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1970s Urban Legends: Cars that required engine removal to replace spark plugs?

I recall hearing this about the Chevy Vega. Was this ever true?
Had to crane the engine to access 1 or more plugs?
Does anyone actually know the actual reality? And was it the Vega?

Any other horror story engineering designs that were true?

I don’t know about the Vega, but over the years there have been more than one make/model that needed some real effort including lifting the engine a little (not necessarily removing it).

It’s not just an urban legend.
However, I don’t think that it related to the Vega.

The identical badge-engineed Buick Skyhawk, Chevy Monza, Pontiac Sunbird, and Olds Starfire of the '75-'80 model years were equipped with a 3.8 liter V-6 that was very large for the size of the engine compartment on these small cars. The result was that, in order to change the spark plugs on the right bank of the engine, you had to disconnect the motor mounts, attach a chain hoist, and lift the engine at least a few inches in order to be able to access those plugs.

After finding out how much extra a tune-up actually cost on these cars, a lot of owners opted to skip spark plug replacement–in an era when plugs needed to be changed every 12k-15k miles. These cars were poor-quality dogs to begin with (brakes typically had to be replaced ~every 12k miles!), but when you factor in engines that were running very badly after a few years due to lack of plug replacement, most of these cars went to the scrap heap very early in their lives.

Since the Vega had a 4-cylinder engine with decently accessible spark plugs, I don’t believe that the Vega suffered from this particular bad design element. God only knows that the Vega engine had other design problems, but poor access to spark plugs was not one of them.

Edited to add:
Another engineering/design error that comes to mind has to do with the Datsun SPL-310 and 311 of the late '60s. The engine, which was essentially a copy of the MG 4-cylinder engine, used dual side-draft carbs.

When my brother and I went to change the air filter at around 10k miles, we discovered that the placement of the air cleaner housing–only about 1 inch from the inner fender panels–made it impossible to remove the cover of the housing in order to replace the filter. So–in order to replace the air filter element on these cars, it was actually necessary to remove…a large number of bolts…and remove the carbs from the intake manifold.

Once the carbs were removed, then you could remove the air cleaner housing cover and replace the air cleaner element. Since this car was such a badly-assembled, unmitigated engineering/design disaster in many other ways, we opted to do the air cleaner element change only once. We sold this rusting hulk after ~ 3 years, and said good-riddance to a badly-designed rolling piece of junk.

For 25 years I drove a 1970 Cougar XR7 351 Cleveland with A/C. There was a lot of motor in a small space and changing the plugs was a knucle busting experience. The recommendation from the dealer was to lift the engine as much as possible with a chain or strap wrapped around the engine without loosening anything. I took it to the dealer a couple of times and the mechanics swore everytime they had to change the plugs, so eventually began doing it myself. I’d usually change them once per year (it was only a summer car that was driven 2K), did it without lifting anything, but it took a long time to accomplish the change. The plugs were small and in very hard to get to places that you usually had to feel your way around to find the hole.

That’s right, I meant the Monza !
So, this was true? Nice!

It is not urban legend, but it wasn’t true of the Vega. I had one of those. The engine was the size of a Singer Sewing Machine and the engine compartment was large enough to house a smallblock V8. There was even talk when the car came out that GM had considered offering a version with the smallblock, and there were aftermarket conversion kits for do-it-yourselfers to install V8s. V8 Vegas were really cool.

I replace the spark plugs on a 262 CID V8 Monza years ago as a favor for a friend. I did the work in a parking lot lifting the engine with a floor jack, it took a few hours. Afterwards I drove the car, the performance was rather disappointing. The car had very tall gearing.

I owned one of the few Monza Spyders with a 350 V8 in 1979. The plugs were almost impossible to change without great difficulty. It did take hours like Nevada_545 referenced. I sold the car a few days later to a brand new “butter bar” (Second Lieutenant) in the Air Force. I was his former supervisor when he was a Senior Airman. I also owned a couple of Vegas with the 2.3 engine. You could change the plugs in about 10 minutes.

I think the old air-cooled Porsche 911s had to have the engine craned to get at the plugs. I don’t know about the newer 911s.

The thought of a Vega with a V-8 is scary. After the structure weakens from the A pillars rusting out the dang engine would probably twist the thing in a knot!

Remove the engine?? No…But on a few models like the V-8 Monzas, you had to move it around a little…

Sunbeam Tigers with the Ford 260/289 were equally difficult, but they provided a little access door behind the glove box so you could go through the firewall and reach the back two plugs on the right side…

My '89 V8 Caddy Allante will provide an afternoons fun changing the plugs on the firewall side of the engine…

Doubleclutch, V8 Vegas actually became quite common. Cosworth for one used to sell an entire conversion kit that included subframes, suspension components, the differential, pretty much everything needed but the engine and tranny.

This is much more modern… But I had a 2000 Ford Ranger once with the 4 cylinder engine. Which actually had 8 spark plugs. That aside… at least a few of the spark plugs were underneth the exhaust manifold. Imagine a large squid coming down over the top of a submarine, and you’ll get the picture. I had to work the socket extension through the manifold openings to get to the spark plugs.

Maybe there was some reason (emissions, etc.) for the 8 speak plugs in a 4 cylinder engine. But at the time, I would have liked to have given the engineers of that engine a piece of my mind…

My '89 V8 Caddy Allante

Why do you still drive this car?
Sentimental reasons?
Prefer this car?
Can’t let things go?

In some unconscious effort to protect what remains of my sanity the makes and models seem to escape me at this time even though I just returned from looking into my drawer of “special” tools at all the spark plug sockets there. There are many that have been cut down at one or both ends, flared to more easily roll onto the hex, slotted the length to facilitate getting on and off the plug without breaking the ceramic top and some that defy description. Over the years there have seen some monumental blunders by designers with regard to maintenance and spark plug access is in the top 10. Ford Aerostars still haunt me. But it seems that the Chevettes with AC was a particular pain in the *&(^ onthe #4. Others have thankfully drifted into the Twilight Zone of my past. Thank goodness. From the number of specially re-engineered spark plug sockets there were quite a few I think Rod Serling was just whispering something in my ear about an Olds Tornado. Continue discussing this among yourselves at your own risk.

Minivans of today pretty much need the engine removed to get to the plugs.


I agree with you to a point that the Chevy Monza and its “sister” cars from Buick, Olds, and Pontiac were not of great quality. However, that being said, my mother bought a '79 Pontiac Sunbird brand-new in 1979, and kept it for 10 years until she bought an '89 Buick Regal. Granted, the Sunbird did need some interior parts replaced during that time, mostly because of me; I often borrowed Mom’s Sunbird if my own car was low on gas or needed some mechanical attention, and back then I was a rather wild, heavy-handed college kid. I managed to break the driver’s side sun visor, the driver’s interior door handle, the parking brake (it was a ratchet-type hand brake just behind the gearshift), and the gearshift knob. The car held up pretty well considering. With the hand brake, the spring mechanism broke, and in order to set the brake, one had to pull up with their right hand and reach over with the left to place the ratchet pawl into the gear teeth. I think I must have twisted off the gearshift knob (plastic screw-threads) at least 4 or 5 times. Poor car! At least it was easy to do a tune-up on the 'Bird; it had a 2.5-liter “Iron Duke” 4-cylinder that was practically indestructible, backed by a 4-on-the-floor transmission; easier to work on than a V6 or V8, and could actually move out pretty quick with the 4-speed tranny.


I never worked on a '70 Cougar with a 351 Cleveland, but I’ve certainly graduated from the “School of Hard Knocks”, with PLENTY of busted-knuckle experiences. From July of 1983 to November of 1986, I owned a '68 Dodge Dart GTS, which, originally equipped with a 383 Magnum, was set up from the factory for a big-block V8. When I got the car that Summer of 1983, it had gotten an “engine upgrade”, and much to my delight (at the time) that little car had a 440 Police Special sitting under its hood; even though I loved the awesome power and torque of the big engine, I quickly found out that its thirst for gasoline was rather difficult to satisfy with the Dart’s 18-gallon gas tank. I also learned that I needed to replace the rear tires about every couple months. :slight_smile: As far as changing the spark plugs, well, that could be a challenge; under the hood it was literally wall-to-wall engine because of the 440; the exhaust manifolds were so close to the inner fender wells that there was barely enough room to drop a quarter in-between. I could actually get to five of the spark plugs from above, but I had to do so with the engine cold so as not to burn my forearms or hands on an exhaust manifold; the other three plugs (#s 2,4,and 6, on the passenger side) were easier to access from underneath. it also helped that the plugs were the larger size, 13/16". I don’t know how much easier it would have been to change the plugs if the original 383 was in the car, but it might have been, a little bit; Mopar 361, 383, and 400 engines were “B-blocks”, while the 413, 426, and 440 were "RB-blocks; the “RB” meant Raised-B-block, because the 413, 426, and 440 engines had a longer piston stroke and a bigger crankshaft (than the 361, 383, and 400s), so the RB engine blocks were taller, and wider at the top; so it would stand to reason that a 440 would occupy a few more square inches of space than a 383. That Dart was still a BLAST (literally) to drive, though, :wink: so changing the plugs was usually just a minor annoyance. Fun car, though.

'89 Allante’sA low production, aluminum bodied, V8 powered Cadillac Roadster, a two-seater that’s a joy to drive, why would anyone give up something like that?

Drifter62, the 383 Magnum was an HB (not RB), the same as the 59-61 383, 413, 426 wedge, and 440. In 62, Chrysler made a lower deck version that was uses in the 361, 383 and 400 engines. The 383 Magnum engine had the 440 heads on it, the heads were not interchangable between the HB and the LB blocks.

The original 383 made in 59-61 had a smaller bore and longer stroke than the LB engines that began production in 62.

Chevy S-10’s and Blazers from the mid '90s and up with the 4.3L Vortec motor had one spark plug that required a crow’s foot type spark plug socket to replace. The steering intermediate shaft ran right in front of the plug, making conventional tools useless to replace it. I also have a car in my shop right now for a timing belt/water pump/spark plug job that is a monumental pain in the butt to replace the spark plugs in. The car is a 1998 Dodge Stratus with the 2.5L V6. The three back spark plugs are located underneath the upper plenum, which is supported by brackets buried beneath the cowl. In other words, the plenum is not easily removed. Once the upper plenum is removed, they are easily replaced, but then you have to put it all back together.

bscar, I have an Odyssey, and the engine is fully exposed. Some minivans may have the engine tucked up under the cowl, though…