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Cylinder Heads

  • One area of the power search that most of the enthusiasts tend to forget about are the rocker arms and their geometry. These are probably the best lessons anyone can learn. In most cases you simply purchase a new set of rocker arms and bolt them onto your cylinder head. Unfortunately, the trouble with that plan and particularly with small and Big Chevrolet, FoMoCo (Ford), Windsor, Cleveland and 385 Mopars and a few others is that the factory rocker arms can often be way out in the ratio department. Using a small block Chevy engine as an example, the OEM or (original equipment manufacturer), specs call for a rocker ratio of 1.5:1. This in simple terms means that the rocker arms will multiply the camshaft lobe lift by 1.5 times. If the lobe lift on a small block camshaft is .400 of an inch on both the intake and exhaust lobes, you can multiply it by the rocker ratio of 1.5 and the gross valve lift should be .600 of an inch.

    Unfortunately, a stamped steel rocker ratio might only check out at 1.43:1 or even less. As a result, the gross valve lift works out to .572 inch. The valve train effectively has lost about 5% of the total lift. This only gets worse as the lobe lift numbers increase (the camshaft becomes more radical).

    What’s the answer to the problem at hand? There are several solutions, but if you can’t afford a trick set of aftermarket roller rockers, the answers start hiding themselves from you-rapidly. The most inexpensive option is to check a box full of rockers until you find all 16 of them that have the highest effective rocker ratio and are that close to one another. In order to accomplish this, you will have to get into action and install a solid lifter on one rocker arm to zero lash. Next is to install your dial indicator to read off the valve stem side of the rocker arm. Turn the engine through one complete revolution with a power bar fitted with an extension and socket.

    Compare this gross (zero lash) to your camshaft specs. You might be surprised to see that the numbers do not correspond. To verify the figures, either verify the number with your camshaft specifications car or check the lift at the lifter and multiply the number by your rocker ratio. This number is the theoretical gross valve lift. In many situations, a factory rocker arm will have a ratio that is significantly less than you would of imagined.

    As mentioned previously, most small block rockers ‘check’ at between 1.4:1 and 1.47:1, very few attain the advertised number of 1.5:1 in the ratio department. To correct the problem you can either rummage through boxes of new rockers until a ‘perfect’ set is found, or install a set of aftermarket rockers. If you install aftermarket rockers, be absolutely sure to verify the ratio. Performance aftermarket parts aren’t perfect either.


    Is there a difference in lash procedure between an engine equipped with stock rockers and one equipped with roller rockers? There’s none in terms of lash numbers, but there is one thing you have to remember. When lashing valves with OEM rockers, you can sometimes slide the feeler guage in at a at bit of an angle. This isn’t possible with a roller tip rocker. If your engine is equipped with roller rockers, be certain that you slide the feeler guage in a straight line between the rocker tip and the top of the valve.

    In any case, the idea is to use a ‘go-no-go’ system, keeping it as smooth as possible. In other words, if the cam company calls for .024 inch lash, then a .024 inch feeler guage will fit, but a .025 won’t. After some practice with your particular combination you’ll get a real feel for the correct lash. Some guys like a ‘tight’ pull on the feeler guage, others don’t it’s just a matter of a personal likes or dislikes of styles.


    When working with aluminium cylinder heads and/or aluminium cylinder blocks, cold lash numbers can vary greatly from the hot figures. So why does this happen? Simply because aluminium moves by expanding and contracting a great deal more than cast iron when heated up. Because of this you can understand why and how valve lash figures become decidedly different with ally combinations. Although it’s difficult to provide the hard and solid numbers for all camshaft and engine combo’s, Chevy offered this advice as a rule of thumb: ’Cold-lash all ally engines .010 inch tighter than the Hot-lash specs’.

    Generally, you can use this as a good starting point and go on from there. Some ally head to iron block combinations are very close to an all iron engine in terms of cold lash. Others might be and well be anywhere from .005 inch to .010 inch tighter. Your best chance is to contact your guy who grinds camshafts for you and ask him for a specific cold-lash number for the particular combination you may have.


    Eyeing the timing marks is always going to hinder any mechanic in a dark engine compartment and is never easy and to make matters worse, the timing marks become harder to read when unnatural or partial light is directed into the engine compartment. Even the addition of a degreed balancer or a timing tape can still make for some partial visual impairments. Most of the time the problem isn’t always the degreed markings on the balancer. Instead it’s the timing mark pointer that’s not accurately lining up and showing you the exact marking that can be exactly pin pointed. Trimming your standard pointer to a ‘V’ shape at the zero marking. The pointer is easier to read and eliminates confusion over the timing marks location.

    In addition to this, aftermarket companies have designed bolt-on timing pointers with an adjustable pointer that can be easily set up to read ‘on-zero’ or from four degrees retard to 16 degrees advance. From this simple little addition of the adjustment, the pointer makes any timing checks easy and simple and also solves the timing-out, pointer problems that can sometimes plague engines and engine builders. Occasionally, the TDC mark on a factory harmonic balancer will be slightly out and so can the timing pointer. This is unacceptable to any standards and all adds up to an extremely inaccurate ignition timing numbers as well as valve lash figures that can be out.


    A valve springs life is always critical to any performance street rod engine.  How can the valve’s spring life be considerably improved?  The first step is to pre-stress new valve springs prior to their installation. In other words, the springs are squeezed to the limit by a soft-jaw vise and compressed several times before installing the valve spring to its place. The idea isn’t to damage the spring in the vise but instead, the spring should be compressed just nicely, without pushing the spring into a coil-bind, but just enough to push it to the limit a few times but not over.  (Watch the spring carefully as you compress it together). Install the spring on the cylinder head and check the seat pressure. If the spring fails miserably, “tag” it or return to the selling dealer and install a new one. If you don’t have access to a soft-jawed vise something soft should be attached to either side of your vise jaws.  The cushion you have now added saves the valve springs from being scarred by the course steel lining jaws of the vice. 

    Here’s another method you can try for improving the life of the spring:

    Inspect the inner spring and dampener carefully. You might find that some valve springs have added “flashing” on the spring ends.  (This is common on some types of dampers.)  If that’s the case with your set of springs, use a small die grinder and very carefully smooth over the odd burrs and high spots that are present. Similarly, some dampers have very sharp edges on the “flats.”  The life of the damper can be improved by gently de-burring and chamfering them, and it can be done in five minutes flat - if you have the right tools laid out and at your disposal.
    It should be pointed out that damper failure is more common than we’d like to think (especially on high lift, radical profiled cams). 

    Occasionally, a damper will physically “unwind itself” and the lower portion of the assembly will work its way between two lower coils of the outer spring. Naturally, this stacks the spring into a coil bind. When this happens, all kinds of carnage can occur if you don’t nip the problem before this can happen. In most cases, selecting the correct length of damper will suffice, but if the problem hampers your application, you can solve it by shortening the damper a few mills. You might try this old racer trick (its been around for about 30 years or more).  Sand blast the damper after it has been de burred and the edges chamfered.


    When the time comes to installing the valve springs on the cylinder heads, have a close look at the relationship between the inner spring and the damper to both the cylinder head seat and the valve spring retainer. Because of the many different types of designs manufactured in springs, valve retainers and spring seats, there might be some coil-bind at these locations, but no coil-bind on the outer spring. Have a close look as the engine is turned through a cycle (manually), don’t use the starter to spin the engine over, it will be too fast and your eye wont be able to follow the springs exact motion, not to mention what can be damaged along the way.

    In the case of a poorly selected spring (or spring retainer), don’t be surprised if you see coil bind on the inner spring(s). If that’s the case, you will have to pull everything to pieces and install an inner valve spring that suits both the application and the spring retainer. This exercise must be executed clinically or you will end up with catastrophic complications that will set you back thousands of rands and sleepless nights. 

    While you’re at it, regularly check the springs with a seat pressure tester (inexpensive models such as this Moroso unit are readily available). These testers simply slip over the rocker arm.  Add a bit of muscle power and pull down on the tester. The number that appears on the beam scale (its like a beam torque wrench) will give you the spring seat pressure reading. If the seat pressure is down from the manufacturers specifications, you can bet your bottom dollar that the valve springs are tired and need to be replaced with new ones. Make it a practice to check the spring seat pressure every time the valves are lashed. The checking process adds about 15 minutes to the routine maintenance schedule and is always very rewarding once the above process is completed with dedicated accuracy.


    Setting the valve lash on any solid lifter engine can get old in a hurry. Especially if you have to climb inside the car, tap the ignition switch and run around to the engine and check the balancer-timing tab location. Temporary remote starter leads are one answer, but who wants to burn their hands every time you hook it up?  The solution is a permanent bump starter switch.   Moroso and other companies offer state of the art waterproof switches that can be mounted somewhere in a convenient location.

    Wiring the bump starter switch is simple. Wire one lead to the battery cable lead on the starter while the other lead is routed to the switched “Starter” or “S” terminal on the starter. When in operation, the ignition switch remains untouched. Simply press the bump starter and allow electrons to spin the engine over to the appropriate balancer location. When a “bump” starter switch is installed, it takes away most of the aggravation usually experienced, the down side is that you’ll still have to use a large half-inch drive bar to rotate the engine to the exact pointer location. In most cases, you can ‘bump’ the engine to a point, which is close enough to your mark, and then use the power bar to move the balancer and timing marks up to the exact position.  This procedure eliminates the brute force required to turn over the engine. The final grunt work can place the timing marks in the ideal position. Fitting a ‘bump’ switch will relieve you from some tedious pressure when getting down to the basics and for the effort of fitting one you will never look back.

Used Spares

When one looks at the inflated price of new vehicle spares today it leaves little doubt as to why there has been a renaissance in the used spares industry of late and used spares starts looking like a very good alternative. As with many other third world countries, South Africa has an extremely large percentage of older vehicles on her roads. That is all to do with the demographics of the country, and something that is not going to change in the foreseeable future. What it does mean, though, is that there is going to a market for used spares in the country for many years to come. The worst possible scenario for purchasing vehicle spares is to buy them new from the agent for that vehicle – you’ll find that they are extremely expensive. That may be acceptable if the insurance company is paying if the vehicle is still being serviced under its original agreement.

Unless your vehicle is a very rare model there’s a very good chance of picking up used spares for it with looking4spares. We work with a network of more than 300 used spares dealers around the country, and as soon as you lodge a query for a particular spare part with us, we broadcast that used spares query around the network. It’s not long before every supplier on the used spares network has seen what "used spares" you are looking for, and you should start getting telephone calls from those that have the used spares you are looking for – you might even source it on the same day. You order used spares through loking4spares online, and we don’t release the money until you have the used spares in your hands and are satisfied with them. For further information about looking4spares call us at Part Find 0861 77 77 22. We find used spares fast. Used spares are also good for the environment. Support scrapyard dealers for used spares!

Used Auto Spares

The South African used auto spares industry, like all other industries which is dictated to by the laws of supply and demand. The sheer demographics of the country mean that there are far more old cars on the roads than there are in a country like the United States. The fact is, the average man in the street cannot afford to purchase a new car or even a slightly used car. The end result of all this is that there is a great demand for used auto spares, especially for older vehicles. New spare parts for old cars are expensive and far beyond the pockets of the majority of South Africans, so when looking4pares, the parts would usually mean traipsing from one scrapyard to another scrap yard until the part was found. Thanks to the age of the computer this is no longer so.

Part Find - Looking4spares is the foremost used spares supplier in South Africa. Throughout the country there are some 300 used auto spares suppliers on our network and we are the people who bring them together, to you, the person looking for those used auto spares. We are the people who take away all of the schlepping from scrapyard to scrapyard – but how does it work? On our website you will find a Parts Request Form. Complete this indicating new or used auto spares, together with as much information as you can and submit it through the Internet to us at a fraction of the cost of a telephone call. Once we receive your used auto spares request through our "find-a-part" system, we will submit it to our large network of used parts suppliers, and those that can come up with the used auto spares on the query will contact you directly. Many of these used auto spares queries are successfully met on the same day. You can pay through our websites payment protection facility if there are any doubts to your safety of the purchase, but we don’t release the money until you have the used auto spares in your hand and are totally satisfied with them. For further information about looking4spares find-a-part network, call us on: 0861 77 77 22. Buying used auto spares is as easy as that...


One of the banes about owning an old car is discovered by the owner when he or she needs to locate spares for it. The spares for some vehicle makes are notoriously expensive – in many cases spares are prohibitively so. This makes it both convenient and cost effective to find spares through a company such a looking4spares, who have vast and many useful contacts throughout the automotive "spares" and automotive scrapyard industry. By far the majority of new vehicles sold in South Africa are done so with a service plan which now usually includes all spares. What this means is that a number of the vehicle’s services are included in the purchase price of the vehicle so you dont pay for spares. Because of this by far the majority of South African vehicle owners have either little or no notion at all of the actual cost of car spares, truck spares and new spares are not cheap.

South Africa suffers the same economic climate as much of the rest of the world when it comes to buying spares. Spares are big due to the amount of vehicles in the world and they all constantly need spares and spares are easy to find if you know how. One of the results of this is that many vehicle owners are hanging on to their vehicles well beyond the coverage of their maintenance plans. In addition many South Africans of necessity own old and secondhand or third hand vehicles. As a direct result of this there is a very large used vehicle spares industry that has developed over the years. In addition there is a large industry and turnover of generic and sometimes grey spares. When looking for spares and parts for a vehicle in the past it has meant many hours of footslogging from scrapyard to scrapyard in those areas below the railway lines where the auto scrap yards are to be found. This is where looking4spares comes in to the picture. The whole concept of our company is to be able to source those elusive spares for you from scrapyards and spares dealers, and at a reasonable cost. For further information call Part Find on the call centre number 0861 77 77 22 for countrywide spares service.

Order Spares Online

Gone are the days of having to trudge from one auto scrapyard to another scrap yard, looking for that elusive part for your 20 year old BMW or Mercedes Benz. Now, thanks to looking4spares, you can order spares online. The Internet has made a lot of difference to people allowing them to order spares online, and in many cases they are not even aware of it. New motor spares are extremely expensive, and this is especially so when dealing with an automobile manufacturer’s agent. It’s sometimes difficult to imagine how they can charge so much for spare parts . That’s all very well when the new spare part or used spare part is going to be paid for by the Insurance company after an accident or is covered in the after sales servicing agreement, but when you have to find the cash from your own pocket – well, frankly people just cannot afford it. Either way it’s far cheaper and easier to order spares online through the internet.

Looking4spares is the foremost online scrapyard or spares supplier in South Africa, and through us you are able to order spares online. We have a network of some 300 new auto spares and used used auto spares scrapyard suppliers throughout the country and we are the people who bring them together with you, the person looking for those auto spares.
Because you are now able to order spares online there’s none of that awful traipsing from one dealer to another searching for that elusive spare part. Simply fill in the 'Parts Request Form' on the home page on this website and submit it to us. As soon as we receive it we will distribute it throughout the network, linking you to all spares departments and before you know it you’ll be contacted by scrapyards and spares online dealers who have the spare part you’ve been looking for. For further information about looking4spares call us at our call centre on : 0861 77 77 22 or simply order spares online.

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