Making Your Mark

I worked for a long time in one location, almost ten years, taking apart cars and putting them back together.  Any old car shop has shelving storing parts, and some shops have bits from jobs that were done twenty or thirty years ago.   Parts may sit for a week before going back together, and some may not be reunited for a decade. I worked on one engine that had been on the shelf for 25 years, and I think it is still in the shop today.

Memini carburetor markings
A beautiful tag and serial number on a carburetor for an 8C Alfa.

When you start to disassemble a project, it is really very important to keep track of how it was assembled the last time. It isn’t any sort of proof that it was done correctly, but you need that data to help you determine the correct assembly order when it goes together under your custodianship.

After a couple of years away, I came back to my old shop to help move a project forward, and I kept finding signs of my previous presence there. Here was a box labeled with my hand in ballpoint pen. Here was a part with a tag identifying it, wired by my own hands years ago. Here was a casting that I permanently marred with my handwriting, via an electric pencil, scratching my mark into it for the next 100 years.

Some guy in the future will have to take a file to it, knocking 10 or 20 thousandths off the surface to make it look unmolested.

Bugatti Type 57 cam marks
The previous mark is not always correct. This Bugatti cam was mistimed and required a new alignment mark. 14 D refers to the cap location, D for Droite (right in french) and 14 of 18 pieces.

Many of the parts I’ve handled over the years have punch marks in them to identify their location. One engine I took apart had the con-rods numbered with dimpled punch marks, one mark on cylinder number one, twelve marks for cylinder number twelve. The part of my brain that remembers reading Carrol Smith’s “Prepare to Win” winces as it recalls the chapter on stress risers.  Every Carrillo con-rod I’ve ever unboxed has a sheet that expressly forbids stamps or punch marks in their exquisitely made parts.  That message has not made it around the world apparently.

Oil pump gears with markings
An Alfa Romeo oil pump with gears marked for location. Also note the factory “2” stamping that appears to have been made before the gear was machined.

I occasionally wonder about the marks that I have left in metal, what might a museum curator think of me in another 50 or 100 years? Was I wrong to write G and D on French parts, S and D on Italian parts? Gauche or Sinistra, Droite or Destra?

I’ll admit that I have made some mistakes along the way, but I have seen exponentially worse scars on historic parts. Here are a few examples from my time in the workshop, the good the bad and the ugly.

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