Looks like I finally got it right earlier today. Turned out the TDC mark on the damper was 90-100 degrees off (@ 3 o’clock) … for whatever reason (bad harmonic balancer???). Last weekend, believing I had simply over-turned the crank, I was rolling it back 90 degrees to line up the damper groove with the cast iron TDC pointer on the block. This was proper procedure, but apparently wrong for this car. Today, after seeing the same thing again, I decided to just leave the crank TDC mark where it was (@ about 3 o’clock) and set the synchro to that. Took me 3 or 4 tries and I had the vane in the correct position! I could tell as soon as I started the engine that it was much better this time (quieter). Took it out for a 15 miles drive and no Check Engine light. I also installed all new (properly gapped) plugs and wires, although I have to say that I really couldn’t feel any difference in pep, pickup, or power from the 200,000+ mile plugs and wires that were in there since the car was built in '97!
So two things learned here:
1.) You can’t always go by the TDC pointer on the block. This car has over 200,000 miles on it and apparently TDC has shifted by 90 degrees (is this a bad harmonic balancer?)
2.) You can mis-install the CMP Synchro, have the car run rough, and still NOT get a Check Engine light!
Next order of business with this car is a metallic screeching at the serpentine belt area. I sprayed water on the belt itself (the vertical stretch that runs parallel to the firewall) and the noise quieted. But I also sprayed water on the alternator pulley with the same result! In fact, I could spray water on ANY pulley and quiet the noise. It’s the original alternator and power steering pump, so either of those pulleys could be causing the noise. Serp belt, water pump and idler pulley bearing are about 4 years old. Guess I need to remove the belt first and start spinning the pulleys (listening/feeling for problems)? When I was turning the engine by hand there was a pinching rubber sound from the serp belt as it rotated. Is this a clue, or is this normal?
Migh also have a head gasket leak. Need to perform a pressure test of some kind to see if I can get air or liquid to come out the side of the block.