Engine Change Escapades

By Sam Longo AME A&P

The tired and battered 1964 MGB filed its final protest by throwing a rod through its cast iron engine block. My good friend Peter and his much beloved car needed help. As fate would have it, at twenty years of age, this would be my virgin engine change.

Despite our woefully inadequate experience and equipment, the outcome of that first engine change escapade was a positive one. Peter’s MG continued providing enjoyable, albeit intermittent, transportation until the transmission expired along with twelve other major components, at which time it was mercifully removed from service. The joys of British sports cars aside, it was for me the beginning of a lifetime of various engine change adventures, on a diverse array of machinery, ranging from tiny Honda motorcycle engines to giant Rolls Royce RB211’s and everything in between.

My first engine change recollection as a professional mechanic (meaning someone was actually paying me to fix things!) was as an apprentice in Frobisher Bay. We had to remove an engine from a Twin Otter and ship it via Boeing 737 to Nordair’s Montreal home base. Apparently John Luty (Nordairs owner) had a fishing trip planned using the companies Turbo Mallard. Unfortunately the Mallard had an ailing PT6 that needed replacing, so the order came down to pull one off a Twin Otter stationed in Frobisher. That, no longer revenue generating, Twin Otter sat in the hangar for ten days, minus one engine, while the boss enjoyed his fishing trip!

As an Airframe Mechanic at DeHavilland  I rarely touched an engine, but those few fallow years were quickly compensated for when I landed at Air Canada. Working in line maintenance, a week rarely went by without an engine change on a Boeing 727 or DC9. If we hustled, a small crew of 4 or 5 seasoned mechanics could change a JT8D in an 8-hour shift and have the aircraft back in service. As with many jobs, the more you did it the easier and faster it became. Air Canada was also very good at putting together excellent equipment (Engine Change Kits) that helped facilitate rapid turnarounds on or off the main maintenance base. I can’t imagine how many engine changes I worked on during my first seven years with line maintenance but there is no doubt that my rate of engine change encounters soared when I voluntarily transferred to Check Crew.

Check Crew at Air Canada was responsible for most of the “Wide Body” aircraft, heavy scheduled maintenance. Consequently we were tasked with most of the Boeing 747 and Lockheed L1011 engine changes. As I recall the 747 engines seemed to stay put and happily pull their attached airplanes for thousands of hours undisturbed. The “Tin Lemon” however was the undisputed engine change queen. We averaged 2 to 3 engine changes a week on the infamous “Tri-Star” and consequently got very good at it. We often joked about how much easier life would have been if the Lockheed designers had simply had the foresight to attach the engines using giant Dzus fasteners! As it was, wing engines could be pulled by one shift and installed by the next, with the tail engine always taking just a little longer due to its height and lack of easy access. In fact we did them so often, that it actually started to get boring. Fortunately there were so many different tasks to do as part of the whole process that we changed up jobs to keep it interesting. Some things were a real pain, aligning and connecting the giant “S-Duct” translating ring as well as hooking up the 3 bleed air ducts were always a challenge on the number 2, tail mounted engine, not to mention climbing a lot of stairs on the specially built engine change workstands!      

When I finally left Air Canada in 1988 to pursue my aviation-teaching career, I thought my days of never ending engine changes were finally done. However fate decided to deal me just a few more engine change challenges. As the Professor responsible for second year engine theory, part of my curriculum was teaching the proper process of engine change. In addition to the classroom theory involved, every student participated in an actual engine change, as part of his or her mandatory hangar projects. With two Cessna150’s, a Piper Apache, and an additional Piper Seminole undergoing continuous non-stop engine changes, I must have supervised hundreds of engine changes over my 22 years of teaching. 

Now that I have officially retired from teaching, my only engine changes now are happily self-imposed, though incredibly just last week a buddy called me up and requested my assistance with his 1972 Honda 750. “I just need your help to get the motor back in the frame” he pleaded. Of course, as with Peter’s MG all those years ago, I couldn’t refuse a friend in need. Besides, like the old Check Crew mechanics used to say; “You’re only as good as your last engine change” and God willing, I haven’t changed my last one yet!    

Just like Peter’s white 1964 MGB
Lockheed L-1011 – The Engine Change Queen
Keith’s CB750 with the engine installed.

Kindred Karma

Motorcycle Mojo Magazine – May 2021


1976 Honda CB750 Café

For many of us motorcycles often transcend being mere mechanical devices. We often build relationships with them, name them and even speak to them as if they too were human. Occasionally   these “combustion fired companions” can reward us, becoming the catalyst to create or spark future friendships. The story of this 1976 Honda CB750 Café Racer clearly follows that unique phenomenon.

It was a lovely Sunday morning and the vintage motorcycles arrived in droves for some friendly bike banter and a good greasy breakfast. I was riding my own trusty 1973 CB750 Honda Café when a stranger approached and struck up a conversation. His name was Ed and he offered to buy my bike. At that point in time, I had owned it for over 20 years and was not interested in selling. He already had a very nice fleet of classic motorcycles and I was quite flattered that he was interested in mine.

As fate would have it, we became friends and over the course of the next few years I helped him build his own. The bike you see here is his creation. Originally commissioned and built by Carpy of California to Ed’s specifications, it arrived in Canada ready to go but still required some fine tuning and fettling. I pulled the motor and installed a Wiseco 836 kit, Barnett clutch, Dyna Ignition/coils and rejetted the carbs. I also did some minor suspension work and Ed worked his magic on the cosmetics. A little later Ed also opted to install 29mm CR Race carburetors. In the end it was a stunning example of the 70’s era Single Cam Honda. Parked beside my own 1973 Honda, at various rallies over the years, his always shone just a little brighter and always generated many admiring comments. Competition aside, the brotherhood created over these two bikes was complete.

As the years progressed Ed’s bike collection grew but he always had a soft spot for his hot rod Honda Four. Vintage Ducati’s, Norton’s, BMW’s came and went along with a plethora of modern motorcycles, but the Honda always remained as one of his favorites. He was an excellent rider and I soon learned to forget trying to keep up with him. Whether we were riding 60’s era 305 Super Hawks in the US Moto Giro’s or blasting up to breakfast on our CB750’s his riding ability always put me to shame. I am sure he put up with me mainly because I could fix whatever mechanical gremlins occurred if his bikes ever failed him.

Unfortunately, in the end I could only stand by and watch as his own body failed him. He lost his battle with cancer at the far too young age of 61. Before he left us, he called on my son Spencer and I to help him prepare for his imminent departure. It was a rainy, blustery, late summer day when we met at his garage. All the other bikes had been sold. Only his beloved Café Honda remained. He was getting rather frail so under his tutelage I gassed it up and installed the battery and it fired to life.

We had built it together and now he was passing its care and feeding to me. He had told me in advance that this day would come, though secretly I dreaded it. His reasoning was sound. He knew I would take good care of it. He also mentioned that because he had no children (and I had a son that rides) Spencer could continue to keep it rolling long after I was gone. He wanted to ensure that his creation would continue to dazzle others into future generations.

As I rode out of the underground parking lot the rain had stopped and the sun was out. The twenty- minute ride home was the only break in the foul weather all day. The pounding rain returned a few seconds after it was safely stashed in my garage. It was like a divine sign that the handover was meant to be. Ed Liu’s legacy was now my responsibility. We are after all only custodians of these mechanical companions while we walk and ride this planet. Our kindred karma had played its final hand. Twenty-five years ago, Ed wanted to buy my CB750 and through a sad twist of fate I ended up inheriting his. As it sits under the lights of my workshop it represents so much more than a motorcycle. It embodies the human aspect of our passion to ride and in its purest form represents the bond of a lasting friendship. Gods speed Ed, rest assured that your Honda is in good hands.

Technical sidebar.

I have since ridden Ed’s Honda several times and made some minor modifications and repairs to make it more “streetable.”

 The day I picked it up Ed pointed out a few glitches that required repair. Damaged brake light wiring and partially seized front caliper were easy fixes. Originally when I first worked on the bike, I had set it up identically to my own CB750. Stock cam, 836 Kit and rejetted carbs with Dyna ignition. However, in my opinion, when Ed installed the 29mm Race Carbs, its “street ability” was compromised. Yes, it made slightly better top end power but idled poorly and lacked the ability for carb synchronization. Since these photos were taken, I have returned to stock carbs, rejetted with velocity stacks.

 Ed also loved electronic gadgets, cell phone and Garmin holders were all removed from the top triple clamps for a clean ‘70’s look. I polished the bar clamps and installed period grips. Also, while riding, it bothered me to not have turn signal indication. The signals are tucked in so tightly they cannot be seen flashing. I ran a harness up through the steering stem with a modified Fender Guitar Amp jewel light for indication. (Ed would approve, he also loved vintage guitars!)  

Other things that offend my sensibilities like the 16-inch Harley rear rim will likely be left. Ultimately, I do not want to change too much of Ed’s original vision as it will always remain his bike. His tongue and cheek license plate “CAFEH” is uniquely Canadian and 100% Ed. Finally, as an homage to Ed I installed the rear seat cowl decals “Ed Liu’s Legacy.” The boys at breakfast will appreciate that.

1060 words

Written by Sam Longo