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Missing the Nelsons again; & in search of piston advice

I’ve not had the pleasure as yet of meeting Ken Nelson in person. He was set to attend our event in Indianapolis in 2008, but had to cancel at the last minute because of a sibling’s health situation. Our last minute planning of this year’s AMG cost us the attendance of many good members who had pre-planned other important things. Ken, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was kind enough to explain, and ask in advance for some RM engine advice:

“Well, I know it’s a lame excuse, but I will have to once again miss the annual Riley meet… We have a family reunion planned a year in advance for that same weekend assuming things are uncomplicated with some surgeries. The meet looks fantastic, and Kathy would even be excited to go if we could make it (pretty good endorsement for a non-car person).

“But I thought I’d update you on the Riley events in my life. First, I have the engine on my ’54 RME half apart in the car. Crank and cams are in place and look great, but pistons and rods are out to be redone. I rebuilt this engine about 25 years and 16,000 miles ago, and at that time it was not possible to buy replacement rings for the . 030″ oversize pistons it had been bored out for. So I went to Hastings, MI, to the ring manufacturing company and they got me a Rube Goldberg set of rings from some of this and some of that. Well, it didn’t work. The compression rings had to have spacers added, and they clearly flexed in the lands enough to cause breakage of the rings and lands. See the photos below. So I went back to my original shade tree mechanic (see pic) to see if I could entice him to rebuild the short block again. He agreed! What’s more, he found a set of NOS unused .030” oversize Hepolite pistons, rings, and pins on the internet for me. Go figure! It only cost me double what any decent set of racing pistons for a Chevy would cost.

“However, I noticed with the MGB shell conversion for the big end bearings (that was done 25 years ago also) that there is a small area near the cut out locking tabs where the bearings had worn down to the copper. I wondered if the then newly made locking cut-outs weren’t made deeply enough? My machinist suggested it might just be variability in the thickness of the shell bearings at the edges, but I wonder why it only occurred at the tabs? So he’s trying to look into that while he makes me some new small-end bushings. I have checked the piston bores in the block and the journals on the rod crankpins, and they seem to be right on the money without significant scoring. So, after honing the cylinders with the engine in the car, I hope to be able to assemble the short block soon with new rod bearings and my new pistons and rings. Then I’ll take a better look at the head to see if I need any valve work or not, and hope to soon have an A-1 running Riley RME 1 1/2 litre engine again. I do plan to remove the hot spot tubes in the head and block before I assemble it to avoid leakage. My car has the twin 1 1/4 SU carb factory setup so the hot spot doesn’t do anything anyway.

“I’m open to any words of wisdom or sage advice from any of you, so feel free to write /email. I’ll be thinking of you all at the meet. And, once again, I’m hoping to make it to next years meet. Keep me on your mailing list.”

For a better look at Ken, above, click on his image and it will enlarge. Likewise, for an enlarged view of any photo in this gallery, click on it and it will grow.

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