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'M9X Engine Assembly' DVD set shows you how to build Porsche M96 and M97 engines

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Article and photos by Damon Lowney

What is it: Five-DVD box set that illustrates full process to build an M9X engine
Where to buy: The Knowledge Gruppe

Many of us work on our own cars to some extent, whether changing the oil, replacing brake pads, or performing other kinds of general maintenance. Some of us are even more proficient hobby mechanics and can perform extensive work in a home garage. But one task that has always seemed best left to professionals is building an engine. After watching Focus On: M9X Engine Assembly with some healthy skepticism, I came away with more knowledge of how the M97 engine in my own Porsche works as well as more confidence in my unproven ability to build its engine.

In the interest of transparency, I have limited mechanical ability. I’ve replaced engine mounts and brake pads and rotors in a Porsche 944 S2, as well as its radiator with some help, lowered my Volkswagen Golf with new springs and shocks, and performed oil changes. Any work that includes fluids or seems complicated makes me nervous, which explains my skepticism about how this five-DVD box set would apply to me. Would I be able to comprehend the assembly instructions given by Jake Raby of Flat 6 Innovations? Would I gain enough confidence from the knowledge contained in the box set to feel comfortable attempting to build a M96/M97 engine?

Anybody who’s a garage mechanic and has a smartphone has probably used YouTube videos to guide them on certain projects. I did just that when lowering my Golf and have begun to search for a decent video that will show me what a successful brake and clutch fluid flush looks like on my Cayman. One of the drawbacks of YouTube is you often don’t know how great of a mechanic the presenter is or if they are using correct or accepted techniques. Honest intent doesn’t always translate to good results, and there are probably just as many bad YouTube mechanic videos as there are good ones. In M9X Engine Assembly, the presenter is an expert with experience building hundreds of M96 and M97 engines, which apply to all Porsche 911s (excluding Turbo, GT3, and GT2), Boxsters, and Caymans from model years 1997-2008. I was comfortable taking the information I would learn at face value.

Fortunately I had a sense of what to expect from Raby, as PCA filmed a video series in which he explained the intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing, its problems, and its fixes. In that series, he was adept at taking complicated systems and breaking them down into more easily understood bits of information. With this in mind, I fired up the DVD player and started the first episode of the box set, “Crankshaft Carrier Assembly Part 1,” hoping I wouldn’t be lost by the end.

When I completed the first episode, I couldn’t wait to start the next one, which would finish the assembly of the crankshaft carrier. I learned something I hadn’t known before and was convinced that, as I progressed through the series, I would have a much greater understanding about how all the individual parts work as a system.

It took me two full weekend days to watch everything — that’s 17 episodes of a complete engine rebuild of a M97 engine plus three supplemental episodes covering subjects specific to five-chain M96 engines. Raby went step by step in exhaustive detail, using his experience teaching engine building classes to explain and sometimes re-explain processes. Each stage, or episode, of the build completes a mini milestone of assembly and allows viewers to take in information at a digestible rate. The other benefit of this approach is proper tool management. Each stage often requires a unique combination of tools, which are neatly laid out and explained before that episode’s assembly begins. Compartmentalizing each stage of the build process helps with organization, keeping tools and parts out of the picture until they’re needed. Many of the tools used are common in the average home garage, and Raby makes an effort to show us processes that involve the least amount of specialty tools possible — except when it’s safer to use them. For example, I would definitely use a bore scope when installing bank 2 pistons and to make sure I’ve installed the wrist-pin circlips properly, and the special camshaft locking tool for use when setting timing.

By the end of the series, a completed M97 flat six was affixed to the engine stand, and I oddly felt a sense of accomplishment in spite of not having turned a single wrench. I’ll attribute that to the knowledge I gained from watching the build. Having been around Porsches for my whole life and produced content about them for a decade, I have had only a vague sense of how an M9X engine works, not a detailed view of how all its parts go together from the crankshaft to the cylinder heads. The common problem areas of this engine series — IMS bearing, rear main seal leaks, air-oil separator failures — all have greater meaning to me now as well.

If I were to be given a choice on whether to purchase a factory manual to rebuild a M9X engine or use this M9X Engine Assembly series, I’d choose the latter. A factory manual, like all books, may tell you the official ways to build an engine, but it can’t show you how to build one like these DVDs can. Furthermore, this series goes well beyond the average YouTube mechanic video: It is a complete guide to an engine rebuild and doesn’t leave out any single step, right down to what type of assembly lubricant or grease works best for the job at hand. One thing to note is that Raby’s build process deviates from the factory manual on a few occasions, but these deviations have been learned through experience, tested, and are meant to either make a particular step easier or, more importantly, offer more protection from mistakes, which can lead to catastrophic engine failure. At the least, for the fledgling mechanic who’s decided to build one of these engines, I would consider Focus On: M9X Engine Assembly a required tool. For the seasoned engine builder, it could be a refreshing source of information that may present new processes to employ.

For the casual viewer, however, there’s one thing that will factor into whether it’s a smart purchase: the price. Just as it’s probably not a great idea to spend hundreds of dollars on a Porsche factory workshop manual if you’re not going to work on your car, I can’t recommend spending $629 on the M9X Engine Assembly box set unless you plan to rebuild your engine yourself or have an obsessive interest in all things about these Porsches. That said, if I hadn’t watched this video, I wouldn’t consider rebuilding an engine for my Cayman. Now that I’ve seen it done on my TV screen, I might attempt an engine rebuild in the future. If you’re mechanically inclined and are pretty sure you’ll rebuild your engine down the line, then consider M9X Engine Assembly as homework. Watch it once, maybe twice to familiarize yourself and gain some confidence before starting the work.

M9X Engine Assembly is not aimed at the novice hobby mechanic. With this in mind, please note the box set leaves some crucial steps out that don’t have anything to do with engine building. Gathering parts for the build is largely left up to you. Though Raby provides valuable insight with regards to some parts, his focus is almost purely on assembly. The series also won’t tell you how to disconnect and drop the engine from your car, how to disassemble the engine, how to catalog parts removed during disassembly, or how to install the flat six back into your car. I will venture as far to say that leaving out these pre- and post-rebuild steps was likely an intentional decision by Raby and his crew. After all, if you’re considering rebuilding your engine, you should be comfortable and competent enough to remove, disassemble, and install it.

The bottom line: Focus On: M9X Engine Assembly is an invaluable tool for those who plan to rebuild their engine. For everybody else, it’s a new way to learn about the M9X series of engines, but not required viewing.

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