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a look back at the engine install

Updated: Jan 21, 2019

It’s Tuesday evening, I’m back from work and still exhausted from the weekend. I think two long intense days have really taken their toll. I need a day off!

Blogging the engine install for some reason doesn’t seem that easy. For sure there was plenty of hours committed to the activity but the intensity of the process has some how limited the amount of content I can recall to blog in a worthwhile manner. I suppose that’s very telling of the process. Nevertheless I’m going to give it ago.

I suspect if you are reading this and you are a builder too, then you’ll be reading plenty of other blogs, and there are some good ones out there. Blogs written by people with way more experience than me. I’m therefore not going to try and replicate those.

For this blog I’m going to discuss my experience, and one particular finding which even my mechanically experienced friend Mark missed. It is something neither of us saw coming through the process but also something we didn’t pick up reading other blogs. So in summary this isn’t a technical blog from an experienced builder, if you need that please seek others, but it does contain a snippet of gold I didn’t find elsewhere. Stick with me!

Let’s start by saying it’s going to take you all day. At the start of our day my friend Mark who I admit is mechanically minded and has put many an engine in stated 2 hours, and laughed about the competency of the other bloggers. Our install took from 8:30am until just after 3pm. With experience we could possibly reduce the time by 2 hours. Mark would probably say we could reduce the time further as we lost time to me faffing, however we didn’t damage the chassis anywhere and I’m really happy about that, faff time well spent.

What else did we learn?

People, you need people. We had 3 bodies. I would say 4 would be better for speed.

Once we’d cracked the process, we had someone on the floor guiding the box (Mark), someone just holding the engine at the front away from the top chassis tubes (Wife), and last person checking gaps, down the tunnel, bell housing and operating the hoist (me). A fourth person would have reduced some of the running around.

Don’t put cardboard or other items down the tunnel or by the footwells. Trust me! I am the worst when it come to being OCD about paint. Take a look at some of my pictures, there is car detailing stuff all over. Unfortunately it is simply going to be in the way, the fitment is too tight. Trade the cardboard for another pair of steady hands to control the assembly as it swings from your hoist. Beer is better than cardboard :-) I would still recommend protecting the chassis tubes with foam as I did, but first protect them with tape and then put the foam on. The proximity at times is so close the sort of foam I used is too large and will be in the way. Clearance will go down as low as 2mm. You must therefore remove the foam, the tape will help should minor contact occur.

Invest in axle stands on wheels. Being able to move the car instead of the engine was at times an incredible advantage. Carefully moving the chassis is easier than a swinging engine.

I would also recommend raising the rear of the car and lowering the front. Doing so provides some additional angle when lowering the gearbox tail.

Lastly remove the alternator, and the alloy bracket. It will provide added space and is easy if a little fiddly to reinstall once the engine is in.

Caterham 7 Engine install
Refitting the alternator

The process of installing in principal straightforward.

Raise the entire assembly over the chassis and then lower the gear box tail into the engine bay. Whilst lowering bring the engine and car closer together so that the tail of the gearbox is inserted into the transmission tunnel. Being able to move the car really helps here. You are going to need quite an acute angle for this to work.

Watch out for the bell housing on the footwells and the front of the engine against the top chassis tubes. Have someone under the car holding the tail to stop it swinging. Keep lowering until you have the engine in.

Now, here comes the nugget of gold.

We managed to get the bell housing into approximately the correct position and the engine basically into the engine bay reasonably quickly all things considered. At this point we were wondering why all the fuss. That was easy.

We’d let the tail of the gearbox drop below the chassis rails down in the transmission tunnel and our plan was to now use a jack to lift the tail into place. Easy, hmm wrong.

The diameter of the gear box at the point we were lifting is larger than the space between the left hand and right hand lower chassis rails. It didn’t fit. At this point our only option was to start pulling the whole assembly out, and that is exactly what we did. Millimetre by millimetre we pulled the assembly out and then up being careful not to hit the chassis rail or footwells, basically anywhere. It took for ever.

By the time we’d finished the bottom of the engine was back over the top chassis tubes.

At this point we carefully raised the gearbox with a jack and slowly reinserted the whole assembly back into the transmission tunnel. Again this was painfully slow but eventually it was in. Towards then end you do get incredible close to the bottom front chassis tubes so be careful. It is important to note we never moved the jack on the floor once it was supporting the gear box. Yes we raised it's height, and of course we raised and lowered the engine, but the crucial thing here is that we once again moved the car rather than the assembly.

In conclusion, what ever you do, don’t drop the gearbox below the chassis rails, or at least do not let the widest section with the horizontal bolts around the circumference drop below. Otherwise you’ll be pulling it out again.

Whilst my engine and gearbox are in, the box does sit slightly against the left hand side of the tunnel, which is a common issue. I’m therefore going to need to try and correct this, once I’ve recovered and have a little more energy.

Hopefully you’ve found this helpful and good luck with your install.

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