Gas Engine Magazine

The Old Olds With a Heart That Could

By Staff

P.O. Box H Waterford, California 95386

This story has a beginning that happened quite a long time ago,
shortly after the turn of this century, and during the period of
World War I. The location: Modesto, California.

Albert Landini, barely a teenager in 1918, walked to school
every day past a livery stable which had an object in back that
drew him like a magnet-an old car that had been abandoned and
junked. Some parts were missing, but the engine was intact. Since
this was war-time, the school he attended had been unable to obtain
a gasoline engine for the shop classes (they called it manual
training then) to work with, and this looked like a golden
opportunity. As it turned out, it was. The livery operator gave
Albert and his school chum, Nip, the old car on condition they
would clear it out lock, stock, and barrel. The next couple of
weeks’ spare time after school was busy for Albert and Nip. The
kids’ coaster wagon and a borrowed wheelbarrow were pressed
into service, and tools were conned from every available source.
The single cylinder engine was pried out and transported to the
school shop for inspection, tear-down and overhaul. The car was a
‘curved dash’ Oldsmobile of about 1901-1905 vintage. The
engine required a 3-point suspension for mounting, and this was
accomplished by using some old railroad ties and scrap timbers.

The boys, with the aid of their manual training teacher, got the
old engine running, by using a Model T Ford carburetor, and a
jury-rigged chain driven tractor magneto furnishing the spark. At
the end of the school year it was taken to the Landini Ranch on the
east side of Modesto, where it was intermittently used to run a
fanning mill for cleaning grain for a number of years. About the
early 1930’s it was retired and stored outside by the ranch
tankhouse, where a pile of old boards and scrapped fruit-drying
trays gradually accumulated-and it was forgotten.

In the spring of 1987 I was told by a mutual friend that a Mr.
Landini of Modesto had some old engines that he needed to dispose
of. Following up on this, I arranged to meet him and found a
delightful gentleman in his 80’s, from whom I purchased a 1923
FBM, 3 HP, Model Z and some other items. Mr. Landini was in the
process of selling the final couple of acres of the old family
ranch for development, and he showed me a large pile of old boards
and fruit-drying trays alongside the original ranch tankhouse. He
said that somewhere under that pile there should be an old car
engine which he had not seen for over 50 years. We had taken a
mutual liking to each other, and when I expressed an interest in
the old engine he promised to phone me when the engine was
uncovered during the property cleanup.

Sure enough, about a month later, I got a phone call from Mr.
Landini. He told me the engine was uncovered and available! I was
over at his place within the hour, and there it was-an early Olds
single cylinder, side-shaft automobile engine, and everything
turned and moved. How lucky can you get??!!

Dis-assembling, cleaning, and restoring the Olds proved to be a
good-sized undertaking. A quarter to half inch of dried grease and
dirt covered everything, which probably accounted for the engine
being free after all those years. I elected to hand scrape, and
then glass bead-blasted to finish. I am indebted to Dan Dark who
graciously allowed me to use his new bead-blaster, and to Frank
Frunz for much advice and help.

The engine is truly a classic, and has some engineering features
that were ahead of its time. Bore is 4?’ with a 6′ stroke,
with water jackets in the block and in the detachable cylinder head
for cooling. Poppet valves are actuated by rocker arms with roller
cam followers and even roller valve stem followers. The cam lobes
are fabricated on a separate piece of stock which is fastened to
the end of the side-shaft with a taper pin. The cam lobes appear to
have been built up by forge welding. Compared to modern engines the
intake period has quite a short duration, while the exhaust is
extremely long. This makes for interesting ‘stack
music’-the exhaust has a hollow whistling sound due to a
combination of a relatively long restricted passage plus the long
duration. Starting the engine never fails to draw a crowd!

The ‘curved dash’ Olds engine uses a spark plug with
?’ pipe thread (a la Model T Ford) and was fired by a buzz coil
powered by dry-cell batteries. A cam lobe near the driven end of
the side shaft actuated contact points. Spark could be advanced or
retarded by a wire control that varied the position of the points
against the cam lobe. I was lucky to find these pieces still on the
engine even though not used in the first restoration. The side
shaft is driven from the crankshaft through 2 to 1 spiral gears cut
by Brown & Sharp of Providence, Rhode Island. These gears show
virtually no wear and still have an excellent finish.

Carburetion and quality consistency of fuel were both pretty
‘iffy’ items around the turn of this century. Efforts to
locate an original carburetor proved fruitless, so a brass Holley
carburetor for a Model T Ford of about 1912 vintage was settled on
and has proved very satisfactory. The engine has no governor, so
speed is controlled entirely by throttle setting with a lawn mower
type wire control.

Engine lubrication is by a sight-feed drip oiler for the
cylinder, with the connecting rod catching oil mist thrown back
from the piston in a set of V-shaped grooves feeding an oil hole.
The engine crankcase is enclosed and has a dry sump. Main bearings
and the side shaft have grease cups, and valve rockers and stems
are serviced with an oil can before startup. At shutdown the driver
had to remember to turn off the cylinder drip-oiler. In case he
forgot, there is a drain petcock at the bottom of the cylinder
head. This was also useful in event the engine got flooded during

Another Olds feature was the connecting rod bearing cap, which
was hinged on one side and could be serviced by removing an
inspection plate on top of the crankcase. Simply remove the single
con-rod bolt, remove or replace shims as necessary to service the
bearing, and then replace the bolt and inspection plate. Of course,
if you dropped anything in the process, you were in trouble (just
ask anyone who has ever changed bands in a Model T Ford).

The Olds drive system consisted of a 2-speed planetary
transmission mounted on the extended crankshaft. There was an
outside mounted third main bearing located beyond the transmission.
The transmission also had a reverse gear, an important feature for
that period. The transmission was coupled to the rear axle by a
chain drive.

Chassis suspension utilized full wheelbase length leaf springs.
Steering was by a tiller bar, and the car was driven from the
right-hand seat. Another unique feature was the starting system.
The engine was started from the driver’s seat by a starting
crank on a ratcheted jack-shaft with a 2 to 1 ratio. The driver and
passenger sat directly over the engine flywheel, with the cylinder
head to the rear of the car. With its light overall weight, the
Olds was considered a very good performer in its day. And with the
‘curved dash’ styling it was one of the most stylish and
popular cars of its era. This was the car that the song ‘In My
Merry Oldsmobile’ was written about. Some accessories available
included acetylene lights and a bulb horn.

Restoration of the Olds engine presented a number of challenges.
The cylinder was found badly scored from a loose piston pin, the
exhaust valve seat was cracked, valves and valve guides were badly
worn, the connecting rod was badly bent, and the pins holding the
rollers on the rocker arms were worn nearly halfway through. On the
plus side was the good condition of main and rod bearings and
journals, the side shaft assembly was OK except for end play, and
the flywheel ran true!

Standard boring bars didn’t have enough reach to bore the
long cylinder, so it was necessary to make a jig and use a milling
machine to sleeve the block. The piston pin turned out to be
odd-ball size, and a new one had to be ground to proper oversize
with new bronze sleeves to fit. The cracked valve seat had to be
pinned and an insert installed. Valve guides had to be bored out
and inserts installed. Valve head size was odd-ball and new valves
had to be cut down to fit, and stems drilled for keepers. And the
threads on all the half-inch studs were to the so-called Old
Standard-12 threads to the inch. Machine shops work by the hour,
and of these there were quite a few.

Eventually, everything began to come together. The original
piston rings were salvaged and de-glazed. New head and valve
chamber gaskets were obtained from Olson’s Gaskets, and other
gaskets were cut as required. The machine shop didn’t want to
tackle the bent connecting rod, said it was bent too close to the
crank journal end. I finally found an old-timer named Joe Silva who
said he could straighten it, and did. And the worn roller pins in
the rocker arms were replaced with drill rod of the proper size
welded in place. End play on the sideshaft was taken up with

This was an awkward engine to assemble, with its single flywheel
and 3-point suspension. The problem was finally solved by bolting
the cylinder block vertically by the head studs to a shop cart,
thus permitting installation of the crankshaft and flywheel, and
adjusting the main bearings. The partly assembled engine was then
transferred to its permanent mounting, which is a modified replica
of the engine assembly stands which were used in the Olds factory.
Assembly was completed on the stand including the outboard third
main bearing. An adapter was fabricated for the carburetor, a
thermosyphon cooling system was rigged, small fuel tank installed,
and spark and throttle controls connected. After installation of a
buzz coil and battery, it was time to lubricate everything, fuel up
and start!

The first startup involved quite a lot of trial and error,
mostly carburetor adjustment, and a lot of cranking. To crank up
you simply grab a flywheel spoke in one hand, the rim in the other,
and pull through. Now, after everything is set properly and the
cylinder primed, the engine will usually start on the first pull.
Operation is remarkably smooth, thanks in good measure to the fully
counter-balanced crankshaft, another ahead of its time feature. As
stated earlier, this engine makes interesting stack music that
never fails to draw a crowd at startup time!

STATISTICS; Bore: 4? in.; Stroke: 6 inches; Displacement: 95 cu.
in., 1.6 liters; Horsepower: 7 @ 500 RPM. Vintage photos from Those
Wonderful Old Automobiles by Floyd Clymer, copyright 1953.

  • Published on Sep 1, 1990
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