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1971 FF-1 - Back from the dead?

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New member, not a new enthusiast though.  I've built a few Subarus through the years, this one has been the biggest challenge yet.  I'm a few months into it so far, so these first few posts will be pictures of the various steps.  I've been posting updates on FB, but it will be way easier to organize everything here on a forum.  Also, maybe this will help with google results, as my search for info on this super rare car has been rough.  Alright, the story begins:


This car popped up on FB marketplace about 2 and half hours from me, and as soon as I saw the ad, I knew I had to go get it.  It's a 1971 FF-1 Deluxe Wagon, in surprising shape for a midwest car.  It sat in a garage in central Illinois since '78-'79, until the owner passed and his family liquidated his car collection.  Here are some pictures of me winching it onto the trailer, zero of the wheels turned of course.



More to come soon, I haven't been active on a forum for years, so it'll take me some getting used to.  

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After I got it home, I took lots of pictures to document it's condition.  The biggest issue I saw right away was the engine, it was locked up tight.  Looking at its overall condition, I concluded that it was likely seized from sitting, not from mechanical failure.  The first order of business was to pull the plugs and get some kind of creeping oil in the cylinders.  I ended up using ATF, since I had a bunch around.  One of the spark plugs broke off in the head when I tried to remove it, that will be addressed later.  Also, I noticed that the subframe has a BIG bend in it, more on that later.  For now, here's the pictures after I got it home.




























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So, after playing with it a bit, I started taking note of what parts were missing, and what I should try and tackle first.  I poured ATF in the cylinders for about a month before I was able to finally turn the crank over.  Once I got several full rotations, I decided to pull the motor and bring it to my shop, since winter was on the way.  This '71 features the EA61 1100cc engine, which has proven quite difficult to find parts for.  It was only sold in the US for '70 and '71, and they didn't sell many.  Pulling the engine was pretty standard for a Subaru, though I pulled it without an engine hoist.  I just plopped an old tire under the engine and yanked it out by hand.  The shape of the subframe allowed the engine to just drop out.  I used my wife's Outback to bring it over to my heated shop.  





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So, with the engine in my shop, I looked at the bell housing and had an idea.  I grabbed a Volkswagen engine stand (we build air cooled VW engines at our shop), and held it up to the EA61.  Lo and behold, it bolts right up!  The EA61 bell housing has the same (or very very similar) dimensions as the old air cooled flat four VW. 



So, I got it all set up and started stripping it down.  The oil was definitely 45+ years old, I can still smell these pictures.




After pulling the heads, I was pleasantly surprised to see everything was very gross, but in very serviceable shape.  The one cylinder that was stuck doesn't have any pits in the cylinder wall, the piston was in poor shape however (more on that later)



Bonus picture of the car after a few rain storms, it is really in good shape overall.


The rear most piston pins were tough to pull, and I don't have any factory tools, so I came up with this little trick.  I'd already removed the pistons by the time I took these pictures, so imagine the piston is still in there.


I snuck a narrow 8mm thread nut between the piston and the rear of the block with a magnet, then I screwed a long threaded rod into it (this happens to be a head stud from a VW engine).



I threaded the rod into a slide hammer, and gently hammered the pins out.


After everything was removed, I was left with these super filthy coolant passages to deal with.



Here's the pile of parts after pulling the whole top end.  I made sure to keep the liner shims with their corresponding liners, since replacements look to be IMPOSSIBLE to find.



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Shims are out there. I sold a mess of them just before the virus hit. 

I’d love to see the 1100 running or find a 1300. Don’t bother with a 1400 - my opinion. 

Some of folks were bitten by the bug (no pun on the VW’s) a while back and we acquired NOS from old dealerships. I’ve mostly sold off what I could see I wasn’t going to use but I know many early Subaru parts are out there. Sometimes it seems there’s more parts than there are cars to put them on. 

Best of luck with it. Sadly I do check in on FB but I prefer not to. I’ll get back there some and check out your postings and what the know it all’s have to say. 

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If you have the old owners manuals and included is the dealer network , I suggest you seek out any dealers who still exist from then and inquire about their loft , back room , storage etc and you may get lucky. We did. But that was 22-13 years ago. 

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8 hours ago, moosens said:

If you have the old owners manuals and included is the dealer network , I suggest you seek out any dealers who still exist from then and inquire about their loft , back room , storage etc and you may get lucky. We did. But that was 22-13 years ago. 

I actually got lucky and bought out an entire Subaru dealer's stock of repair manuals a few years ago, they had opened in '71 and had everything dating all the way back.  They didn't have any old parts, the place was tiny.  I've sold most of the late model manuals, but I have every early manual I can justify keeping.  They've helped a lot with this project!

I have many search alerts set up on ebay for parts, I know they are out there, just gotta be VERY patient.  

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Thanks for the kind words folks!

Still have some catching up to do, enjoy another deluge of photos.

Gotta love that factory repair manual!


The crank pulley was very very stuck on, it is pretty rusty.  I saw a picture of the official Subaru puller tool in the manual, so I fashioned one out of scrap.  I had to heat it with a torch a few times, but it finally came off!  The pulley is in very rough condition, the side where the belt was touching is very rusted (the belt held moisture against the pulley).  



Once I finally had the pulley off, it was time to split the case.  Nothing too exciting happened, I used small chunks of fuel line to hold the lifters in place, I should have taken a picture of that.  The excitement began when I saw the distributor drive gear:




Before I saw this, I was starting to wonder if it was a good idea to go this deep into this engine, as parts have been very hard to find.  Once I saw this timing gear, I knew I did the right thing, there's no way to fix that without tearing it ALL the way down.  When I stripped the accessories off the engine, I did notice that there was no bolt holding the distributor in.  This is what happens when you crank the engine over with a loose distributor!

Now the panic set in, where the hell would I find an EA61 distributor drive gear?  I looked at it closely, then remembered I had a spare EA81 crank in the shop.  I went and grabbed the distributor drive off of it, and this is what I found:




It's exactly the same.  Except it's not destroyed.  This feels like blind luck on my part, but I guess I should thank Subaru for using the same timing gear on every OHV engine!

More later.

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Alright, so now the case is split.


I dropped the bare case in the parts washer, then went to start pulling the old rings off the pistons.  They're all pretty loose, except for the piston that was seized.  I started with that one, then immediately found this:





Yeah, this piston is junk.  Looks like someone dropped it, then installed it anyway.  The side is cracked, and the skirt is all bent up.  AMPCO is not OEM, as far as I know, so this engine has actually been rebuilt in the past at some point, likely when the car was only a couple years old.  This is very discouraging, since I can't just go and buy a set of pistons for this thing.  I have many ebay search alerts on, and have searched many part numbers in foreign and domestic sights, but I have yet to come across even a single piston for sale.  I know they're out there, if anyone has any leads, please let me know.  In the mean time, I've been cleaning everything over and over.  

The cases turned out nice, they still need another round or two of cleaning before they're ready.


This is more or less where I'm at now.  I have obtained crank and rod bearings, so I will be pulling the crank apart to clean and rebuild it.  I will be able to get the short block together, and I will be cleaning and re-doing the heads as well.  After that, I'm stuck until I can solve my piston problem.  

Edited by Subaru_GL
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7 hours ago, moosens said:

Have a set made. Been that way for plenty of vehicles going back years. LA Sleeve we used to use for motorcycles. 

Probably others but I’ve been out of that game for decades. 

Wiseco ? I’m too lazy to search on my work break. Cheers ! 

I wouldn't say the specialty engine industry is booming these days, sadly.  There isn't even a radiator repair shop left in my area, and only one extremely busy machine shop that doesn't have time for weird old cars like mine.  I've searched many online suppliers, and a surprising amount have listings for the OEM piston kit by the part number 88005-6100.  However, no one has been able to help me yet.

Looks like LA Sleeve is still around, I'll shoot them a message and see if they can help.  Any leads help, thanks Paul!

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Wiseco and JE both have options for requesting custom pistons. I'm quite sure Manley does also. Shouldn't be difficult to have some new pistons made. 

Not surprising it's been gone through before - the wet sleeve engines were a NIGHTMARE for the dealerships - my old parts guy that had started in the 70's at the same Subaru dealership I still buy all my parts from to this day had nothing nice to say about them. He absolutely loved the dry sleeve engines - EA71 and EA81. Had an EA81 wagon that he daily drove and passed to his son when he got a first gen Legacy. 


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The general reason told was that the 1400 was punched out and left less material to dissipate heat and increased dramatically the unsettling of the sleeves and therefore movement , warpage , frustrations. 

Less troubles with the 1100 and 1300 but still open to the same issues. 

Managing one of these going forward will be a challenge but a few guys like myself out there will raise your flag forever if you succeed. Just to see and hear it running like the old sewing machine sound they made. 

Splitting cases , taking this serious , it’s enjoyable to witness being an almost 59 year old who started his Subaru life around 12 - 13 when my brother said “you grab that side , pull forward and then lift”. We had 1100’s , 1300’s and then onward often on his workbench. 
Certainly brings back memories.

If my storage weren’t a bit overwhelming at the entrance right now , and dead of winter , I’d snag whatever I can for you. But I think you’re already fairly buffed out for what you’re doing LESS the shims. But those will show up or can also be turned out for you easily. Maybe even a better material. 

Winter sucks but reach out to me if you need something and I’ll do my best. 

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Thanks Paul, I appreciate the sentiments.  This won't be an easy project, but I've come this far already.  I'll bug you more for parts come spring, hope you're staying warm out east!

I got excited over the weekend when I found this thread:

It's super old, and unverified, but I happen to have an early EA71 sitting at the shop, so I started pulling it apart to see what I could manage.  I have some conclusions, none are to my benefit however.  Remember, I can't find 76mm pistons for the EA61, otherwise I wouldn't even look in to these other options.


This is my test fit of the EA61 head onto the EA71 block.  Some of the head studs line up, but not all of them, and not close enough to jam it together either.


These are the two heads next to each other.  The machined one is the EA61.  The EA71 head gasket is above it.  Close, but not close enough.


Here's the EA71 head gasket on top of the EA61 head.  Again, very similar, but you can see that the lower studs don't line up at all, they seem to have been moved for clearance for the much larger bore.

Alright, so the heads clearly won't swap.  What about the bell housing?






So, this was interesting.  Both are top mount starters, as you can see.  The EA61 housing does line up with the EA71 bolt holes, all of them actually.  The issues are as follows: the bump out in the case doesn't line up, and leaves a gap on both sides that I can't get around, major machine work would be necessary.  Also, the main seal would have to be some weird hybrid, EA61 is smaller outer diameter, EA71 has a larger inner diameter.  Also, the oil pan bolts don't line up.

Ok, so that means that I can't put the heads from the EA61 onto the EA71, and I can't swap the EA61 bell housing onto the EA71.  In that forum post that I reference above, it says that even though the bell housings are different, I could theoretically swap an EA71 into an EA61 car.  Keep in mind that I can't change the transmission, the FF-1 has inboard brakes, so it has to use the factory trans.  


Since I had it all apart anyway, I brought the EA71 bell housing over to the FF-1 itself to physically see what would happen.  This first picture shows the dowel pin location, the EA71 has it much lower than the EA61 (the hole it's supposed to line up with is about an inch higher, you can see it in the picture.


This picture shows the relation of the lower mounting studs.  They are wider and lower than the EA61 studs.  The upper bolts actually line up in this arrangement, but there's no way this will work.  So there, through trail and (mostly) error, I've discovered that there is NO way to put an EA71 into an EA61 car.  Hopefully, if anyone else ever wants to try this, they search the internet and find this post.  

Oh, and to ad insult to injury, here's my smashed rear window, I must have hit it with a rock when I was messing with my new snow blower yesterday.  Hurray, I'm sure a rear window will be easy to find...



I'm no where near giving up, for the record.  I just want to document this process for future reference.  Custom pistons are very expensive, I'm still searching for the elusive singe NOS one.

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9 hours ago, moosens said:

Has to be a parts engine somewhere. 

Crap , we had 1400’s and a 1300 sitting around CT just a few years back. I can’t recall the last time we had an 1100 but there’s one up in Massachusetts 

I'm considering a trip out west for parts, though it's a big commitment.  I've been offered a 1300, a 1400, and even a whole parts car, all in Washington state.  It might just come to that, but that's over 60 hours of driving for me...

2 hours ago, idosubaru said:

Cracked glass that's so frustrating!  Good work !

It really is, but at least glass doesn't rust, there has to be a rear window out there waiting to be found.  Thanks for the encouragement!

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10 hours ago, Subaru_GL said:

I'm considering a trip out west for parts, though it's a big commitment.  I've been offered a 1300, a 1400, and even a whole parts car, all in Washington state.  It might just come to that, but that's over 60 hours of driving for me...


When you are dealing with almost non existent cars, you gotta do what you gotta do to get what you need. I was set to drive from CA to OK to get a rusty GL coupe parts car that had a couple parts I needed and the seller wouldn't ship even if I was willing to pay. Got to AZ then had to head home due to a bad ice storm in OK. Ended up having to pay a guy to trailer it out to me.

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On 1/25/2022 at 7:46 PM, Datsunrides said:

When you are dealing with almost non existent cars, you gotta do what you gotta do to get what you need. I was set to drive from CA to OK to get a rusty GL coupe parts car that had a couple parts I needed and the seller wouldn't ship even if I was willing to pay. Got to AZ then had to head home due to a bad ice storm in OK. Ended up having to pay a guy to trailer it out to me.

The more I think about it, the more I'm ready to make the drive.  My wife has already given me her blessing, the next hurdle will be the weather, you understand! 



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Story time! We had a great guy who joined up and was driving across the country to pick up a car in PA I think it was so I managed to connect with him ( I think he offered initially ) and he brought my 1973 Coupe from an old orchard in WA across the top of the country like this same time of the year it is now , DEAD OF WINTER , salty roads , I-80 and I-90 aka the Rust Route , all the way to me in CT on a trailer. 

Sequel- that same car sold to Danny W in TN , he kept it a while and then Subafreak also from CT went down to TN and retrieved it. Sadly it went to hell after sitting. 

But yeah , the stuff we do. And the cool wives we have!! 

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  • 4 weeks later...

Quick update:  I haven't made any progress on the car due to lack of parts, but I am in the final stages of prepping for my trip to Seattle to get the parts car!  It's an identical white wagon, and with it (and whatever else I can scrounge up while I'm out there), I should be able to get this project back on track!  I also scored a neat "Driver's Handbook" off ebay to go with the car, it's technically for a 1300g, but close enough.  More updates and pictures to follow, stay tuned!


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Jamie got that wagon from the yard in East Hampton loaded with spares. It had belonged to my friend and Subaru guru Charlie Dow III

That was supposed to go to me but people got involved and it ended up where it did. I went to look it over once it had been revealed where the car went after an absence from the estate being cleared out. All sorts of characters were involved , good people , sketchy people , and once I saw it there after all the BS I just said Rest In Peace Charlie !!’ Love ya , brother. 

Have to say it was pretty much well beyond what I had thought it would look like when extracted from the earth it had settled into. Lucky for Jamie and you it had only been sinking in for about a year and a half I want to say. Maybe a full two seasons or so but not more. And that’s how it was able to be extracted and shipped without falling into pieces as it surely would have done if laid there much longer. 

I might be going out west this year. Please keep me in the loop and maybe I’ll be able to come by and see you and the bitchin ff1’s 

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