I was trying not to make this too much opinion. I am eager to learn to work on an engine, but I thought maybe I could buy a plastic engine model kit, Revell or some other brand.

Is building a small model engine like that remotely close to working on a real engine? By that I mean learning the parts and how it works. I know it's a lot cleaner, etc. Or is it a waste of time?

  • 3
    How do you simulate that rusty bolt that you can only reach by contorting yourself under the car with a ratchet that can obtain only 6 degrees of swing? :)
    – PeteCon
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 19:58
  • 1
    @PeteCon now that is called realism don't forget to back your knuckles on something ;)
    – Cc Dd
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 5:03

3 Answers 3


I think so. Hella to the "yes!" There's truly nothing better than Revell's "Visible V8" model. That's what I had when I was a kid. (Please ignore the moth storm, smell of linament, and the dust cloud.)

My own kid bought the modern version (with a very subtle pressure from his father) and he learned a bunch. The modern version isn't quite the same as the vintage one I did four decades ago, but in some ways it's better. The original only came with assembly instructions. The modern version comes with posters and charts that actually explain real-life operation.

This kit is now quite expensive, but careful shopping and observance of "eBay" type venues might land you a deal. (Grandpa sometimes pays full boat, and grandson [grandaughter?] has no interest outside of Xbox.) A shame in my opinon, but another story.

Although it doesn't teach how to work on an engine, it does a fine job of showing in an active visual context the timing, process, strokes of the "Otto" cycle, and the general arrangement of parts. Granted, it's representing 4-5 decade (acutally six or more, I've been deducting years now according to my AARP plan) old engine technology, but the strokes haven't changed ("suck, squeeze, bang, blow") and ...

a fundamental understanding of the parts, timing, strokes, camshafts, distributor, crankshaft, etc. is the best foundation for any attempt at working on an internal combustion engine.

I can teach you how to use wrenches and sockets and screwdrivers safely in the first two weeks of my class. A knowledge that says "I own this" about the Otto cycle takes many many hours of study and experience.

SO... Check out the neo-ancient Revell Visible V8. If you need help, let me know--I am very good at sniffing the glue. ERRRR, I mean helping educate.

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  • Thanks. My belief is the same on fundamentals. Plus I really enjoy understanding why things work the way they do.
    – johnny
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 15:27
  • I have thought about a different model. I don't now which one yet. The Revell one isn't bad.
    – johnny
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 18:09
  • Definitely, used a model engine like that teaching my kid when he was 9 or 10. We took that thing apart and put it together over and over along with '78 Honda CB350 motor I got that was seized. Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 18:50
  • I thought this Haynes V8 also looked pretty nice: amazon.com/dp/B00GJYE0S4/… Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 8:28
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    @RobertS.Barnes "Features ignition and engine sounds and light up spark plugs" ... pretty much defines my youth. And maybe a signifigant part of my supposed adulthood.
    – SteveRacer
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 3:02

Is building a small model engine like that remotely close to working on a real engine?

It depends on what vintage real engine you expect to transfer this knowledge to.

The model engine may have

  • Carburetor instead of fuel injection.
  • Distributor instead of electronic ignition.
  • Belt driven fan instead of electric fan.
  • Fixed valve timing.
  • Fewer valves per cylinder.
  • No turbocharger.
  • A lot more space around it than a modern engine.
  • No OBD-II port ;-)

Personally, I think you'd pick up more useful skills by taking an old 4-stroke lawnmower engine apart and then getting it working. It's equally unlike a modern car engine but you'll learn some useful skills. But that's just my opinion.

  • What useful skill would I learn? Just a general thought you can pass along would be good. I have access to smaller engines.
    – johnny
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 21:16
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    This is an excellent answer, and something I left out when I got glassy-eyed waxing nostalgic on the Revell V8. Useful skills learned are: Learning to use tools properly, dealing with filthy rusted components (and how to clean them), how to take it apart without breaking things, @johnny the order things come apart, and how to organize removed parts and fasteners in such a manner as to allow easy reassembly - with nothing left over. That last one you master just before your death, in my opinion. Those basic invaluable skills translate from a lawnmower to the space shuttle.
    – SteveRacer
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 2:24
  • @johhny: SteveRacer pretty much nailed it, I'd add: How to free up a rusted nut&bolt, when to use penetrating oil, when to use heat, when to use brute force. Gaining a feel for just how hard you can turn a bolt or a nut before it shears the bolt, strips the threads or rounds off the nut. How a misfiring cylinder sounds, what a dirty spark plug should look like after cleaning, what parts get so hot you need to keep your hands clear of them by instinct. and so on endlessly. Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 9:20

Some of these simulators are getting pretty good too. I agree the Revell kits are great used to have one myself and grabbing a small engine and going for it is also really good. usually you can find a cheap used 4 stroke carbureted engine on craigslist for pretty cheap.

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