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Flathead Jeep Engines - Dr. Vern

Posted in Features on April 1, 2008
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I have a flathead. I'm not talking about my noggin, though that would explain the orthopedic hat. The flathead in question is under the hood of my '48 CJ-2A. Don't get me wrong because I'm partial to modern engines with all the latest bells and whistles. But when push comes to shove, and hoods pop open when Jeepers start bragging, nothing outdraws an old flathead motor. Engines that are injected, supercharged, and supersized are a dime a dozen. Gawkers congregate, however, when they see those wonderfully uncluttered spark plugs sticking straight up from a glorified lawnmower engine.

The mystique is not too hard to understand. An old engine like this is a survivor-a rolling history lesson. Even though computerized engines are actually very simple, at first glance it's far easier to understand the workings of an ancient motor. Being able to find your way around under the hood is half the battle. On a modern vehicle, it's embarrassing when you can't even tell whether it's a V-6, V-8, or who knows what, since coil-on-plug technology means that there are no ignition wires to lead you to the now-hidden spark plugs. While an old flathead can't touch the reliability and performance of a modern engine, at least it's obvious what each piece does and how everything fits together.

Remember, I'm a big fan of modern engines, but they have a definite learning curve. Practice your befuddled look, working up to it in small increments, to avoid a facial strain the first time you start poking around on something new. Sadly, there is a new trend that puts a kibosh on the time-honored practice of staring under the hood and pretending to know what you're doing. Most manufacturers are installing cosmetic covers over the engine compartment. Is that still an internal combustion engine under there? Maybe they're trying to fool consumers into thinking it's some new type of engine that not only is pollution-free, but also cleans the atmosphere while you drive.

It seems we're constantly implored to each do our own little part for Mother Nature. I'm always amazed when studies show the cumulative effect, such as if everybody emptied their car's ashtray, the combined weight reduction would save some outrageous amount of fuel nationwide. The latest craze is switching to green vehicles, so I did my part even though I didn't understand the logic. (That's something great about living in America, with celebrities to form my opinions and save me the burden.) I wasn't sure what to do with the dust from the original paint I sanded off. It's probably full of lead, so maybe the Chinese want it for their toy factories, but I ran out of time and washed it down the storm drain instead. Fresh automotive paint has a sweet smell that attracts bugs, so I had to protect the finish while it dried. Luckily, I've been saving a big jug of DDT for a special occasion like this, so I sprayed all around my neighborhood. I'm very pleased with the new paint job, but the best part is my new exalted status because I now drive a green vehicle, and I didn't have to spend twenty grand on a Prius.

OK, I was kidding. You can't get a Prius for that kind of money, since it's the new must-have item and folks stand in line to pay way over list price. Even more amazing is how some things are suddenly considered Earth-friendly. Take, for instance, the workhorse diesel. Until a few years ago, I had been racking up the miles on a GM 6.2L. The new owner tells me that it is still going strong, with about 500,000 miles currently on the odometer. When I drove it, I may as well have had dead baby seals strapped to the hood, because that smoke-belcher was vilified by the treehuggers of the day. Fast-forward to the present day, slap a Biodiesel sticker on the back, and you're a hero. I had an a-ha moment upon realizing nobody would really know what fuel is in the tank. Maybe I could fool everybody into thinking my Jeep runs on Biodiesel. It certainly smokes enough, so the appearance fits the bill. I'll have to loosen the connecting rod caps so it sounds like a diesel. The only thing left will be to take care of the stickers on the back. Displaying "Biodiesel" is easy enough. I might give myself away, though, because I'm not sure I'm ready to cover up the "Warning, I brake for Hippies" sticker.

- Dr. Vern

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