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Old 12-12-2005, 03:19 PM   #1
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Reno , Nevada
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Posts: 53
Bad Bad Things... (a new 454 Engine?)

So we were on a road trip this weekend down to southern California (from Reno Nevada. It is a good 500-600 mile drive one direction. I have a 1974 Argosy with a Chevy 454 on a P30 Chassis. It's been burning oil a little but I've been staying on top of it and things seem fine. We were towing a small enclosed U-haul totalling only around 1000lbs (probably less). The trip down was fine, started to run "slow" (maxed out at 60 with no extra power) and the oil was about .5 quart low and we had a slight incline, added oil and things were fine. Then on our trip back home it was getting late and we were going to stop and stay overnight in Bakersfield, my brother offered to drive because he wasn't tired. He has never driven it before. I gave him the run-down...two gas tanks, tag axle tire pressure, oil pressure, engine temp, etc. etc.
I went to sleep.

At about 2:00 am I smell something funny and feel us come to a gentle stop. I jump up out of the back and get to the front and look out the windows and notice that we are in more thick California Fog (there had been a lot of that this trip)... But that SMELL!! My brother tells me "it made a squeeling sound and began to get hot, there was no shoulder on the freeway and this was the first exit I came to. Before I got here the Temp jumped up really really fast to the max and then we smelled the smoke and it died as I coasted to the stop sign." He insisted that the squeeling sounded like water escaping the overflow or radiator cap... I stepped outside to find that it was a very clear night, and the "fog cloud" was actually white smoke. It was still billowing softly out the exaust pipe. I opened the front hatch and everything was wet with coolant and water. The overflow tank lid had popped off and thrown water everywhere. Steam was coming off everything. Back inside I took off the doghouse and air filter, it was dripping wet and all smelled like coolant and steam. Cops showed up...they had no advice or help. After about 45 minutes we tried to start it as it was to get it off the off-ramp, it turned over with an un-even sound and spewed white smoke every rotation. It kinda' started twice and sounded terrible so we decided that we would do more harm than good. We (five of us) pushed it (it's 32 feet long!!) accross the street into a gas station parking lot. The cops left and we decided to sleep and call smart people in the morning.

Next day: We wake up and make friends with the gas station owner as not to get kicked out. A friend checked the oil (I didn't see it at this point) and said it looked "a little high" (red flag #1). I found a faucet that worked on a vacant building next door and began putting water back in the radiator, 7 gallons later I was getting tired of running and needed to call my brother-in-law who might have advice. My brother (the one who was driving) took over filling the radiator. Several minutes later he came in and said "I put in 6 gallons and it's not full!" (Red flag #2). Not 30 seconds later we hear it begin to drip on the it's more of a trickle. I trace the water drip up to the point where the oil dipstick tube meets the oil pan. (no more red flags, I know we're screwed now.) I'm on the phone with my brother in law, he has me check the oil again...
Him: "Go ahead and check the oil level again"
Me: "umm ok, it's at one foot"
Him (laughing histerically): "One Foot!!?? Haaha! That's amazing!!"
Me: "Yeah, I know. We're screwed aren't we?"
Him: "It sounds like it."

No kidding, it was about 4 inches from the handle of the dipstick. Of course he found that quite hilarious and later I did too.

So there are very very many quite hilarious small stories in the hours that followed but I'll jump to the point (if you'd like to hear about a 5 hour trip over the cold mountain pass in the middle of December in the back of a dark U-haul truck with 6 other people let me know). Several hundred dollars later we had the Motorhome parked at my brother-in-laws house (the one who thought a foot of oil was the best thing all year). We tore into it and removed spark plugs first to check compression. The second to last one looked like someone hit it end-on with an axe...bad bad news. We checked compression (got Zero in that cylinder) and decided that there was no point in taking the heads off. He got solemn and said it looked like we need a rebuild.

$o now I $hould $ell a few kidney$, my liver, left arm, guitar amp, motorcycle and my $oul right?

Are there ANY ideas? I feel stupid. It was a great motorhome, but now it's a guest house at my brothers house in Sacramento.


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Old 12-12-2005, 03:29 PM   #2
1977 28' argosy moho
scarborough , ontario
Join Date: Dec 2004
Posts: 63
Rebuild ? Yeah, Rebuild!

Sorry to say what you already know, but, yes it sounds serious. The good news is... no one got hurt when your engine expired and they are not too terrible to rebuild. This could also be the stage where you consider repowering ie crate engine or something in a deisel flavour! Good luck and keep us informed.

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Old 12-12-2005, 03:48 PM   #3
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The ABSOLUTE worst part of THAT job is gonna be pulling out (and subsequently reinstalling) the engine! That job is too much like no fun no matter WHERE you're from! Good luck! I'd put THE best brand new engine you can afford in that thing, so's ya' never have to do it again, is the best advice I can give ya'. . .
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Old 12-12-2005, 03:57 PM   #4
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1978 31' Sovereign
Texas Airstream Harbor , Zavalla, in the Deep East Texas Piney Woods on Lake Sam Rayburn
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Originally Posted by pillageTHENburn
... said it looked like we need a rebuild.
$o now I $hould $ell a few kidney$, my liver, left arm, guitar amp, motorcycle and my $oul right?
Are there ANY ideas? .....

You are in the midst of a situation MANY of us have thought about, and a few of us have experienced.

My $.02 worth is to shop around for a garage you can trust, and change out the engine.

I would recommend Sallee Chevrolet - new crate engine -

To me, peace of mind for a Chevy guarantee would far outweigh the bucks you would save over a "shop" rebuild.

Please keep us posted with the outcome, cost, and - -

the "rest" of the story.

Hope the dark ride in the crowded u-haul did not involve any encounters with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents (or whatever they are called these days) post homeland security.

"Suck it up, spend the bucks, do it right the first time."

WBCCI # 1113
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Old 12-12-2005, 04:01 PM   #5
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Thumbs up New!

I smell a crate 572 ci GM with a Pro-Charger coming! It might even run the quarter in less than 30 seconds.

Seriously, I would go with a new crate engine also as you only want to do this once.

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Old 12-12-2005, 05:00 PM   #6
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I, unfortunately, have been right there and done that, so I feel your pain. Mine didn't emit the white smoke, only some horrible mechanical rubbing noises. Then came the steady loss of power, then the long silence at the side of the road.

Sorry to say that your engine is probably not a rebuild candidate if it ate a piston as mine did. You now have a connection between water jacket and oil system, which probably means a cracked or gouged cylinder wall.

I went the crate 502 route - not the cheapest, but certainly the most direct route. Best of luck in getting your Argosy back on the road.

Bob in Nashville
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Old 12-12-2005, 05:19 PM   #7
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1978 31' Sovereign
Texas Airstream Harbor , Zavalla, in the Deep East Texas Piney Woods on Lake Sam Rayburn
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Originally Posted by pillageTHENburn it's a guest house at my brothers house in Sacramento.

You might find some help in these threads....

You have emparked on the worst nightmare for the most of us - on the other hand, your MoHo IS in a safe place, and you have the time to make a rational decision and not be rushed into a "hurry up and get it done" mode.

"Suck it up, spend the bucks, do it right the first time."

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Trailer '78 31' Sovereign

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Old 12-12-2005, 06:37 PM   #8
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Sounds like you need some sympathy Karma. Ohhhhhmmmmm!!!!

Tin Lizzie
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Old 12-12-2005, 06:43 PM   #9
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1974 31' Sovereign
1993 21' Sovereign
Colfax , North Carolina
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Originally Posted by 87MH
You have emparked
Dennis, I don't know why, but your typo struck me as funny...
The situation, however, is anything but. If, for some reason, you guys decide to leave sense and sensibility behind, and do the job yourselves in your brother-in-law's back yard, it will be vastly easier to get the old engine out, if you remove the intake and exhaust manifolds, and the heads first. It is a much smaller package to remove that way, and if you get your engine as a "kit", put it in the coach before installing those same items. The aggravation at having to pull and remove those things is nothing compared to trying to finagle the entire assembly through the hole in the front of your coach. Trust me on this.
Good luck on your unwanted project.
Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy, and taste good with ketchup.
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Old 12-12-2005, 08:56 PM   #10
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I hear he's loading up a new crate 454 for you! Check your stocking!

I'm sorry about your engine woes, I'm glad everyone is ok though. Is this the custom Argosy with the longer back and tag axles? I really like your coach.

Didn't someone say you could take the motor out the driver's window once? I remember reading something like that, but not really figuring out how he did it.
Good luck - you'll have a new coach when you're done!
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Old 12-13-2005, 07:33 AM   #11
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When it happened to me I pulled over and opened a bag of potato chips and just started eating, never saying a word until the bag was empty. My thoughts are with you.
Chaplain Kent
1994 30' Excella 1000, Chummy III- Ford Excursion- 7.3 Turbo-diesel
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Old 12-13-2005, 11:28 AM   #12
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Louisville , Kentucky
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Sorry to hear about your engine failure. Certainly sounds like the oil and water are now friends with each other inside the engine. Had a similar thing happen with a Jetta four banger years ago. Took me a long time to figure out where all that coolant was going.

I'll bet your block is toast so a crate engine sounds like the way to go.
Steven Webster
1986 Airstream 345 Classic Motorhome
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Old 12-13-2005, 11:29 AM   #13
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Yeah my sympathies also, especially hard to bite on that expense at this time of the year.
Its a nightmare I oftne think about when deciding to change my oil again before big trip...makes me get out the drain pan. I will be doing that this weekend. In the cold.
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Old 12-15-2005, 12:12 PM   #14
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Reno , Nevada
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 53
After some thought...

Well thank you all for the sympathy and advice! It really is a sad thing, but I also look at it as an opportunity to make it better than it ever was! (ohh yeah and by the way, yes it is the modified/extended '74)

Now comes my time to do a LOT of research and try to figure out what my next step is! I talked to the other parties involved in the finance and care of this thing (we use it as a tour-bus for a band and we all share costs of everything) and out of the 4 of us three of us want to buy a _new_ engine (not rebuilt) our drummer says that a rebuilt engine is "just as good" as a new one only cheaper. He said that the only thing on a rebuilt engine that is actually used is the block itself, but that they are required to use new pistons, shaft, bolts etc. etc. I don't know enough to agree or dissagree with him. But I look at it like this: my engine has been put through some very serious heat stresses, it can (and will) be rebuilt and sold to someone else...but doesn't severe heat stress like that cause underlying weakness? I don't know this it just seems logical. If it does you would never know it...but theoretically the engine would not last as long.

The other thing we were talking about is going to Diesel...yet another subject I know NOTHING about (well nearly)... The same guy (who is not always right) said that a diesel will get better milage, last longer and have more power than the gas engine. Is that true too?

Also on that same note is changing over to a diesel from gas a huge huge expensive project? Or is it as simple as a streight swap? What about fuel lines, radiator, transmission?

I know it's a lot of questions, sorry...any help on any one or part of any one of these questions would be awesome!! Thanks again for always being willing to help!!


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