Justy Little Project Car: The joy of a good machine shop, and a rogue Nissan Axxess

I don’t understand it. Even though I live near the birthplace of speed and some kind of important race track, engine machine shops are hard to come by. I drove 40 minutes one way to the machine shop when I rebuilt my WRX’s engine, and they even had to send the crankshaft out to another shop to get serviced because its journals were too small for their machines. My co-workers at a car magazine at the time had no suggestions.
I expected triple the hassles when rebuilding an abandonware 3-cylinder, but shortly before I tore my Justy’s engine down, I managed to find a more local shop. A friend stumbled across a pamphlet of theirs that listed a bunch of services and standard prices. When I saw lightening and balancing, crank knifing, and head work services all at attainable prices, visions of a high-revving, high-compression, 100-horsepower Uber-Justy danced in my head.

I looked up the address and my phone navigated me to an unmarked shop in a bad part of town. I found out that Daytona Auto Designing has been around for decades, and get all their business by word-of-mouth. I was surprised when Joe and Shawn Bergeron, the father-and-son owners, both knew what a Justy was and were actually excited to work on it—a welcome departure from the “Yeah, I guess we can” attitude at the V8-centric shop that bored and was bored by my EJ205.
justy cylinder head
I asked Joe to inspect and grind the crank, inspect the cylinder head, inspect the block and cylinder bores, and check the front engine cover for cracks.
justy front engine cover
I was waiting on their reports before I ordered the requisite $600 in parts. If the engine’s front cover ($485) or crankshaft ($510) had to be replaced, I would have sent the engine to scrap instead and found another use for Justy Little Car Shell.
My regular check-ins with the shop as they inspected each part yielded good news. The bores were in good shape, and I’d be fine with just a fresh hone. The front engine cover, pictured above, cleaned up well and was miraculously crack-free. They lightly planed the mating surface to make sure it was straight.
justy oil pump
They did reveal a few problems. For one, the oil pump and its shaft were scored and needed replacing. That’s standard procedure for an engine rebuild anyway, but it was indicative of just how worn out this engine was. Part of the problem also was that the oil pump’s pressure relief valve was stuck open, so there was a major loss of oil pressure all the time.
The pump shaft rides in that aluminum front engine cover, which is another problem area for these Justy engine covers, but thankfully mine was not badly worn.
The crankshaft was fine, but it required grinding off 0.010-inch on all the journals to remove the scoring. (Pictures of that in my previous post.)
justy exhaust valves
The six intake valves were fine, but its three exhaust valves were badly burnt. The one on the left is noticeably not round anymore. Same for the one on the right, though it’s hard to see in this photo. The middle one is so badly burned that it’s noticeably smaller than the other two. This was the valve adjusted so tight it was stuck open.
Desoto Fireflite
A short interlude: During Thanksgiving week, the guys moved their shop to a new building in a better part of town. They now have a display window where they can show off some of the engines they’ve built, and a much better storefront on U.S. Route 1 (rather than a side street off of MLK Blvd.).
The day I shot these photos, they were still setting up the display window. There was some kind of Ford V8 (I forget what), a Desoto Fireflite, and a third engine on stands. A six-cylinder diesel head that they were working on was on a rolling cart in the front room.
When I visited their new location for the first time, I noticed a car I’d never seen before parked just down the street: A 1990 Nissan Axxess.
Nissan Axxess
These were a one-year-only minivan with sliding doors on both sides, besting Dodge to that design feature by six years. It replaced the Stanza Wagon and preceded the much more van-like Quest. The name also easily anagrams to Assexx butt stuff.
Desoto Fireflite Daytona Auto Designing
Anyway. Back to business. It was clear that a rebuild could move forward, so I asked Joe—who has a pair of pistons tattooed on his left forearm—about the best way to get more power for the least money. He said milling the head and decking the block for a higher compression ratio would help a lot, as would some mild porting. He showed me how sharp the angle was for air entering and exiting the combustion chamber, and said it wouldn’t take much porting to see a big improvement.
For a couple hundred bucks, he could take 0.040 inches (1.0 mm) out of the combustion chamber (by milling 0.010-inch off the block deck, and the rest off the head) and do the port work. By my calculations, this should bring my compression ratio from the stock 9.1:1 to about 10.2:1. Joe said that would have a better payoff than boring out perfectly good cylinders (which come with the added expense of new pistons), it should still run fine on pump gas, and it wouldn’t require an adjustable cam gear.

What’s the cam gear got to do with it? Milling the head in an overhead-cam engine changes the distance between the crankshaft and the camshaft. If you change that distance enough—that is, move the camshaft and crankshaft closer together by milling a lot of material out of the head—it will make a substantial difference in valve timing. That’s partly why adjustable cam gears exist: to put the cam properly in phase with the crankshaft after a serious increase in compression ratio.
I made the short video embedded above to hopefully better explain this, if you don’t mind my unscripted mumbling. Assuming a 5-inch diameter cam gear (2.5-inch radius), milling 0.040 inches retards the cam phase by less than 1 degree. The actual distance between your crankshaft and camshaft doesn’t matter. This also applies to DOHC engines. The formula is:
Arctan( amount removed / cam gear radius )
Justy ported head
Enough trigonometry. Here’s a pretty picture of the excellent job Joe did porting the head.
Justy cylinder head
Reassembling the head, Joe noticed there was a lot of slop in the rocker arm assembly. He decided to shim them so they’d stay properly aligned on the center of the cam lobes. He did this at no charge.
Joe told me the camshaft did show some wear, but was still in OK shape. When he gets his cam grinding machine set up, I may bring it in and have him grind it to a more aggressive profile.
Justy piston connecting rod
Joe also looked at the new bearings I got, and while doing some test-assembly (after cleaning and honing the block, checking the ring gap), he noticed something missing. The connecting rods have oil squirters in them, which shoot oil at the bottom of the pistons to keep them cool. The old bearings had a hole that this oil would travel through, but the new ones did not. He offered to mill new holes for me. Then he assembled the bottom end and verified all the oil clearances. And installed new chain sprockets on the balance shaft and crankshaft. All at no charge.
In the end, I paid somewhere around $750 in labor, including a tip that was entirely too small. Considering how much work these guys did on my engine, how much extra they did for free, and how polite and welcoming both Shawn and Joe were whenever I had questions, I need to figure out a better way to say thanks.
Now that the holidays are over, I can actually afford to send them a gift of some kind—just as soon as I come up with something. I’m open to suggestions, so leave them in the comments.
If you live in the Daytona Beach area and need any machine work done, please give them a ring. They have no online presence and you won’t find them on Google Maps.
[Photos copyright 2015 Hooniverse | Alan Cesar]

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32 responses to “Justy Little Project Car: The joy of a good machine shop, and a rogue Nissan Axxess”

  1. Alff Avatar

    These are great. Keep ’em coming. Also, I need to find the equivalent of these guys in KC.

    1. anonymic Avatar

      They’re now at the top of my list for the MGB engine in the garage, or the Lotus 907 if I can figure out how to make one fit in my GT.

  2. anonymic Avatar

    I’m glad to see that I wasn’t off the mark. I’m pretty sure that I missed the hole in the bearing for the squirter when I rebuilt mine. The sick thing was that I spent hours agonizing over which way around the rods were supposed to go. I looked in every corner of the internet and here I find out that my bearings were probably the same as yours.

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      It’s probably not a big deal to plug up those squirters on a stock engine, but since I’m increasing the compression ratio, it’s a good thing to have.

  3. caltemus Avatar

    Still reading the article, but how is an engine shop being 40 mins away translate to “hard to come by”? Maybe it’s because I’m from Connecticut and the entirety of the state is 40 mins away. Try to buy skateboard trucks along rural route 50 in West Virginia on a sunday, and you’ll find the true meaning of “hard to come by”.

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      I find it weird, living in Daytona Beach, that I’m not tripping over automotive performance shops. From my day job, I can hear race cars testing at the Speedway. But that machine shop I used to go to is still a 30-minute drive from here.

      1. caltemus Avatar

        Finished the article. Yeah, you would think there are more in such a motorsports-rich area. Great writeup btw.

        1. Alan Cesar Avatar
          Alan Cesar

          Thank you. I appreciate that.

  4. ayuvar Avatar

    I’m glad to hear that the timing cover is fine! That has always been one of my greatest fears on the Justy.
    Impressive that Subaru threw a factory oil squirter on there; I can’t think of a lot of other non-performance engines (especially in the EJ series) that they did that on.

  5. bigredcavetroll Avatar

    I’m quite happy with your results! That’s awesome.
    Sadly, I think many jobs like welding and machining are dying off because there isn’t as big of a need for them as there once was, and many people look at the income amount and decide to either pursue other careers, or they had a career as a machinist/welder and left it for better pay in a different career, retired, etc.

    1. Guest Avatar

      Depends on the type of welding/machining.

      I live in Alberta, and a large number of my classmates plan on becoming welders in the oilfield.

      Also, the machine shop is one of the things our school is proud of, and is one of the main focus areas of the on-going renovations.

      This will likely change with the current drop in oil prices, but this is how it sits right now, at least here.

  6. Sjalabais Avatar

    That is one form of advertisement I truly enjoy reading. In all these years being dependent on capable mechanics and engineers to keep my cars running, I’ve only encountered two guys of this caliber. Both were too honest and too kind to earn as much money as their lesser peers – but they knew what they were doing and had a solid interest in puzzle solving.

  7. dukeisduke Avatar

    Great article. It’s always good to find a machine shop with people that know what they’re doing. As for the oil pump bore in the front cover, would it be possible to machine off some aluminum and press in (or install with Loctite 271) a hardened bushing? Or is there not enough aluminum to allow that?
    Also, that blanket the head is sitting on (showing the rocker arms) looks like a hospital baby swaddling blanket. We have a souvenir one at home, that came home with our first daughter.

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      Interesting. Those blankets are PIG mats I got from a friend, and they’re actually a paper-like material.
      There’s barely enough material to press in a bushing, but someone in the Justy community managed to do it. It was a lot of labor.

  8. Andrew Pierce Avatar
    Andrew Pierce

    What’s this about Nissan Rogue axles?

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      Don’t give ’em Axxess to your butt.

      1. nanoop Avatar

        That would make some buttress?
        (Oh, there’s a door, I think I’ll take it.)

  9. MarkT Avatar

    Gift? Maybe help with an online presence? I love justy’s

  10. HoondavanDude Avatar

    I love the fact you’re rebuilding the engine on this car. As someone who’s first two cars included a Tercel 4WD Wagon & a Nissan Stanza 4WD wagon…I get it. I saw an XT6 a few weeks ago and my wife thought I had lost my mind. Noteworthy: the Stanza wagon had no B-Pillar. The sliding doors & front doors created one giant opening.
    I’m somewhat local, once you get further along I’d love to take a look at your Justy.
    It’s been a while since I had a trusted mechanic, but I’ve tipped mechanics with a 12-pack of beer on a few occasions. I’ve also dropped donuts and coffee off in the AM a few times. I suppose Passes to the Rolex 24 or the Roar Before the 24 a more expensive option (unless you have a GRM hookup). This one could go either way…if they’re building race motors they may already have VIP access to the race. Or, they may want nothing to do with engines with their free time.

  11. dead_elvis Avatar

    Early contender for HCOTY ’16!

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      Should it be named ‘Uber Justy’ ?

      1. dead_elvis Avatar

        Not by me. That common English language usage of uber grates. Oddly, used as the name of that on-demand car service it doesn’t bother me a bit.

        1. Rover 1 Avatar
          Rover 1

          I’d forgotten about that taxi service available in the big centres. We don’t have the population density for it to work here.
          Maybe take a lead from Audi and call it the ‘Ur Justy’ ?

          1. Alan Cesar Avatar
            Alan Cesar

            I think “Ur-Quattro” is German for “original Quattro” or “first Quattro.” This is a second-gen Justy (really just a styling refresh), so “Saisho Justy” doesn’t really apply. “Yaku Justy” is uber Justy in Japanese, according to Google Translate.

          2. Rover 1 Avatar
            Rover 1

            One of those. I find that it’s crying out for a little nickname.

  12. Matt Avatar

    Great write up, I found your article just “googlin’ round”. If you spent any time over at the “old justy site”, you may have seen my build, the orange rally Justy.
    Lot’s of issues trying to run these little motors in anger… mostly related to keeping oil going to the rod ends. Keep it clean, change it and don’t run it hard long. I’ve gone to a dry sump (still sorting it) to try to remedy the problem.
    There has been lots of discussion of restricting oil flow to the head to try an improve things.
    Delta Cams in ?Tacoma? has an inhouse grind spec that works pretty good. I’m now running triple carbs and over 10.5:1 comp. Soon I’m gonna want more cam I think ;). I’m soon going to be near 11:1 comp, and thinking I will add an adjustable timing gear before I get rid of the stock head gasket in exchange for something thinner 😉
    Anyway good luck with the build and come on over to the loneliest car site around… our numbers are getting thin as these cars rot away.

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      I’ve seen a Justy with triple carbs somewhere, I think on the Proboards forum. I’ve posted around there a few times, but not lately. I don’t imagine there are too many other triple-carb’ed Justys around, so I probably saw yours! Can you reply with a link to your build thread? I probably won’t implement anything like it, but I’m really curious about your dry sump setup.

      1. Matt Avatar

        Hey Alan,
        Here you go! http://subarujusty.proboards.com/thread/2915/orange-rally-justy-returns
        It’s a bit long… the car was built a while ago, and then resurrected after a few years of storage… so some of the thread is just getting the car put pack together.

      2. dave bonner Avatar
        dave bonner

        hey alan do you still have those ar24 rims from justy 6×14 some one stole 1 of mine off my honda

        1. Alan Cesar Avatar
          Alan Cesar

          Yeah, but they’re on my wife’s car now. Not sure how I could be of any help to you.

          1. dave bonner Avatar
            dave bonner

            Just thought if you see 1keep me in mind I’m looking for one thanks dave

  13. Fresh-Outta-Nissans Avatar

    Rouge Nissan Axxess? That was hard to parse.
    Might as well paint it red and drive round Spa, at that rate.