How Reliable is a Rebuilt Vintage V-8?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 31, 2016

I would like to purchase a used luxury sedan from the 1960s (Lincoln, Chrysler or Cadillac). Many are advertised with rebuilt engines. Do you have any experience or knowledge about the reliability and dependability of these rebuilt V-8s? Could I expect one to run 75,000-100,000 miles without major problems if it is not abused? Thank you.

-- John

Sure. Keep in mind that when these cars were new, if you got 75,000 miles out of the engine without major repairs, you'd be thrilled. And it's unlikely that they'll be any more reliable or dependable than they were in the 1960s. That means they'll be prone to flooding, stalling and not starting in the rain. 

You can improve reliability by converting the thing to electronic ignition. There are companies that sell kits for doing that.

But in general, mediocre reliability is the price you pay for falling in love with something old and unusual. Just ask any of my brother's ex-wives. Of course, if your top priorities were reliability and dependability, you'd be looking at a 2011 Camry, and not a '60s Lincoln.

So to answer your question, if an engine rebuild is done well, the engine absolutely can last many tens of thousands of miles.

And if you really plan to keep the car for 75,000 or 100,000 miles, you should consider finding a good car that you like, and then having the engine rebuilt yourself. That way, you'll know it's been done well, and you'll get the maximum life out of it.

A guy I know brought a '59 Cadillac convertible into the shop to have it restored. We obviously couldn't buy a new engine for that car, so we sent the old engine out to our rebuilder of choice, Jasper Engines.

We removed the engine, stripped all the accessory parts off it and shipped it to their rebuilding factory. They re-bored the cylinders, put in new pistons, reground the crankshaft, replaced all the seals and gaskets, and then shipped it back to us.

We put all the external parts back on it, dropped it back into the Cadillac, and it runs beautifully. Our customer has been driving it ever since.

Now we're just counting the days 'til he comes back in for a rebuilt transmission.

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