My first car was a 1960 Renault Dauphine. Remember those? They were the French alternative to the VW bug. Despite that they weren’t bad cars and a lot more comfortable and quieter than the bug.
My parents passed the Dauphine down to me when I was 17. I was driving by then and needed some kind of wheels. Luckily I wasn’t too picky about what they looked like. However, the engine had some problems that needed to be fixed.
I spent that summer overhauling the engine in my back yard and back porch. To pull the engine out, I positioned the back of the car, where the engine was, under our swing set (all iron pipes in those days). After unbolting, my brother and I pulled it out of the engine compartment with ropes.
For the most part, I didn’t really know what I was doing and had to figure it out as I went along. A basic Chilton manual was all I had to guide me. I did the overhaul with minimal tools, mostly a primitive 1960’s era metric wrench set (which I still have and use occasionally).
The project was mostly uneventful, except for the cuts to my hands from installing the rings on the pistons. I even attempted the carburetor overhaul, also something I had never done before.
The only error I made, that I was aware of, was when the engine was pulled off the transmission. I didn’t keep track of where the balancing washers were placed on the flywheel bolts. I’ll never know how much engine damage, if any, may have been done by that mistake.
Toward the end of the summer, I reassembled the whole thing and installed it back into the car. It looked okay, but when I tried to start it, it just cranked and cranked it. I even had my sister tow me behind her car. I let in the clutch and it sputtered and tried to fire, but no dice.
The car sat for awhile in the front yard, both of us forlorn. I kept thinking I must have done something wrong in the reassembly. Then one day a friend of our family, who rebuilt marine engines, came by our house. He took a look at it and said ”I think I know what your problem is.“ He removed the distributor cap wire and unscrewed the little black spark suppressor that was added to keep static out of the radio. He pushed the wire back into the cap and cranked the engine. It fired up like a dream. That was the most exciting experience I had had in my life up to that point.
I used the little car to commute to school that fall and all during my senior year. It had one advantage that no newer cars have. The engine was small enough that it had a hand crank. Yes, I started the engine by hand cranking it when the battery was low. Imagine a teenager doing that now. The crank was also useful for slowly turning the engine to set it to the timing mark. Very convenient.
When I went off to college, the car stayed at home. (I would have brought it with me if the university had allowed freshmen to drive.) My parents sold it to someone who needed an engine for their boat. That’s the last I heard of it. As far as I know it is still out there chugging up and down the Chesapeake Bay.