Alfa Romeo - Tech Session with SEM 2005
“Early last year I was deeply involved in an engine-rebuilding
project so that I could upgrade my Spider Jr. to a 1750 engine.
Of course, some of us - especially me – absolutely can’t
leave well enough alone and need to upgrade and optimize things
as we go along. This led me into porting, flow testing and balancing
exercises as the project progressed. It was during this rebuilding
project that I came in contact with Scarborough Engine and Machine
through a mutual friend of the company’s owner, John Solecki.
At the end of the exercise, John mentioned that he would be happy
to put on a technical session for the Alfa Club if we could work
it in to our events schedule.
About a dozen members gathered at SEM’s location on November
12 for this session. After introductions over coffee and donuts.
we started a tour of the facility.
Even though I had been in this shop before as a customer, I had
no idea the range of capabilities that SEM possesses until this
tour. As background, SEM has been in business since 1978 and has
done engine work for many different manufacturers, both for street
and racing purposes. At this time, it is doing machining and rebuilding
work for a major manufacturer on a contract basis and machine work
(not rebuilding) for a range of other customers. In order to meet
the exacting specifications of the industry these days, SEM has
made substantial investments in state of the art equipment for all
aspects of engine and transmission machine work. A partial list
includes milling machines for surfacing heads, blocks and flywheels,
articulated milling machines for specialized block work, boring
and honing machines, a single-point valve seat cutting machine,
a balancing machine for rotating parts and a flow bench.
The good news for enthusiasts ... is that SEM has enough
capacity to welcome walk-in customers and deal with their individual
requirements using the same equipment that is required for contract
The good news for enthusiasts who want to do engine rebuilding
them selves, or who might need to direct their rebuilder to a knowledgeable
shop, is that SEM has enough capacity to welcome walk-in customers
and deal with their individual requirements using the same equipment
that is required for contract work.
Our tour of the shop lasted about three hours, and we were able
to observe a number of these machines in action. The one that impressed
me the most was the Serdi valve-seat cutting machine. The traditional
approach to valve seat cutting is to use different cutters or stones
for each valve seat angle. For those of us who want three-angle
valve seats, it is tricky to get a nice even middle angle for good
seating properties using traditional equipment. Because the Serdi
is a single-point device, one contoured carbide cutting tool is
used to machine all three angles at the same time. This guarantees
that the middle or seating angle will be perfectly uniform. That,
and the system that aligns the cutter to the valve seat ensures
uniform valve to seat contact and therefore ideal sealing between
the seat and the valve. A vacuum test is incorporated in this equipment
to verify valve sealing while the head is still on the machine.
The Serdi machine also minimizes shop time, because the actual seat
cutting is all done at one time and takes only a few seconds per
This is only one example of the sophisticated machinery we got
to see in action.
The discussions that we had with John covered a wide range of topics
regarding machine work and engine building. One topic we spent a
fair amount of time on was cylinder bore and piston ring finishes,
and what is accomplished during break-in.
We had a very informative discussion on cylinder bore finishes,
their compatibility with piston rings and how thinking has changed
over the years with regard to control of the surface finish of both
rings and cylinders. This extended into a chalk talk regarding what
is accomplished at break-in. This discussion is very relevant to
those of us working on older Alfa engines. The OE cylinder liners
that are still sold for our engines are made with a relatively coarse
finish by modern standards. My experience was that the ring supplier
I used (Total Seal) recommended a much finer finish, which was achieved
by diamond honing at SEM.
We talked about this and many other topics at the shop and over
lunch at the Victoria and Albert pub after the tech session. I think
everyone who attended found the session useful and informative.
At least a few of us will be putting the learning to good use over
We were all grateful that John provided us with this eye-opening
and informative experience.”
Competition Engine Projects
I have a level of trust with the work from SEM that I
simply haven’t experienced with any other engine builder.
“John and the team at SEM have undertaken two major competition
engine projects for me for cars from very different eras and I have
been delighted with the results.
There is not much in common between a new Honda Civic engine and
a vintage Volvo powerplant, but each got meticulous care and, as
important, thorough analysis of my needs before the projects started.
John took the time to fully understand how each would be used, what
my expectations were for performance, and explored everything from
the octane of the available fuel and gear ratios to the maintenance
regime. I was consulted every step of the way on preferences and
costs, and felt I was really involved in the project.
As important as the performance I obtained from the engines was
the follow-up from SEM and John’s availability to consult
after the engine left the shop. Even emergency, eleventh-hour fixes
got the same, thorough and thoughtful care.
I have a level of trust with the work from SEM that I simply haven’t
experienced with any other engine builder.”