Inside VanNess Engineering. Knowledge Is Horsepower.

VanNess Dave phone

Just how I pictured it all! Dave about to answer the phone. AGAIN.

A couple weeks ago we made a trip up to New Jersey to pick up Jimmy’s K engine and had a chance to visit with Dave VanNess at his company. VanNess Engineering.

VAnNess engine jimmy

jimmys engine, being picked up.

It was a very short visit, about an hr, and within that hr, Dave spoke with about 5 people on the phone with various questions. Not to mention took time out to show me how to adjust a 3 brush generator, and a short tour and chat.

vanness adjust 2

In there someplace is the third bush

VanNess adjust 1

ahhh, there it is. Now I know!

We talked about the community and what its like to be at the center of everyone’s engine hurricane. When you are having an engine rebuilt, it can be a very emotional time. You are literally dead in the water and depending on others to deliver. Stuff goes right and wrong, bad previous rebuilds are exposed and drama ensues. By the way, as of June, VanNess Engineering has rebuilt over 50 engines. That’s right, all sorts of custom deals, normal rebuilds, all of it. VanNess on top of all that works with many other rebuilders and does work for them.

van ness engine shelf

oh, we are just getting started

So, you’re getting an engine done by someone in another place? It may have some VanNess parts or rebuilt parts on it. A huge portion of VanNess work goes over to Europe. He has mastered the shipping system, so in some cases an engine can be in England in a little over a week!

Van Ness 1

Stuff getting ready

van ness 2

I call this “Heads and block”

van Ness 3

Copper pipe. I need some of that. Mmm

vanness Pistons

Old pistons

vanness manafolds

manafolds. Need one?

VanNess Grey marine

Van Ness is the worlds expert on Grey Marine Engines.

van Ness parts shelve

Cool parts holders

vanness cams

Old cams

Vanness Engine books

Books books and more books – and a triple set of carbs

van ness orange cabnet

more cool parts shelves


vanness engines

Work being done

vanness generators

Need a generator or starter. VanNess got them and rebuilds them

Van Ness Carbs

At VanNess Carbs are good for you! Get it.. Its a Gluten Free joke.. Carbs…. OK, lets just keep reading here.

The one of two shops we visited was packed with rare stuff, not so rare stuff, and clearly anything you may need to keep your engine running. Books, old tools, and definitely a fun crowd of cool young guns who know there stuff.

VanNess Turks

In our normal world we understand how things are done. We are plumbers,  ad guys, Dr’s and so on and on, but very few of us really are all that confident about our boats. Especialy rebuilding engines. Not a small or cheap job. To be transparent, I am terrified sometimes about simple stuff, that I blow up in my mind. Sometimes stuff, like needle and seat, condenser, leak issues happen, and its part of our crazy world. Rebuilding an engine or restoring a boat can be very scary, and thus, patience and trust go a long way in getting anything done in our community.

Thinking of having your engine rebuilt. Here are some tips.

  1. Plan ahead. You should expect the job to take months, and schedule the rebuild before you take it up there
  2. These are rare engines, and parts, good parts are hard to find, so custom pistons and gaskets will need to be made.
  3. Manafold’s are always problematic, so expect some work there.
  4. Rebuild the transmission at the same time.
  5. Do not nickle and dime the job. No old parts, do it all right the first time. One huge issue is Dave will try and help, and inevitably the old part to save money fails, and its Dave’s fault. Do it right.
  6. Dave doesn’t know how to say no. So ask him to SAY NO IF HE THINKS SO…. and have an open conversation.
  7. Get to know Sue, Dave’s queen of the realm and the real brains of the operation. She is amazing and knows how to help and get stuff done.
  8. Go visit, deliver the engine yourself if you can. You will understand more that goes into it.
  9. Remember, it’s as much art as science rebuilding and saving a vintage engine. There is a difference in a rebuild, parts are not parts, and knowledge is literally horsepower.
  10. Follow break in rules religiously. The factory owners manual for your boats rules still apply. These are rebuilt, not new engineering.
van ness front door

And to think, this is just the small office of two shops. Right behind this simple entry! Stay tuned for later in the summer for a tour of the other larger shop.

14 replies
  1. Jack Schneiberg
    Jack Schneiberg says:

    Really like the pictures of the old parts bins and drawers and various parts and pieces laying around. Yet, over-all there still seems to be a theme of “neat” in the pictures. It’s hard to keep older places organized enough to find what you need for whatever is on the bench. Neat tour. I always wonder if the walls could talk………………..

  2. Bilge Rat
    Bilge Rat says:

    Love the politically incorrect calendar at Dave’s desk. Old school shop calendar, a nice touch to match the old school parts.

  3. John Baas
    John Baas says:

    I would gladly intern for free for a month just to hang around and sop up the knowledge of this skilled master. There are ways to do a job right…and ways to do the job right but also little tricks to make the job easier. That only comes with experience. I’m guessing Dave faces the same challenges as other skilled trades….especially finding and keeping those “young guns”. How many times do we spend the time and effort to hire, train and mentor new employees only to have them not show up for work after they learn it really IS work?
    We’ve got enough doctors, lawyers, software engineers and art history majors. What this country needs is good, solid carpenters, plumbers, electricians and mechanics. Screw college loans…send your kids to tech school!

  4. Dan T
    Dan T says:

    Fantastic resource! Getting real difficult to find good machine shops these days. Especially for antique boat motors.

  5. Chris Ritchie
    Chris Ritchie says:

    Thank you Dave & Sue. These guys are the best. I have ordered many parts for Lal Buddi II over the last few months. Always a great experience. Dave always takes the time to educate me on whatever project/job I’m working on. Just a wealth of knowledge.

  6. Don Palmer
    Don Palmer says:

    Great article today. The photos today strongly remind me of Craig Magnusson’s garage/shop. He has motors and vintage parts in every nook and crannie!

  7. Jack
    Jack says:

    Great article and information. Dave and Sue have served us well as I recently received the rebuilt water pump for our 1948 Chrysler Crown. It gets installed this weekend in the Shepherd and we will be back on the water.

  8. Tuobanur
    Tuobanur says:

    A few months ago I sent my engine to Dave, was hearing some noises that I knew not to be correct, sadly the news was not good, especially since my engine was newly rebuilt here locally, and pretty much was a basket case. Lucky for me Dave happen to have an engine on his floor that he had recently rebuilt for a customer who after the fact decided he wanted something with a little more power, Dave transferred the parts necessary from my engine to the new/old engine and is shipping it out to me tomorrow.

  9. Alan
    Alan says:

    Hey Matt, That’s my “Heads and Block” in the photo. We dropped it off a day before your visit. Another great tip is don’t lose your motor on the first outing of the year, makes for a very long summer.

  10. Chris
    Chris says:

    I am in the process of buying a 1947 DCFB Chris Craft w/ rebuilt WBs from VanNess . I have been hearing great things about the work they do there . I am glad there is a machine shop that saves vintage marine engines. I had a 35′ 1956 constellation w/ mclrs these old flatheads are a terrific engine. I can’t wait to hear those WBs !!!!!!!

  11. Reddog
    Reddog says:

    John Baas beat me to it I was just gonna comment on the “old school”mechanics and boat restorers out there doing their thing,,,THANKS. without you guys this hobby would/will not be around long.

  12. Dan in Detroit
    Dan in Detroit says:

    I found my 1960 century resorter 16 on the side of the road. All original. We have done the usual rebuild of carburetors, spark plugs, electric, and rebuilt the transmission. There are 690 hours on the tachometer. Could this be 1690?? When do I start thinking of an engine rebuilt? Do i wait for a problem? Do you ever do a rebuild as “routine” maintenance?

  13. Chuck in Florida
    Chuck in Florida says:

    Dave rebuilt the 327 & transmission for my 1967 22′ CC Catalina Cutlass this past winter. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dave many times during the course of the rebuild and learned a good deal in the process. After 7 years of rebuilding the entire boat she’s back in the water and the engine just couldn’t be better. It was a total basket case after 36 years of inactivity but Dave was able to resurrect this crusty pile of rust. With virtually every part of the boat having been gone over I’ve found that building trust in the various systems takes time but at least the engine (having been done by a professional) can be trusted. Thank you Dave!

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