For many decades now, a myth has spread across the motoring community that, in a pinch, you can use a leather belt as a connecting rod bearing. To test the validity of this claim, our favourite Russian car scientist from YouTube channel Garage 54, Vlad, dropped his crappy Lada Samara’s oil pan, swapped the bearings for some leather, and went on a drive. Here’s how that went.
I’ve heard this myth a thousand times, and to be honest, it’s always sounded a bit like B.S. to me—a fun story to tell around the campfire, but questionable at best when put into practice. The last instance where I heard about someone actually trying it was Rick Pewe on the show Roadkill; He slapped some leather around the crank journal of an old Willys Go-Devil motor, and the results were, uh, rather poor.
So my expectations for this Lada weren’t exactly high.
And that’s a good thing, because Vlad here did not find great success in his endeavour. For one, he could barely get the car started, as the oil-soaked leather belt he used was a bit thick and acted as a band brake on the crankshaft. In time, and after some attempts at push-starting the car in gear, he got the motor running and sounding ok, but after a very short drive, an oil pressure light popped up on the dash, and the engine began knocking loudly. In the video, the car sounds like hell, and believe me, as someone currently dealing with a rod bearing issue, I know what hell sounds like.
Dismantling the bottom end revealed the problem. In the video, Vlad mentions how, when tightening the connecting rod caps, the leather squeezed its way between those caps and the rod itself, yielding a bit of a gap that shouldn’t be there. This, he guesses, could have contributed to one of the caps becoming loose, shooting its leather belt piece out, losing its nut, and bending one of its bolts.
The biggest issue, also illustrated in the aforementioned Roadkill video, was oiling. As the crankshaft turned, it chewed up the leather, which was sucked up by the oil pump pickup and ultimately clogged in the screen. With the engine now now unable to pump oil from the sump, Vlad would have risked seizing the oil-starved motor had he kept this engine running much longer. “Yeah, this doesn’t seem to work all that well,” he concludes.
Though I’ve read about very specific leather-bearing methods yielding some success, for the most, this seems like a bad idea. A huge surprise to all of you, I know.