do I need a head gasket repair or is something else doing on? - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 10 Old 06-09-2017 Thread Starter
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do I need a head gasket repair or is something else doing on?

Launched the boat today. I have been trying all day to start my 1970's atomic 4 which was running in the fall. As a process of elimination, the spark plugs have been replaced, the points and the coil. The engine will only start and run when one spark plug is removed, and it doesn't matter which one. It will run on any three cylinders, but not four. We figured that out when ensuring the was spark. It really sounds like it is going to start but doesn't. It seems like there is too much pressure.
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post #2 of 10 Old 06-09-2017
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Re: do I need a head gasket repair or is something else doing on?

Check the firing order, that the spark plug wires are connected to the correct plugs. Just a WAG.
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Re: do I need a head gasket repair or is something else doing on?

Yes, we had that thought too. We checked that and replace all the wiring, because it was showing wear. On the Atomic it is 1-2-4-3
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Re: do I need a head gasket repair or is something else doing on?

Did you pull the distributor out of the engine? And if so any chance you put it back in with the timing off? Pretty sure it is keyed...but..
Another WAG, Check TDC on #1 and that the valves are closed. Timing comes to mind.

I've never had a problem like this where the engine would run with one plug out.

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post #5 of 10 Old 06-09-2017
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Re: do I need a head gasket repair or is something else doing on?

Something is out with the timing, my wild assed guess.
There is a way to fine tune adjust the timing with the distributor.
You will get it running again.
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Re: do I need a head gasket repair or is something else doing on?

Thanks, did not remove the distributor from the engine. I like the idea of a timing issue, cus it sounds easier.

Found some water in the cylinders, but hoping that is because exhaust system is backing up. I must remember to close water intake till it starts running. Blew that out
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post #7 of 10 Old 06-09-2017
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Re: do I need a head gasket repair or is something else doing on?

Make sure The wires are in the correct tower on the distributor cap. Being in the correct firing order is not enough. Also the negative terminal on the coil goes to the distributor.

Also if you replaced the points the timing is probably off. Spark occurs the instant the breaker points open. The breaker points must be set to the proper gap (.025 for Delco distributor .018-020 for Prestolite) then ignition timing is set by turning the distributor. A strobe timing light is the correct tool for the job. Or you can set the number one piston at Top Dead Center (TDC) on the compression stroke by turning the crankshaft. Are there timing marks on the flywheel or harmonic balancer? I am not familiar enough with the Atomic engine. The rotor must be pointing to the number one spark plug wire. If it is not turn the crankshaft 360 degrees.

Static Timing
If you can set the crankshaft and number one piston at TDC (Top Dead Center) on the compression stroke:
With the ignition on
1. Turn the distributor WITH the direction of rotation of the distributor shaft until the points close.
2. Hold the number 1 spark plug wire close to a ground 1/16" or so away.
3. Turn the distributor INTO the direction of rotation and watch for a spark at the plug wire.
4, Tighten the distributor at that spot. Timing should be correct.
A timing light is still the best option. MAybe you can borrow one from an old car buff.
-CH
Point gap must be set first. (Position the breaker block on the high point of the cam lobe in the distributor before setting point gap.)
Crankshaft position second (critical)
Then turn distributor as suggested.

Last edited by Chas H; 06-09-2017 at 11:13 PM. Reason: Clarification
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post #8 of 10 Old 06-10-2017
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Re: do I need a head gasket repair or is something else doing on?

First and foremost, I too believe it's a timing issue. However, you could have a stuck valve, which I have not experienced on my A4s, but have heard of this happening to those that did NOT use Marvel Mystery Oil in their gasoline.

As for the points, as long as they are relatively clean, then tend to work just fine and last forever. Mine are currently 5 years old and look brand new, though I polish the surface of the contacts once a season with a jewelers file just to be on the safe side.

If you had a significant amount of water in the cylinders, you could have blown a head gasket. Is the water siphoning in from your exhaust? If this is the case, there is a special bleed valve for the A4 that is available at Moyer Marine.

Good luck,

Gary

Last edited by travlin-easy; 06-10-2017 at 03:05 PM.
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Re: do I need a head gasket repair or is something else doing on?

Another possibility is too much exhaust back pressure. A partially blocked exhaust might let the engine run on 3 cylinders, but not 4.
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post #10 of 10 Old 06-10-2017 Thread Starter
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Re: do I need a head gasket repair or is something else doing on?

Thanks to all,

The timing was checked and adjusted.
The back pressure idea makes sense. I checked the exhaust between the water box and the tailpipe with a shop vac. Drained the water box and it had a lot of water in it! Still could not start the engine. Everything between the engine and the water box is wrapped heavily, probably in asbestos.

I have decided to bite the bullet and change the head gaskets. I have all the nuts off, but have yet to be able to pry it apart. Tomorrow I will try to use some of that pressure, by trying to turn over the engine and see if the pressure will lift the head off a little.

If nothing else, I am on a steep learning curve.
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