Cam Issues

The cam we were using for the first run of AHX12 in 2002 and 2003 was designed and built especially for the engine by Dema Elgin of Elgin Cams.
We had asked Dema to build us up another more aggressive cam because we felt the dyno results on the first one he supplied produced may have been part of the reason why we only managed to get about 165 BHP from the engine.


I felt that we should, with no decrease in torque, be able to move the power band up the rev range a little and thus get closer to the 200 BHP that I felt the engine was capable of.
As it turned out the cam really didn’t have the desired results and although we managed to get up to 178 BHP after spending all day on Barry Sale’s PHP Racengine’s dyno we were unable to make the engine rev higher and the power still dropped off at anything over 5500 RPM.
During the 2003 event we started having some oil pressure problems. Sometimes it was low sometimes it was high but it was not consistent and we couldn’t establish a pattern at all. We finally put it down to dirt in the oil pressure relief valve because after we cleaned that out all was well for a while but, eventually, the problem returned and it was time to investigate further. When we pulled off the pan we found that it was filled with steel flakes and upon further examination we found that several of the cam lobes were very badly worn, and this after only about 2700 km of use.


I was some upset when that cam went south, particularly after all the trouble I had taken to install and break it in correctly and the additional expense we had incurred to use Valvoline Synthetic Race Oil but concluded that perhaps we were overstressing the lifters with the added lift.

Prior to the 2004 Targa I rebuilt the engine with the cam that Dema had originally supplied and we decided, for no particular reason to use Valvoline VR1 20/50 Race Oil. This time we had no cam problems even after the engine ran 10 km with no oil!!!

Well recently I received a copy of an article written by Keith Ansell of Foreign Parts Positively Inc. and it looks as though VR1 may have been a good decision. The general gist of the article is that the quantity of EP additives in modern engine oils is being decreased markedly because these chemicals reduce the effectiveness and eventually damage catalytic converters. This is not such a problem in modern engines with roller cams and rockers but with our old flat tappet technology this spells disaster. Fortunately it seems that the VR1 still has the higher EP content as does Redline but they seem to be the only oils which do. Keith has promised to send me an updated version of his article as soon as possible which I will post here for those interested.


With a 100S head, diesel crankshaft and Elgin cam this is pretty well a unique engine. I’ve never heard of another like it that’s for sure. After some very hard racing miles including one seizure and 10 km at race speeds with no oil the engine was due for a rebuild. The block I originally used was bored out so far that some of the repositioned head studs, required for the “S” head were very close to the cylinders. The replacement block has 3.45” bores and the stroke is still 3.996” bringing the capacity down to 2490c.c. but hopefully resolving some of the head gasket issues that have been causing some reliability problems.   


By Michael

Who is this guy? Born in New Zealand some time back. Went to Maori Hill Primary School then Kaikorai Valley High before joining the RNZAF and an Airman Cadet in 1968. Graduated 1972 with an NZCE in Aeronautical Engineering. Then embarked on the typical Kiwis "Big Trip Overseas". Got to see quite a few places, and spent a while in the U.K. "home" as it was refered to by many New Zealanders in those days, before travelling on to New York and then to Canada by bus!! This trip is presently on hold (has been for the last 34 years). Met my dear wife Judy not long after arriving in Ontario and we have been happily married since 1976. After travelling around New Zealand and the pacific in 1979 I started Precision Sportscar andfor the next 23 years grew the business and helped raise 2 boys Drew and Robin.


  1. I have received that latest update from Keith Ansell in this issue. It is long, but worth a read if you have any concerns for the cam in your classic.
    By: Keith Ansell, Foreign Parts Positively, Inc.
    About a year ago I read about the reduction of zinc dialykl dithiophosphate (ZDDP) in the oils supplied with API approval that could affect sliding and high pressure (EP) friction in our cars. The reduction of these chemicals in supplied oil was based on the fact that zinc, manganese and/or phosphates reduce the effectiveness and eventually damage catalytic converters and introduce minute amounts of pollutants into our atmosphere.

    A month or so ago I had a member of the Columbia Gorge MG Club bring a totally failed camshaft and lifters back to me that had only 900 miles on them!! I immediately contacted the camshaft re-grinder and asked how this could happen. They were well aware of this problem as they were starting to have many failures of this type. In the past, the lack of a molybdenum disulfide camshaft assembly lubricant, at assembly, was about the only thing that could create this type of problem. My customer has assembled many engines and had lubricated the camshaft properly.

    This got me on the phone to Delta Camshaft, one of our major suppliers. Then the bad news came out: It’s today’s “modern” API (American Petroleum Industry) approved oils that are killing our engines. Meaning all flat tappet (cam follower) equipped engines as used in MG, Triumph, Austin, all BMC products, all British Leyland products, early Volvos, American hi-performance engines and many others.

    Next call: To a major camshaft supplier, both stock and performance (Crane). They now have an additive for whatever oil you are using during break-in so that the camshaft and lifters won’t fail in an unreasonably short period of time. They also suggest using a diesel rated oil on flat tappet engines.

    Next call: To a racing oil manufacturer that we use for the race cars (Redline). Their response: “We are well aware of the problem and we still use the correct amounts of those additives in our products”. They continued to tell me they are not producing API approved oils so they don’t have to test and comply. Their oils were NOT the “new, improved and approved” ones that destroy flat tappet engines! “We just build the best lubricants possible”. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it, New-Approved but inferior products, but it seems to be true for our cars.

    To top this off: Our representative from a major supplier of performance and street engine parts (EPWI) stopped by to “warn us” of the problem of the NEW oils on flat tappet engines. This was a call that the representative was making only because of this problem to warn their engine builders! “The reduction of the zinc, manganese and phosphates are causing very early destruction of cams and followers”. They are recommending that, for now at least, there must be a proper oil additive put in the first oil used on new engines, beyond the liberal use of molydisulfide assembly lube. They have been told that the first oil is the time the additives are needed but remain skeptical that the first change is all that is necessary. Their statement: Use diesel rated oils such as Delo or Rotella that are usually available at auto stores and gas stations.

    This problem is BIG! American Engine Rebuilder’s Association (AERA) Bulletin #TB2333 directly addresses this problem. I had a short discussion with their engineer and he agreed with all that I had been finding.

    Next phone call was to a retired engineer from Clevite, a major bearing and component manufacturer. First surprise was that he restored older British Motor bikes. The second surprise was that he was “VERY” aware of this problem because many of the old bikes had rectangular tappets that couldn’t rotate and are having a very large problem with the new oils. He has written an article for the British Bike community that verify all the “bad news” we have been finding.

    Comp Cams put out “#225 Tech Bulletin: Flat Tappet Camshafts”. They have both an assembly lube and an oil additive. The telling sentence in the bulletin was “While this additive was originally developed specifically for break-in protection, subsequent testing has proven the durability benefits of its long term use. This special blend of additives promotes proper break-in and protects against premature cam and lifter failure by replacing some of the beneficial ingredients that the oil companies have been required to remove from the off-the–shelf oil”.

    Next question: Now what do we do?

    From the camshaft re-grinders (DeltaCam) “Use oils rated for diesel use”, Delo (Standard Oil product) was named. About the same price as other quality petroleum based oils. They are not API formulated and have the ZDDP we need in weights we are familiar with.

    From one camshaft manufacturer (Crane): “use our additive” for the first 500 miles.

    From General Motors (Chevrolet): add EOS, their oil fortifier, to your oil, it’s only about $14.00 for each oil change for an 8-ounce can (This problem seems to be something GM has known about for some time!). The additive says for break-in only, some dealers add it to every oil change.

    From Redline Oil: Use our street formulated synthetics. They have what we need!

    From Castrol: We are beginning to see a pattern emerging on older cars. It may be advantageous to use a non-approved lubricant, such as oils that are Diesel rated, 4 Cycle Motorcycle oils and other specified diesel oils.

    Last question: So what are we at Foreign Parts Positively going to do? After much research we are switching to Redline Street rated oils and stocking the Castrol products that are diesel rated or otherwise seem acceptable. This is a difficult decision as we have been a dealer and great believer in all Castrol Products for over 40 years. We have been using Castrol Syntech (5W-50) oil in new engines for about 3 years so the cost difference is minimal on new engines. The actual cost in operation is also less as the additive package in Redline makes a 1-year or up to 18,000 mile change recommended! Yes, it is a long change interval but with lowered sulfur levels and the elimination of lead and many other chemicals in the fuels there are less contaminants in our oil from the fuel which is the major contributor to oil degradation. We will continue to offer the Castrol products but will now only stock the suggested diesel oils that they produce.

    Too many things are starting to show up on this subject and it has cost us money and time. Be aware that “New and Improved”, or even products we have been using for many years, destroys our cars as it isn’t the same stuff we were getting even a year ago.

    If you have any additional input let us know. We need to let every flat tappet engine owner, i.e.: every British Car owner know that things are changing and we MUST meet the challenge.

    Keith Ansell, President
    Foreign Parts Positively, Inc.


    Last month’s report on this subject is turning out to be just the tip of the iceberg! Many publications have had this subject of zinc-dialkyl-dithiophosphate (ZDDP) covered in varying depths over the last few months. Some publications have even had conflicting stories when you compare one month’s article with their next month’s article! They are all ending up supporting our report.

    I have had the good fortune to have the ear of quite a few leaders in the industry including some wonderful input from Castrol and Redline. We have been very reluctant to “dump” Castrol, as it has been such a great supporter of our cars and industry over the years. Castrol hasn’t really abandoned our cars, just shifted to a more mass marketing mode. Many Castrol products are not appropriate for our cars today, some still are.

    Now for the latest report:
    #1 Castrol GTX 20W-50 is still good for our cars after break-in! 10W-40, 10W-30 and other grades are NOT good. Absolute NOT GOOD for any oil (Any Brand) that is marked “Energy Conserving” in the API “Donut” on the bottle, these oils are so low with ZDDP or other additives that they will destroy our cams. Virtually all “Diesel” rated oils are acceptable. (See third article to amend this!)

    #2 Castrol HD 30 is a very good oil for break-in of new motors. This oil has one of the largest concentrations of ZDDP and Moly to conserve our cams and tappets. (SEE THIRD ARTICLE…….This oil is NOT now recommended by Castrol)

    #3 Only an unusual Castrol Syntec 20W-50 approaches the levels of protection we need when we look to the better synthetic lubricants. We are attempting to get this oil but will be using Redline 10W-40 or 10W-30 as these are lighter weights for better performance, flow volume, less drag and has the additive package we need.

    #4 The trend today is to lighter weight oils to decrease drag, which increases mileage. Most of these seem to be the “Energy Conservation” oils that we cannot use.

    #5 Redline oil and others are suggesting a 3,000-mile break-in for new engines! Proper seating of rings, with today’s lubricants is taking that long to properly seal. Shifting to synthetics before that time will just burn a lot of oil and not run as well as hoped.

    #6 The “Energy Conservation“ trend was first lead by automakers to increase mileage numbers and secondly because the ZDDP and other chemicals degrade the catalytic converter after extended miles, increasing pollution. We don’t have catalytic converters and the mileage gains are not that significant for most of us.

    For you science buffs: ZDDP is a single polar molecule that is attracted to Iron based metals. The one polar end tends to “Stand” the molecule up on the metal surface that it is bonded to by heat and friction. This forms a sacrificial layer to protect the base metal of the cam and tappet from contacting each other. Only at very high pressures on a flat tappet cam is this necessary because the oil is squeezed/wiped from the surface. This high pressure is also present on the gudgeon pin (wrist pin) in diesel engines, therefore the need for ZDDP in all diesel engines.
    Second part of the equation is Molybdenum disulfide (Moly). The moly bonds to the zinc adding an additional, very slippery, sacrificial layer to the metal. I found out that too much of the moly will create problems; lack of this material reduces the effectiveness of the ZDDP. The percentage, by weight is from .01 to .02%, not much, but necessary.

    We’ll keep you apprised of any new findings! Happy motoring for now!

    OIL IS KILLING OUR CARS, Part III (December 7, 2006)
    Summation of what has been learned so far.

    First is that there is a problem, lack of ZDDP (Zinc Dialkyl DithioPhosphate) in modern oils kills at least our cams and tappets. There seems to be no known alternative.

    Second, our cars are a small percentage of the total market and BIG Corporate, the American Petroleum Institute and possibly government have made decisions that are detrimental to our cars. This problem isn’t going away.

    Third, that many oil companies may have products that will continue to function well in our cars. Castrol, Redline, Valvoline, Mobil, Amsoil and others have now commented on my original article and are making suggestions. For some companies they are offering short lists of “acceptable” oils, others just one. One company has responded without any substantive information in a two-page “bulletin”. By their account all their oils are superior and applicable. This is typical of most larger companies.

    Fourth, some oil manufacturers are pointing to metallurgy, blaming poorly built cams and followers. This may have some validity but the bottom line is that there has been a big increase in failures with products that have been on the market with identical products that are now having greatly increased failures. To me the bottom line is, if the lubricants are working there is no contact between surfaces, it shouldn’t matter what the materials are, within reason.

    Fifth, on “modern” production cars, stay with the manufacturer’s suggestions. For any car produced before about 1990 the owner needs to be aware that the suggested lubricant may have changed and may not be applicable. Flat tappet, stock, performance or modified may be affected.

    Sixth, Yes there is more! Directly from Castrol Engineering November, 27, 2006 “Also, at this time we are not recommending use of heavy duty truck products due to different formula objectives between cars and trucks.”

    Now the important information: Oils that seem to be correct for our cars:

    Castrol: Syntec 5W-40, Syntec 20W-50, Grand Prix 4-Stroke Motorcycle oil in 10W-40 and 20W-50, TWS Motorsport 10W-60*, BMW Long Life 5W-30*
    *= full synthetic, available only at BMW dealerships
    Redline: 10W-30, 10W-40 (Synthetic oils)
    Valvoline: VR-1 20W-50 (Conventional oil)
    Amsoil: Unknown
    Mobil: Mobil 1 5W30 and 20W-50 (Synthetic)

    What are we going to do at Foreign Parts Positively has been difficult to determine but with few options left, the following is what we are forced to do. Some of our choices have been based on the manufacturer’s willingness to help.
    Break in: Delo 400 30W
    Conventional oil: Valvoline VR-1 20W-50
    Synthetic: Redline 10W-30 in newer engines, 10W-40 on older engines.
    Break-in is now 3,000 miles (using Delo 400 30W) before changing to running oil.
    Oil change interval: 1 year or 18,000 miles with Redline synthetic
    1 year or 2,500 miles with conventional oil (Valvoline VR-1 20W-50).
    Oil Filters: Correct Fram or Wix (Spin-0n), Felt in can type, changed with every oil change. We emphasize Correct as many oil filter manufacturers do no have proper backflow preventers, pressure bypasses or fine filter media.

    Thank you to Castrol, Redline, Christiansen Oil, Valvoline, Mobil and Amsoil for input.

    We’re sure this subject will continue: Please forward any new information you may encounter.

    Keith M. Ansell
    Foreign Parts Positively, Inc.

  2. Michael –

    Another work around possibly is to go with the roller cam and roller lifters which have been developed by DMD Australia. With this set up you should be ok with the cam lobe wear with newer oils…


  3. I think that would be ideal Alan but at $2800 a set I can buy a lot of Redline oil.
    I wonder how much of a power improvement they would make.

  4. I have been very reluctant to comment further on the oils subject because it seems to me that we, being those on the outside of the oil industry, are so far behind the 8 ball that we have little chance of really getting to the bottom of the issue.
    The one thing that I do know is the answer to a recent enquiry that I made of Valvoline regarding their VR1 Racing Oils.
    I question was:
    “We race an 1953 Austin Healey which has flat tappets. VR1 saved our bacon in the 2004 Targa Newfoundland when we ran the engine at full race speed for 14 km with no oil in it at all after puncturing the pan. Now we are getting very concerned about the removal of zinc from oils. Can you confirm that your non synthetic VR1 20/50 has still got sufficient ZDDP to protect the cam in this irreplaceable engine?”
    And the answer that I received, which I have since confirmed with a follow up phone call was:
    “VR1 racing still has 1400ppm of zinc. The oils rated ILSAC GF4 were lowered to 850ppm.”
    I’m inclined to stick with what has worked for me.

  5. I contacted Ashland Oil, the makers of Valvoline VR1 racing oil about this issue.

    To: VWEBMAIL@Ashland

    Subject: Site feedback from

    The following person submitted a question or comment via the Contact us form of type Ask Racing First
    Name: Michael
    Last Name: Salter
    Address1: 18 Everingham Ct
    City: Willowdale, ON
    State: XX
    Zip Code: 999999

    Email Address:


    We race an 1953 Austin Healey which has flat tappets. VR1 saved our bacon in the 2004 targa Newfoundland when we ran the engine at full race speed for 14 km with no oil in it at all after puncturing the pan. Now we are getting very concerned about the removal of zinc from oils. Can you confirm that your non synthetic VR1 20/50 has still got sufficient ZDDP to protect the cam in this irreplaceable engine?

    This was the answer I received:; on behalf of;
    VR1 racing still has 1400ppm of zinc. The oils rated ILSAC GF4 where lowered to 850ppm.

    I had previously called Ashland’s technical department with enquiries on the subject and was assured that neither the zinc content nor formulation of their VR1 oils had changed for many years.

  6. I was first made aware of this situation some 2-3 years ago. I was very interested as I have 3 TR8s and they seem especially prone to premature cam failure. I have used Valvolene 20-50 racing oil in one, 15-50 Mobil 1 in one and as the other is a W.I.P. there is no need to be concerned. I also have a TR7 which has had a steady diet of Castrol GTX 20-50. I also add STP red bottle (1/2 a bottle per oil change) in the TR8s and SO FAR all is well. I would prefer Mobil 1 motorcycle oil but can not find it readily available so the brew as now used will suffice for now.

    This is a problem not everyone is aware of as I found out when I gave a short talk to my British Car Club. What they do with the information presented is their choice.

    I also found quite a few folks with AMERICAN MUSCLE CARS who have been having the same problem. When talking to them it is sometimes like it is the first they have heard of the situation.

    Lets continue to get the word out.


  7. I have been running Kendall 20W-50 racing oil in my TR7’s for many, many years with outstanding results, but lately have been concerned about this issue myself. Has anyone gotten any information about the zinc concentration in Kendall motor oils?

  8. I have seen this type of cam falure on several ocations. I have only seen it when people are running pure synthtic. I am a big believer in convintional motor oils, and our house oil is Valvoline all fleet plus 15w40. It meets and exceeds all specs I have found. We have been using it for over 14 years with no oil related breakdowns. My shop is just north of Houston, and it is hot here most of the time. I am just talking my experience here. I feel if modern cars keep to a regular mataince schedule you can’t go wrong. Around here we say 5,000 miles. Every 15,000 miles you should get an Inspection Service. and so on. Extended maintaince schedules are not in anyones best intrest. Sure, if you are insistant on a special lubricant I will not claim responciability. This oil is Valvoline’s equivilent of Shell Rotilla T, that is also a fine lubricant, and I am sure Dello is OK too. I am not sure just what it is but it works real good for us here in the south. I have been told from the guys at Valvoline, the additive package is identical in a modern convential as a synthtic. Who would figure. Read the c specs, and the s specs, and this should tell the story.

  9. Several friends of mine have experienced similarly damaged cams, and the problem was traced back to motor oil zinc reduction. Since then, they switched over to MotorHead “Hi-Z” Motor Oil ( 1500 ppm zinc and they have seen no additional damage. I don’t have a racing engine, but I use MotorHead’s ZBoost additive in my 1984 Caprice wagon (with Quaker State 10W-30 oil) and my engine loves that stuff!

  10. This issue was recently brought to my attention on the website Binder Bulletin, devoted to International Harvesters, the American builder of farm and industrial equipment.

    Here in the US I have found a Castrol Syntec product SAE 20W-50 labelled SUPERIOR FORMULA FOR CLASSIC CARS.


    I’ve been unable to find any supporting info on any of Castrol’s sites or elsewhere, to verify that the additive is Zinc.

    Anyone using this product?


  11. My motor is ruined. I have a 1999 Toyota Sienna van with about 167,000 miles on it. I had been using regular oil then switched to a synthetic oil because I was told it was better for the vehicle, especially if I don’t keep up to date on oil changes. I had only used a synthetic once then a few weeks ago my oil was changed at a garage. I did not consider asking about what kind of oil was used. A week later the vehicle would not run properly. My husband managed to just barely make it into the same garage that had just done the change. We like the garage and feel the owner is very knowledgeable and honest. After a couple weeks he gave up on our car; could not figure out what was wrong. So we had the car towed 25 miles to a Toyota dealership. I have just learned that the camshaft had broken. Now we need a new motor or a new vehicle. I had expected the Toyota Sienna to have lasted well past 167,000 miles. Could the problem have stemmed from changing from regular oil to synthetic and then to regular oil?

  12. Hi Sue, I don’t think a broken camshaft would be caused by this issue. Camshaft breakage is relatively uncommon but does occasionally happen. I suspect metal fatigue is more likely to be the cause possibly associated with misalignment or wear of the cam bearings. Just a guess.

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