Back in the annals of time, 2002 to be exact, a local Import car enthusiast purchased a High Performance SOHC Honda cylinder head from a nationally known High-Performance Import company. Opening the box, he was appalled. You can see what he saw in the photos included with this article. Weeping, he took this disappointing package to my friend Chris of Chris’s Precision Machine. Chris, also shocked, called me to get my opinion. I too was shocked! Enough to write the first “You Get what You Pay For” article.
I have encountered much poor work over the years sold to the public. Recently, a good racing customer showed up with a second cylinder head he had purchased from a nationally known shop. This head was to be a potential race track back-up and supplement the main cylinder head that I was developing. This second head came from a shop that specializes in this specific brand of cylinder heads. After a careful look and a few Flow Bench tests, I knew it was time for a second, “You Get What You Pay For” article. I will detail the sadness of this head later in this article.
I am writing this because experience, education and learning matters. Pay attention to where you get your information from and where you get your engine work done. Remember: The Ferengi 218th Rule of Acquisition. “Always know what you are buying.”
This article is NOT to expose any particular shop. There are good and bad shops everywhere. Additionally, porters, mechanics, etc. are people and we all can make mistakes. It takes time to learn and everyone should be given the opportunity to learn. This article is about doing your homework, investigating and learning about a subject or shop before you start spending money. There is a very real lack of knowledge across this industry. This is true for the consumer, service and parts providers as well.
The cautionary question here is: If professional cylinder head people make mistakes. What do you think of your chances of getting technical engine work, such as porting done properly is?
In America, anyone with a few tools and a credit card can open a business. Experience is NOT required. Legitimate, competent shops pay for this laxity of professionalism in higher insurance premiums. The consumer ends up covering this in higher shop rates. In Germany a prospective automotive shop owner/mechanic has to have a minimum of five years’ experience on their specific brand of car before they can open their own garage and/or shop. Germany did this for a reason. They got tired of consumer complaints about unqualified automotive mechanics and businesses.
The amount of people giving on-line advice who have no real or professional experience is staggering. With the internet, a shop or company can make themselves look more competent than they actually are. Back in the old days, before 2002, parts stores used to be staffed by cranky old bastards like myself who knew the difference between a “Stillson Wrench” and a Brake Shoe. Now, if your car year, make and model is not in their computer, your car simply does not exist.
Chris Slay of Chris’s Precision Machine and I have been working on Japanese, European and American hi-performance and racing engines for a combined seventy-five years now. We have a lot of experience with the good, the bad and the ugly. Experience and learning take time and commitment. The great thing is, that anyone and everyone can do it. The first step in learning is to admit that you are not sure, or in fact that you do not know. That is much harder for most of us to do than we like to admit. Do not be ignorant of your ignorance, or be swayed by the ignorance of others. The truth is that real facts and science do matter.
This example of a botched head is not as rare as we would like to admit. It was sold as a complete high-performance cylinder head job from nationally known shop This head was delivered to the customer as you see it. The rust and rust blisters on the valves came free with the porting job, the machining and the purchase price.
The professionally ported ready to ship and fully prepped cylinder head which is the focus of this article was purchased from a reputable company that specializes in these cylinder heads. This new, backup cylinder head had never been bolted onto an engine. This new head looked okay from a few feet away, but a closer look was called for. The combustion chambers had been laid back a bit from the valves and the surface was highly polished. I ran my finger over the surface and felt a myriad of ripples. I noticed that the walls of the port runners were also filled with ripples. This surface finish was NOT acceptable. My racing customer asked me to flow bench test the just purchased cylinder head to see if it would even qualify as a backup cylinder head. I removed the intake and exhaust valves from the number three cylinder. I was utilizing the same number cylinder that I had used for the baseline tests on the Original head that I was developing for him. I wanted no excuses for variations, etc.
Some light lube on the valve stems, install the valves in their guides and installed light flow bench test springs. I made sure that my test fixture cylinder sleeve and the combustion chamber of the cylinder head aligned properly. Then I placed the cylinder head on the Fabulous RMI Computer Controlled Flow Bench Number One. The last test that I ran on this bench was the as received exhaust port of the Original lightly ported cylinder head. I left the flow bench set up just as it was, adjusted the weather variables, then test flowed the exhaust port of this potential backup cylinder head.
Here is a complete RMI cylinder head job ready to be delivered to customer. The surface has the correct RA for the type of cylinder head gasket to be utilized.
I flowed the exhaust port from fully closed up to 0.600 of an inch lift just as I had the Original cylinder head. I then graphed the results. While flowing this port, the port made some very unpleasant sounds. Yes, the air flowing through a port runner will sound different one port runner to another or one head to another. Ugly port runner sounds are not positive signs for good port flow. To say that I was stunned when I looked at the port graph and numbers would be an understatement. The graph curve did not look good. So, to see how bad it really was,
I pulled up the first test of the customer’s as received Original project head. The as received Original head was lightly ported from the company that sold it, but untouched by me at that time. My wife walked by and I said, please come over and look at this! She looked at the two graph lines and said; Wow! That’s not good. The neighborhood stray cat was walking by so we grabbed it and held it up to the graph. It emitted a loud, MeeYowwww! Would the intake be just as bad??? I set the head up to run the intake test. As this was simply a ‘what does this head flow test’, I did not take any velocity readings for either port.