Video: A Time-Saving Shortcut For Retorquing Copper Head Gaskets

With the extreme boom in popularity of MLS head gaskets in the past decade or so, copper head gaskets — and their associated quirks — have started to fall from the forefront of everyone’s minds. However, copper head gaskets are still very much in use both by traditionalists who’ve always used them, and in extreme power applications.

As mentioned, solid copper head gaskets do have some quirks to contend with, one of which is retorquing the cylinder head fasteners after the first heat cycle of the engine. While that might not seem like a big deal, when the engine goes straight from the engine stand to the car, and gets its first run in actually in the car, retorquing the cylinder head fasteners can be a time-consuming process.

To combat this, the team at Alex Taylor Racing came up with an interesting solution to the heat-cycling issue, without actually running the engine inside or outside of the car. Besides allowing for an easy retorquing process outside of the engine bay, it also allows all of the “break-in” of a new engine to happen entirely in the car.

While Alex Taylor, driver of the “Badmaro” a low-eight-second ’68 Camaro which has competed in Drag Week, admits that this method bucks the conventional way of performing an initial heat cycle, the fact that it works should speak for itself.

The setup created by Taylor uses an electric belt sander motor to drive the mechanical water pump, and a gas crucible to heat the water. An electric water pump and a propane turkey fryer would accomplish the same thing.

Starting with an old belt sander motor, Dennis Taylor (Alex’s dad and crew chief) ran a belt from the engine’s water pump pulley to the electric motor, to move water through the engine while it was on the stand. The water flows through the engine from a five-gallon metal drum, sitting atop a heat source — in this case, a casting crucible.

The heat source brings the water to the boiling point of 212 degrees and then moves the heated water through the engine on the stand, with a surprisingly high amount of heat transfer (an absolute variance of only 12 degrees between the source water and the final engine temperature).

Once the engine is up to temp and held there for a bit, the heat is removed and the water continuously circulated until it returns to ambient temp. Once that happens, the head fasteners are retorqued in sequence, and the engine can undergo final assembly and be installed in the car.

While some might see it as an unorthodox method when compared to the traditional method of running the engine on a run-stand or in the car to get up to temperature and heat-cycle the engine, it does get the job done with some notable benefits.

While not many have a crucible sitting around, recreating this setup with propane-fueled turkey fryer picked up at your local Goodwill a few weeks after Thanksgiving would work equally well, and be quite cost-effective. If you’re a DIYer and you run copper head gaskets, this might just be a fun weekend project to undertake.

With the open-air water system, peak water temperature is standard boiling temperature of 212 degrees-Farenheight. However that is enough to get the engine temperature up to 200 degrees-Farenheight, which should create a complete heat cycle.

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About the author

Greg Acosta

Greg has spent fifteen years and counting in automotive publishing, with most of his work having a very technical focus. Always interested in how things work, he enjoys sharing his passion for automotive technology with the reader.
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