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Expert Advice On Camshaft Installation

Providing additional services is a good bet to increase sales, but performance parts dealers must first understand the basic fundamentals—and avoid some common stumbling blocks—before effectively assisting their racing clientele.

By John F. Katz


As with any racing or high-performance part, you can sell more camshafts by offering installation services. So we asked our experts for some installation tips.

“Changing to an aggressive, high lift camshaft is far safer today than at any time in the past,” noted Billy Godbold of Comp Cams, Memphis, Tennessee, “but diligence and good engine building knowledge are still required. Letting a timing chain skip a tooth almost guarantees bent valves. Also, check the valve springs for coil bind, and check retainer-to-seal clearance.”

“The more radical the cam, the more caution and attention is needed during break-in,” added Nolan Jamora of Isky Racing Cams, Gardena, California. He also cautioned against what he calls “the excitement factor”—where “failure to follow a simple checklist for start-up and break-in can be the undoing of even the most experienced shop.”

Camshaft installation “is not a drop-in procedure; you can’t just take it out of the box and put it in,” stressed Shawn Russell at Web Cam, Riverside, California. “The process of degreeing the cam is very important, and on our website we have a whole page that tells people exactly how to do it, gives them all of the mathematical calculations, and describes the process step by step. A lot of people don’t realize that just a degree off or half a degree here and half a degree there makes a world of difference. So degreeing your cam, having adjustable gears, and you’ll be good to go.”

John Partridge of Bullet Racing Cams in Olive Branch, Mississippi, provided some more specific advice: “Make sure that neither the body nor the wheel of a roller lifter is contacting the adjacent lobe or radius. Otherwise the lash adjustment will not be accurate, and the cam or lifters could be damaged.”

“The old saying ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ definitely applies,” added Jack McInnis of Erson Cams, Louisville, Kentucky. “Clean the new camshaft thoroughly with solvent to remove any machining chips, dust, rust inhibitor or other contaminates. The same for lifters: Never install them without a thorough cleaning in mineral spirits; then blow dry and lube. Roller lifters should be cleaned with spirits to remove the grease from the bearings, as it can prevent adequate oiling on start-up. It's not a bad idea to do this more than once, then blow dry and soak the lifters in 10-weight oil for at least an hour. Finally, wipe the oil from the surface, which will contact the cam and lube with the manufacturers’ recommended assembly lube before installation.”

Chase Knight of Crane Cams in Daytona Beach, Florida, noted how assembly lube should be applied to the cam lobes and to the faces of the lifters, but not to the sides of the lifters. “The lube will keep the lifter from rotating, and if the lifter can’t rotate, it wears out very quickly.”

“A flat tappet that can’t rotate will take out a cam lobe in only a few minutes,” Partridge agreed. “And we do not recommend synthetic oils for flat-tappet cams. Use an oil with anti-wear additives, such as Brad Penn Grade 1 or Joe Gibbs Driven.”

“There are still people out there who, after more than a decade, don’t understand that a flat-tappet cam needs an oil containing a relatively high amount of zinc, or ZDDP,” Knight lamented. “You have to break it in with a high-zinc oil, and once it is broken in you have to stay with a specialty oil for flat-tappet cams. People are still breaking them in with the right oil, but then they put in a zinc-free oil and wipe them out.”

“Always start any engine after a cam change with Comp Cams’ Break-In or another high-additive, non-synthetic oil,” said Godbold. “Most people know that this type [of] oil is an absolute must with flat tappet camshafts, but we also see real benefits on roller cam engines from flushing any fine dust or dirt out of the system that can lead to roller wheels sliding with synthetic oils.”

George Richmond of Melling in Jackson, Michigan, mentioned the need for a ZDDP additive as well. “But the biggest mistake,” he said, “is not pre-lubing the oil system or setting the timing.” And remember that a new camshaft requires a new set of lifters.

“Make sure you have all the right parts,” advised Kirk Peters of Lunati, Olive Branch, Mississippi. “Lunati can supply not only cams, but lifters, springs, retainers, and everything else you need, down to the right break-in oil, for outstanding performance with peace of mind.”



Expert Advice On Camshaft Installation

Performance Racing Industry