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2002 Legacy Timing Belt job SOHC cam sprocket alignment help!

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Hey guys, I just pulled the engine and did the head gaskets on my EJ251 legacy wagon.  


As I was about to install my new timing belt, I realized that I am entirely unable to get the left side cam sprocket timing marks to line up! The repair manual and multiple internet resources show that the mark should be going pretty much straight up towards a notch in the rear timing cover. My cover happens to be chipped, but I can see where the notch used to be. 


For some reason, the cam sprocket just won't stay where it *should* be, the tension whips the cam far to either side of it (YES, my crank timing mark is lined up properly, all pistons are recessed, I didn't just destroy my valves).  


These are the closest places to the timing mark that the cam will rest. Timing hash on cam is indicated with red line.  Timing mark on timing cover is indicated with a yellow line. 


What is going on here?? I have read on multiple articles AND the manual that there should be no tension on cam when it is at proper point, this isn't some weird Audi that I should need special clamps for.   Thanks for the help!


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Yes, I replaced the water pump, all pulleys, and tensioner.  Somehow a water pump bolt hole stripped out at like 5 ft-lbs -_- but a helicoil was a quick fix.

Now I know you are always supposed to replace valve cover gaskets after removal, but mine looked like new so I reused them.  Has anyone successfully reused these things before?

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