What the Hell Happened to Project Silvia?


Shop #3:

A few phone calls (and a few months) later, I called Dan Paramore Racing, explained what I wanted to do to whoever Dan had answering the phone that day, and crossed my fingers. The next day, Dan called back and said he could do it.  I dropped the head and valves off with an explanation of the science project I was embarking on. I could see Dan’s porting hand twitching as I explained that I didn’t want him to clean up the ports at all (in the name of science) and that all I wanted was to make the exhaust valves fit. Dan hates to let an imperfect port leave his shop.

I was in no rush to get things done at this point. Project Silvia was a back-burner project while Project Frankenmiata and trying to win a LeMons championship took most of my wrenching time. When Dan asked how quickly I needed the head done, I made the colossal mistake of telling him this. I don’t remember exactly how many months it was before I got my head back, but it was more than 6. Lesson learned: always have a deadline.

Dan had never said exactly how he was going to make my 7mm guides fit, in fact, I’m pretty sure he said he wasn’t sure how he would do it, but he was confident he could figure it out. I still don’t know what he did (he now says he can’t actually remember exactly what parts he used), but the valves fit. Somewhere in our drop-off discussion there had also been some misunderstanding about what to do with the intake valves. I didn’t want anything done to them, since they sealed just fine, but he had done a nice 3-angle valve job on both intakes and exhausts. Even though I hadn’t asked for it, I still paid for the work.

Dan also took it upon himself to re-resurface the head. He didn’t take any more material off, but he wasn’t satisfied with the surface finish, so he spent some quality time hand lapping it with a blanchard-ground steel plate and ever finer grits of sandpaper. The ultra-smooth final finish is great for the metal Coswoth head gasket I was planning to use. I don’t think this cost me a penny, he just did it because he’s a perfectionist and a nice guy.

S14 SR20det combustion chamber

A simple miscommunication lead to a very nice 3-angle valve job on all four valves, not just the exhausts as I had intended. As you can see, the ports are pretty rough right behind the valve seats. This area really could use a cleanup, but I had Dan leave them alone so we could be more confident any changes in performance were due to the S14 head. It was a noble idea at the time…

Dan Paramore intake valves sr20det s13

The narrow grey band on each intake valve (and the corresponding band on the valve seats) is the actual valve seating surface. Notice how far out to the edge of the valve this is. This maximizes the curtain area and improves flow during the first instant the valve is cracked open.

Just as I thought the saga was finally over, it got worse. As I started installing the intake valve stem seals, I noted some would click into place as intended, and some seemed to run into the head before fully seating on the valve stem. Upon closer inspection, I found all the valve guides were installed at slightly different heights. Measuring each one, there was a range of 0.100 in. from the highest to the lowest. I called Dan and explained what I was seeing and he apologized profusely and offered to fix it. In hindsight, with several months of cooling down time, I don’t see how the installed height of the valve guides could have been Dan’s fault. He didn’t install the intake valve guides, Nissan did! At this point, however, both of us blamed him for the valve guide tolerance and the head went back to him for a few more weeks while he found time to fix it.

A few weeks after the head was back in my hands, I finally tried putting things together again and ran into two more problems. First, some of the valves wouldn’t slide freely in the guides, one of them being so tight it wouldn’t even go in at all. Then, when I tried installing the factory SR20DET exhaust valve stem seals, they wouldn’t fit. They were too large and would just sit loosely on the guide. Duh! Obviously these valve stem seals won’t fit. I’d need to use valve stem seals designed for whatever valve guides Dan installed in the head. 

Once again the head went back, and this time it sat for months while Dan tried, and failed, to find valve stem seals that would fit. When I asked what valve guides he had used, he said he didn’t remember, but he would find something. Slowly, though, over several more months of occasional phone calls to check on progress, it became clear that he thought he was doing me a favor by looking for valve guides. He had done the work I had requested (make the valves fit) and finding guides wasn’t really his specialty. He was just doing it to try and be helpful. Needless to say, I have a different opinion.

When it finally became clear he wasn’t going to be able to find the guides, I gave up and took the head back. He had fixed the problem with the sticky valves, and he had obviously been trying to find a workable valve guide, since he handed me a bag full of guides he had bought that he thought might fit. Upon close inspection, all seemed to be for 6mm stems, though.

WIth the head back in my hands, I had to figure out a valve stem seal for a mystery valve guide that might never have existed anywhere (if he just machined the stock one). Things were looking grim.

Shop #4:

I made a few phone calls and both Eric Hsu and Gary Castillo recommended I talk to Mike McDaniel at Engine Supply in Santa Ana, CA. This turned out to be less than 2 miles from Mazda R&D, where i collect my paycheck. Lucky me. I took the head and the sob story to Mike and he spent 5 minutes measuring the top of the guides and looking in a catalog before he found something that would work. After ordering the guides, he called me back exactly when he said he would, took the head for one day, and machined the top of the guides just a hair to fit the guides he had found in the catalog. (He thinks they were from some Ferrari or Fiat engine, but honestly only knows the part number, not the application.)


1 comment

  1. I forgot how much I missed Project Silvia. I was an avid reader of Sport Compact Car when it was still in print form. I was happy to find out Project Silvia is still in work, as of this posting anyways. Now that I’m here I’ll have to catch up with all the turbo japanese goodness. Thanks for bringing this back guys!!!

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