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The Tractor Lad


Problems with the 23c

While I sat on the Massey Ferguson FE35 fitted with the problematic 23c engine, I wondered if it was ever going to start, I however I soon found out that it wasn’t, this got me thinking about how I went about drilling the head a modification that I had heard about so frequently. Knowing nothing about this adaptation than purely listening to hear say by many people, I set off to find out more, unknowing how much information I would gather along the way about this renowned troublesome engine.

After placing an advert in the many tractor publications that are about, a flood of most welcome phone calls came in and I got to chat to some extremely nice people very keen to swap experiences with me about this rather perplexing subject, one thing came obvious, as with most things in life, there was going to be more that one answer.

Drilling the head was my main question, so I set about this delicate task. After seeing one done it was quite simple, the idea is that the hole where the injector comes though the head was purely in need of enlargement by about the size of a garden pea this was done carefully with a range of drills and a file, being very careful not protrude where the cylinder bore meets with it, i.e. just place the cylinder head gasket periodically so not to pass over the holes.      

Before drilling

After Drilling

I put new valves and springs in the head and the valve seats were re cut, play was also found upon the pistons so new ones along with rings and new liners were fitted  

Removing a very stubbon liner (The Ben Phillips Way)

Fitting new pistons

Close up of the new pistons and liners

As with most engines, timing is one of the most important things to make an engine run and run well, I was advised by many callers to check the timing chain and tensioner which meant the front of the tractor was to be removed, ever keen to leave no stone unturned I set to removing the six bolts holding the axle to the engine. Removing the fan belt pulley requires a puller; this makes it a lot easier. To remove the cam chain cover is simply a number of ½ inch bolts around the edge, not forgetting the centre one (leaving this one in and trying to removing the cover can be tricky!!!!). While just giving mine a gentle tap to ease it off I heard something drop inside, which turned out to be the timing chain tensioner block which seemed to have lost its spring, the block being badly worn, a new tensioner was sort (Massey Ferguson parts only). The tensioner is run by oil pressure from the engine and loads the spring and a surrounding collar which acts like a ratchet which holds the spring tight-ish on the chain. I also replaced the chain although this was making no noise I thought it was best while I was this far.

Another solution added by some is to try and acquire what’s called a cold climate head which has heater plugs just under each injector (some brave people have drilled holes in heads just from measurements). I have no experience in this solution as even though I was lucky enough to find a cold climate head it turned out to be cracked and could not be used. Nearly half of the callers thought said that this improved the bad starting. On the other hand, half said it would make no difference!

Close up of a Cold Climate head with heater plug ports

When all modifications and repairs were done, the time had come to see if all the work that had gone to the engine was in vain, I first had to move the diesel injector pump (which moved about a quarter of an inch) to its original marks that are stamped on the housing as someone at sometime had moved this, thus going back to the timing debate as this pump has to be spot on in order for the engine to run at all.

Timing the diesel pump

It being a suitably cold day it was going to be a good test to see how it started, I gave it 15-20 seconds of heat through the single heater plug on the inlet manifold and engaged the started and the engine began to turn it turned a couple of turns and then it fired up running beautifully with no smoke.

Ironically, on reflection I suspect that most of the problems on this engine’s poor starting ability stemmed from the pump being out of time, it was a lucky however that it was stripped down as for the problems with the timing chain tensioner wouldn’t have become apparent until it final let go and the tension on the chain went.

Please be warned that the methods described in this article could damage very expensive engine parts The Tractor Lad (Ben Phillips) can NOT be held responsible for broken parts on anyone's engine.

© Ben Phillips 2006


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