This story was first printed in 1987
The Self-built V-4
If all you have to tow with is an old Gremlin and if the budget is a bit tight, maybe the best thing is a hand made motor and a midget.
A cold rainy day in late 1984
“Hi, Larrie, it’s Mike McNulty. Listen you always wanted to run a midget right? Well I’m gonna get one and run the Badger Midget Association. But I need three grand to build a special motor. You got the three grand, you get the ride.”
Right away I know Mikes got a problem. He hasn’t been in a racecar since 1976 and I don’t think he’s ever seen a midget race. Now he wants to run with the prestigious Badger Midget group. He’s having delusions of grandeur. And if he thinks I’ve got three grand he’s also a poor judge of character.
“Sounds good Mike, but a hot VW engine will cost you a lot more than that.”
“Hey, that’s the best part. I’m making my own engine. Gonna cut a Chevy V-8 in half.”
“Big deal, remember that night at Wilmot. I cut one in half all up the backstretch.”
“No, Larrie, I’m gonna make it run on just 4 cylinders.”
“ I can do that. Remember that time at Hales Corners when the cam…”
“Listen do you want the ride or not? If not I’ll drive it myself.”
“Mike what if it blows up in hot laps the first night?”
“Short season, guy.”
“Right, Mike. Good Luck.”
The next time I saw Mike McNulty he was driving hi! s little cut up Chevy to Badger Midget Rookie of the Year. Looks like I lost my ride.
Mike told me the secret to his machine. “I wanted to go racing again, but I needed an economical way to do it. I had a 6 cylinder’75 Gremlin for a tow car so I had to chose a midget, ‘cause I couldn’t pull anything bigger. I had just bought into a tool and die shop so I had the ability to make anything I needed. Badger Midget has a 175 inch engine limit. That just happens to be what you get if you cut a 350 Chevy in half. You can either cut off one bank or you can cut off the front 4 cylinders. Midgets aren’t very long so the shorter the better. I heard about a guy named Wilson out in Kansas who did it a few years ago so I thought I would try it.
We found a g! ood block with front-end damage and cut it in half with a large abrasive wheel. Then we milled the saw cut as smooth as we could leaving a main bearing up front. Next came a half inch aluminum plate bolted across the front end. I found a crankshaft with a bad bearing up front and cut it off. You can get a nice price on Carrillo rods if you buy a used set that has a few missing.
You can always got spare parts if you don’t need all eight pieces.
It takes a full set of heads though. You can’t just put the cut off half over on the other side. It won’t fit. The front end of the cut off heads were covered with a plate and welded shut. Mike bought a special cam that is made just for cut up Chevys. But he’s thinking about making one from a cut up Chevy ! for next year.
The electrical system is all stock Chevy V-8. Some guys trim the magneto wires down to just 4, but Mike left the mag stock and has 4 dummy plugs mounted on the front of the block. This way if he needs a mag he can put on any stock system. “Besides,” he says, “the dummy spark plugs going off up front remove all electrical static for a 20 foot radius and will make any driver in front of me sterile.”
Mike runs 4 bolt main bearings even though the block was only a two bolt. He felt better with the heavier bearing area spreading out the thrust. Always use the best even if it doesn’t make sense.
The crank is the ugliest part of this whole engine. Thank God nobody gets to see it. It ! can’t be balanced like a normal engine. The V-4 firing order is 1 - 4 - skip - 2 - skip - skip - 3 – skip. With 5 thru 8 missing it’s a little like a foxtrot with a three legged fox. Drivers should stay away from 3800 rpm. The harmonic vibration is so bad at the speed they can’t see straight. It’ll shatter kidney stones and clean out nasal passages. But up or down from that rpm she runs pretty smooth. The fuel pump is driven off the cam shaft. The water pump is driven straight out of the crank like on a sprint car.
Because of his new business Mike has had to quit driving, so he had two very good drivers run the car in 1986. Bill Kojis drove it a few times and did well. Eddie Loomis ran it twice and won both heats. The car isn’t as fast as the VW’s in Badger, but is costs 1/3 their price.
! Mike isn’t real easy on equipment either. He flipped it twice. On the last occasion he broke a finger. The motor has held up for two seasons with only minor work. He’s never even pulled the pistons. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fox it.” He says.
It’s a real thrill to run something you built yourself. Not just put together, but actually created. “I learned a lot doing this, but it’s about time to start building a new one for next year. I’ve got a few ideas I’d like to try.
Remember this story was first printed in 1987