Blown Engines On The Road: How Did You Lose Your Virginity?

Either you’ve experienced it, or not (kind of like sex): the car’s engine blows up while on the road. It’s probably an experience (blown engine) that today’s younger generation isn’t quite as likely to have as those of us with a bit of history under our belts, especially with the cars of yore. In a comment on yesterday’s Yugo article, JustPassinThru described how his Yugo engine self-destructed:

Finally…with a new clutch 400 miles old…it tossed the alternator belt. Big deal, huh? Except that the belt managed to get into the TIMING BELT case…and pop THAT off. Yup…and does anyone think Fiat or Yugo engineers thought to make the engine a “clearance” design? Let me disillusion you…I busted a piston crown and bent a valve badly enough to freeze up the camshaft.

I have my own, although not quite as dramatic or Rube Goldbergian as that. I’ll relate it after the jump. In the meanwhile, start dusting off your memories. What we’re looking for is catastrophic failures; not just a bad alternator or steaming radiator. Those are just foreplay.

I was on a road trip with my then-current GF out east, in my 1963 VW Beetle. It was May, but the weather turned record hot, right while we were on Skyline Drive/Blue Ridge Parkway. She took a turn at the wheel, and I could tell she was driving it too slowly in fourth gear on the uphills. But did I say anything? I just knew the air cooled engine was not getting enough air from its fan, and was too hot. But nothing happened, yet.

About a week later, we were on I 70 in Indiana, heading back to Iowa. It was a cool day, and the 40 hp 1200 was happily bopping along at its usual cruising speed, between 65 and 70. All of a sudden, a horrible clattering out back erupted. I knew instantly it was the death knell. I managed to keep it sort of running on the shoulder to the nearest exit, which thankfully was very close by. At the gas station, I lifted the “hood”. Nothing externally looked wrong. Then I grabbed the fan belt pulley, which bolts directly to the crank shaft. It readily moved forward and backward in my hand. Game’s up!

We hitch-hiked back to Iowa, and borrowed her Mom’s little 1973 Corolla, a bumper hitch, and one of those special VW towing hitches that mounted directly to the front torsion bar tubes. They were quite common back then! The Corolla had no trouble towing the Bug back home. I never did fix it; but just parted it out, since it already was a veteran of a nasty front end accident. Moral of the story: air cooled VWs don’t have radiators to make it obvious that they’re overheating. Or don’t let the GF drive.