don’t just throw it in the back of your car, as it will cause untold damage on the first roundabout you go round. Make sure it is secure.

Some years ago I was shown a Ford Transit that was hired to collect a large (14 litre V8) truck engine. The engine was on a pallet and the pallet was tied down to the floor with baling twine. The Transit driver took one corner too quickly, and the engine started moving across the van, and on hitting the side, forced the van over onto its side. Once on its side, the engine proceeded to put a large Truck Diesel shaped hole in the roof as it tried to escape. The end result was a written off van and a damaged engine. The driver was very lucky not to have sustained serious injuries or caused a major traffic incident. You still see this sort of thing on the roads today, so:


Once home, your fun can begin. But that’s another story ....
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