Dutchman Customs

and Hot Rods




truck Mustang

Universal Atomic Four


We were approached by good friend Jim C. and asked to look at a vintage 38ft Hughes sailboat. Hesitant we said yes, and it’s shaping up to be an interesting build. The sailboat has onboard a blown vintage 1977-78 era Universal Atomic Four gasoline engine. Now we are by no means marine specialists but are always willing to take on a new challenge.

We have named the project Howie and have begun to disassemble the first of two Atomic Fours. We started with the spare motor first, and have disassembled it and sent it off to Norm Wilson shop foreman at Fortins Engines in Chilliwack, BC. The engine components have had their bath and the news isn’t as good as we hoped. The block is not usable too many cracks and too much corrosion to salvage. Thirty years in salt water will do that. Our next step is to pull the blown onboard motor and repeat the previous steps. We hope to have better news the second time around. One of Jims requests is to modify the new motor to incorporate a closed cooling system with a heat exchanger. We’ll try to add photos as the build and project plans progress. We have found the following resources very helpful: www.hessmarine.ca , www.moyermarine.com , www.westerbeke.com

The news keeps getting worse for Howie. His second motor is in some ways worse than the first. He threw the connecting rod on #3, and broke the camshaft into 4 pieces kissing the bottom of the cylinder wall. We rolled the dice on the hot tank and mag. Norm is like the Grim Reaper lately, the second block is cracked. Here was much colorful commentary between myself and Jim. After many hours of searching we learn that AF blocks are especially hard to come by crack free, it’s like finding a unicorn. Jim surprisingly has an incredible conversation with Moyer and finds out they will be recasting the original AF block, he signed up for the waitlist.

Well after some research and out of the necessity that sailing season is here Jim wants Howie out of the slip. We can dig that so we made Jim sign a tail light guarantee or in this case aft! We have decided to try and salvage the second block. We’ll have to attempt to pin the block deck surface in three spots between a steam port and head bolt hole. Then heli-coil two head bolt holes, and finish up massaging the damage to #3 cylinder. Judging from the damage from #3 connecting rod we’re hoping we can safely turn the crank. We’re gonna go for it. So from two A4’s we have chosen the best parts and will order what we can’t reuse. Some of the parts have started to return from the acid tank. They will be sandblasted, and prepped for paint. Norm will complete the necessary repairs and machine work to the block. The crank will be ground .010 under for both the mains and rods. The block will remain standard bore, with a slight hone to clean it up.

Norm and his staff at Fortin’s have really outdone themselves. All machine work is complete, the new cam bearings have been installed, and checked for fitment. The entire rotating assembly including crank, pistons, rods, camshaft, idler gear, and camshaft from the original 1978 A4 has been transplanted into the vintage 1972 A4 block and accessories. We really like the looks of the older block, cases, flywheel housing and manifold, you just don’t see intricate foundry work like this anymore with all the raised lettering.

Jim arrived just in time for assembly and the shop has been buzzing with excitement. Jim is like a kid in the sandbox, giddy with enthusiasm. As you will see from the photos, the paint scheme Jim chose is over the top and looks fantastic. The raised lettering really accents the job. We fabricated a custom seawater pump bracket assembly for the PTO that is pretty trick, and keeps it stealth in appearance, yet is user friendly. Jim has rebuilt the old Oberdorfer waterpump, and the carb himself, it has been a very hands on project. We encourage our clients to be involved in their projects. We believe the more knowledgeable they are about their projects, the easier it is for them to trouble shoot issues as they arrive, lets face it on a sailboat you have to be self sufficient.

Howie has been loaded for delivery to the slip in Ladner. It was late but Howie is back home, and nestled back into his engine bay beaming. The response from the locals on hand for Howies’ arrival have been pretty incredible, they can’t believe it’s the same motor. The next few days will be spent on final install and adjustments. This is tedious work and with any job takes time and patience, to get it right.