Lister Problems and Fixes, and some nice things to know about these engines. I have not found a site that talks to the little quirks of this design, and I am hoping that my experience and those of our readers will help us build some useful tips.   This page will be added to as we learn more in our usual random wandering way.   Remember that the following is for educational purposes only, open flywheel engines are dangerous and should never be run.

5/20/03  Oil slobbering, see first run Page

April 2003,

I have found several tappets that do not turn freely, it's very easy to pull the tappets and guides and check the tappet face for finish, and see that it turns freely in the guide, these are checks I make on any new engines.

Governor/Speed  Jan 4, 2003

There have been a few reports of poor governor performance in Lister power plants.   I noted a problem in the first 6/1 ST combination where the power plant didn't seem to use all of the throttle rack, since the engine was carrying all the load I had expected and maybe more, I didn't pay too much attention the first time I saw this problem.

Then I got an email from Southern England asking if I had seen a problem with the Governor in Indian built machines? The writer went on to explain that they had seen this problem in a few of the British built machines. To shorten the story, the governor doesn't seem to respond when loads are dropped or increased. One can adjust spring pressure to cover light loads adequately, but if a big load comes along, the governor doesn't seem to be able to open the rack far enough to cover this load. Is it a lack of range in movement, or is it a lack of mass in the flywheel weights?

After checking a number of Indian Listers, I have noted a potential problem that manifests itself exactly as described above. Fortunately, an improvement may be had in   about 5 minutes. This problem has been confirmed by me in two different machines, there's a chance you'll encounter it as well.

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Note items 25 (governor upper lever) and part 27 (eye end)

Part 27 is attached via a pin to the fuel rack of the injection pump. It travels on the horizontal. Part number 25 travels in an arc causing part 25 to move downward as the fuel rack opens, and upward as the fuel rack closes.

IF the hole drilled in part 25 is not properly chamfered at both ends, parts 25 and 27 will bind causing the rack to freeze and not open or close all the way. This will act exactly like a lazy governor.  You can check your linkage by removing if from the governor lever end and moving it up and down looking for any sign of binding, but it is possible you won't see the problem.  The best way to look for it, is to remove parts 25 and 27 and run them back and forth in your hand putting a slight side load on part 25 as you go. You'll feel it bind... better yet,  just chamfer the darned thing and polish up the pin on 25, grease it up and put it back on.

As an added measure, I would use molly grease or something slick and water proof.

If you have an older machine, I would pull these pieces, clean them in solvent and re-apply a moly grease, or graphite, It is possible that dirt and grit could cause the same symptoms.

One last note, the Lister 12/2 has two of these, if they aren't chamfered, clean, and well lubed, the cylinders might not work together as planned.

More on governor Linkage, Jan 5, 2003

Look at parts 22, 23, 24  this makes up a section of linkage that can contribute to binding.  If one tightens the jam nut on the linkage with no regard for a proper alignment of the eyes, this part can act as a torsion bar and contribute to binding problems. Another noteworthy condition is the paint that is liberally applied to the linkage on Indian machines. It is my practice to remove the linkage from each machine and clean the paint from the entire linkage, apply some WD40 and refit it.  Another potential problem is the long cotter pin that is found in part 28 connecting the injection pump to the linkage.   It is possible that the tails are long enough to cause interference with the injector body. Take some side cutters and trim the tails off this cotter pin.

Sluggish Throttle, Jan 6, 2003, Steve Gray has experience with both singles and twins and suggests that people pay close attention to anything that might cause binding in the linkage. In addition, Steve has noted that too much or too heavy of lube on the racks themselves (inside the injection pump) will cause the throttling to be sluggish.

March 2003,  It is now my opinion that Lister governors are just not as good as the German designed Asian diesels. The governors are far less complex, and far less sensitive. You can get good RPM control, but NOT from 'No Load' to 'Heavy Loads'.

Picture above is the Lister 6/1 governor. Here you see an assembly with this extra machine work. I have seen two cams that have not been machined out in this area. The finger that fits into the sleeve is straight cut and the contact area changes from the inside to the rim of the sleeve as the flyweights travel thru the arc. Does this make any difference in operation? At this point I have no clue, but if the point of contact changes, is there some fulcrum effect that comes into play and modifies the intended relationship between spring and the force that the fly weights exert? At this time, there's only the  question. And if you think it matters, one could easily dress the end of the finger with a chain saw file and sand paper to provide this feature.

A note on Cam removal. If you have the six spoke flywheel, you can remove the cam without removing the flywheel. This is most likely true of other flywheels, but if you don't have a hole large enough in the wheel, and enough area to tilt at an angle as you remove it, you're in trouble. On the standard CS 6/1 clones, you can have the complete cam/governor assembly out and on the bench in 10 minutes. This is a real nice feature, getting that gib pin out of the flywheel is a bigger challenge for people. for me, I would pass on any Listeroid variant, that required the flywheel to be pulled to service the cam.

Here's some more on governor/cam assembly, and how to remove it.


Crank Handle

Listers start easy and with little problems,

But, if you are new to this engine it can be intimidating at first, try the following to build your confidence. Place your crank handle on the crank shaft, study the detent, spring, and keeper. Take it apart and clean, de-burr, and lube all pieces. Place the handle back on the crank and note the inward side. This face should be smooth and free of any casting marks. If it's not flat and smooth dress it on a grinder and make it that way. This will prevent the handle from hanging up on the gib key and whipping around after a start, .....sure you'd have to be drinking to push the handle that far inward, but it could be someone else that does it.  Another note, don't let go of the handle after the engine starts unless there's some sort of resistance to your effort. Hold on to it and walk it off the crank, and start this process as soon as it fires.  You must clean the inside of the ring and apply some graphite, rub it into the metal with a paper towel, this will make it slick and build your confidence that it's not going to bind or stick when you're walking it off the crank. Also, remove that paint off the starting side of the crank shaft and apply some more graphite. Once you've started a Lister 5 or six times, all your worries leave, but remember the importantance of keeping the surfaces clean, and well lubed. It's an easy engine to start. but you don't do it with loose fitting clothing, or without a common sense approach. 

The start handle is not designed to be fool proof, and the fit and finish of start handles I've seen puts them in the 'KIT' class. That is, you have all the parts necessary to build a proper start handle, but you need to take time to smooth down the critical dimensions and remove the ragged edges. As a final warning... I am surrounded by people who should NEVER start a Lister. They should never be allowed near a running open flywheel engine. Fact is,  these are the same individuals that should never set foot on your property, because they have been raised victims and believe that they have no personal responsibility for their own safety, it is the rest of the world that is responsible for their welfare. 

Did you notice the push rods are slightly difference sizes? you will if you mix them up.

A note on the head gasket. Some folks like to take the head off and check the valves, lap them in, check for carbon deposits, etc.  I know a few guys that buy cheap aluminum paint and use it to lightly coat both sides of gaskets like the ones found on this engine. they clean them up with soap and water first. One person claims he's reused the same gasket a number of times doing this. If you ruin a gasket, email me, I have a few gasket kits for these engines.

2/23/2003  Leaking head gasket ????  Lister 6/1#2 has been torqued and re-torqued (160 ft pounds) after running it for some hours with a load and a 190-195 degree water temp at the top of the head. Several days later I noticed there were a few drops of coolant that squeezed out between the head and top of the cylinder on both sides of the head.  I have seen this before (different engine), and I'm fairly confident it is because of the composite nature of the head gasket. The gasket is made of an alloy sandwich with a material that looks something like asbestos sandwiched in between, maybe .060" or thicker. 

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The above head gasket is stamped 5/1, Rasik,  I've pulled the alloy up away from the inner sandwich material so you can see, the alloy on the bottom is identical. Notice the distance from the coolant passages  to the side of the block.  If you were to buy one of these engines that was all painted up after it was put together, you MIGHT see blisters (under the paint) where the coolant was leaking through the composite material and think you had major trouble after a run or two. Note the fire ring around the cylinder hole in the gasket, this will stop all 'wicking' into the combustion chamber.

For those of us that expect our engines to look like show pieces, this could be unacceptable.

I have used acrylic floor wax for unconventional fixes before, and I thought I'd give it a try here. This stuff waterproofs material quite well, If you want to know how well, soak a shop rag in the stuff, ring it out and hang it up for a day or two, then try and wash it out. I took a dry gasket and peeled back the outer metal to expose the sandwich material. Next I poured an ounce of floor wax into a little bowl and used a small paint brush to apply it. This material acted exactly like an ink blotter and soaked up the floor wax like crazy!  I think this is a good sign that we've identified the problem, but proof is in the testing.

March 24, 2003, after tearing down a test engine to examine the piston and rings, I fitted the engine with a new head gasket treated with the acrylic floor wax, it has now been run a number of times and it's been allowed to cool between runs. This made an amazing difference, the head gasket now performs like you would expect, no more weeping or wicking.

November 2007, another source of troubles in head gasket leaks and failures is cylinder liner protrusion, these often set up too proudly, and it creates an area around the liner that is NOT in full compression and can allow water to travel. We should always measure how high the liner sticks up, and address the problem IF it's too high. 


I've mentioned elsewhere that I found a tappet that was not rotating properly in several Metro engines. It was the intake tappet. Checking out Listergen6/1#2, I noted that the intake side tappet had stopped rotating after a few hours of running. I decided to pull the tappet and investigate.  I had a second set of eyes check this out, and Randy Allmand decided to try polishing  the face of the tappet and polishing the oiling cut where the tappet runs in the guide. Randy accomplished this work by chucking up the tappet in the lathe and working the face with various emery papers and some kind of diamond dust and wax stick.

After reinstalling the tappet (less than 5 minute job), it rotated just fine! At this time, I think it was the cut (oiling groove) that may have been a little rough, this might have caused some interference and prevented the tappet from rotating. Upon re-assembly, I painted a white dot on both tappets so I could quickly note that they were rotating properly.

I continue to learn more about tappets and tappet guides, here's a page I've started. 



If you have a new engine, make sure you keep the oil level low during the 'break in' period. Take the door off, and check that the dipper (on the rod cap) is meeting the oil knife edge, try running the unit with the dipper one half inch into the oil. If you have doubts about effective oiling, take the dip stick out while it's running, if it blows oil all over your shop, you'll know there's plenty of oiling. High oil levels can overwhelm the new engine's ability to control all this oil till the rings seat. The high oil level may actually prevent the seating. Some of us who are researching this slobber problem believe that maintenance is often a hit and miss thing, and the manufacturer has marked dip sticks on the over full side to protect the engine.  If you look at the dip stick, you might notice that there's plenty of reserve capacity below the very end of the dip stick even when it's screwed all the way in. I'm sure this allows the engine manufacturer to point the finger at the operator and ask how long he ran it with no oil on the stick?  For those of us who are after efficiency, remember that high oil levels also consume energy. If you've ever seen pictures of what goes on in a crank case at engine speed, it looks like a huge taffy pull, where the oil is whipped around following the crankshaft.  Running lower oil levels and checking your oil level more often can give you a higher fuel economy. This is just another test we need to conduct, if we run the engine at the very bottom of the stick versus the top mark, what will the difference in fuel consumption at a specified output be? I'd bet a cup of coffee there's a measurable difference in this engine, maybe even a significant difference. Once you have a 100 hours on your engine, try raising the oil level and monitor the slobber.

11/2003  I have a Lister 6/1 with gen head sitting out in a field in Easton, WA. The engine has went thru several heavy rain storms and squirts some water out of the muffler when I start it. The area in the top of the head also fills with water, this happens because the valve cover is not drip proof and actually channels water into this area. It is best to keep a cover over the Lister when it's not in use. Too bad some Indian hasn't seen the need to make a drip proof valve cover, seems it would be a fairly easy thing to do. For the time being, I put a square Tupperware basin over top of the valve cover to allow it to shed water... everything else on the engine seems to stand up to the elements, although I know it would be far happier under cover.

03-2005 Jeff Maier contributed an interesting observation, Jeff made use of a standard 30 weight oil and found that he was able to go about 500 hours before he got close to using a quart. He then tired a multi viscosity oil, and found that oil usage went way up. Once he returned the the standard weight oil, the oil consumption problem went away. We have learned that this is NOT the case in all engines.


Cam Gear Failures

As of this date, I have heard of five gear failures in the cam gear train, (all brands I have researched) If you have looked you'll see there's three, a small gear on the crank, another on the cam, and an the intermediate gear bringing  it all together. Often the idler takes most of the damage.... why ??? If you find yourself with no timing marks established, and don't know how to re-time read on!

5/21/05 Bob Anderson sends key information to help solve a timing gear problem noted in Indian Made timing gears from a specific foundry.


Above, here's a picture of the idler gear sent to me by Robert Anderson, a first class DIYer and Off grid type. Failure occurred at 55 hours of service.

Here's a second gear that failed in less than 200 hours service in Independence OR. 

Here we see a third example of a timing idler gear from Texas, failed at 140 hours

If you are not blind or stupid, you probably noticed the timing marks punched into this cast gear.  India thought they were doing us a favor, as many gears are not marked in India. This punch mark created a stress riser that eventually caused a crack to develop, at some point the whole tooth left the gear, after that, it was a matter of one complete rotation of the crank gear for all hell to break loose, and teeth start leaving the idler gear.  The cam gear is sometimes damaged as well, and in rare occurrences, the crank gear is damaged too.

I have asked that the manufacturer use a drill bit to create a divot near the gear tooth versus using a die or punch. I have researched the types of gears and materials used, and most gear people agree that good service can be provided by cast iron gears, and that the square cut gears are strong.  Harold Spanski looked at the design and said that he thought you'd need a serious defect of some kind, and that he thought the gears could be made of some really plain cast, and still provide a decent service interval, this was before we had collected enough data to know that the first tooth to leave the gear was always next to the punch mark, and this validates what Harold had originally stated, in this case, the manufacturer has supplied a serious defect!  I expect that more of these gears will fail in service, and it will take a bit to find out how many of these gears were punched, and what engines we might find them in.

I want to thank Bob Anderson, Shelby Howell, Bob Colbertson, Steven Ribero, Cal Giordano, Mohammad Matbouei, JB Shah, Joel Koch, Harold Spanski, Stan Spanski, Randy Allmand, and others I forgot to mention that provided examples of failures, or helped to determine the probability of the root cause of the failure.  As many of us have learned, all problems seem simple once we discover the cause, and few things are accomplished without the help of others. There may be other problems with these gears, but I'd bet money they'd still be turning had they not been punch marked!

George B.       


Another method of timing the cam, no marks in gears required!

As of this date, I have heard of several engines that have lost their timing due to a gear failure, some of the engines have stover wheels and it may be difficult to use the previous method, here’s one that will work, but you will need to do some basic math and you’ll need a dial indicator and a magnetic base or other mount for the dial indicator.

Bob Colbertson of Independence Oregon told me that Mechanics often use the valve open at .020 thousands off it’s seat as a refeerence spot, he furthermore explained that trying to catch a valve just opening is not as accurate as picking a spot a know distance off the valve seat. I spent some time rocking the engine and quickly proved this thinking sound.

Here’s the steps

      Find top dead center , make a mark, and establish a pointer.

      Measure the circumference of the flywheel carefully with a small gauge wire or a string. 

      Carefully measure the string and note the circumference.

      Convert you measurement to 16ths of an inch (Measurement*16)

      Divide this by 360 to get the number of units per degree, multiply by  20 and use this distance to establish your timing mark at 20 degrees BFTDC.

      With the idler gear removed, set the flywheel to 20 degrees BeforeTDC, and place a wedge under the flywheel or other wise lock it in position.

      Put a dial gauge on the top of the rocker end exactly over the top of the valve stem, adjust the gauge to read zero.

      Remove the left cam cover, and grip the collar with a set of vice grips.

      Turn the cam in the direction of rotation, (same as normal crank rotation) note the spot where the exhaust valve is closing and the intake valve is just lifting off it’s seat, watch the dial gauge and when it indicates the valve is .020 off it’s seat, slip the idler gear in position.

      Remember one tooth is going to be a bunch one way or the other, so if it doesn’t drop right in, move ever so slightly one way or the other till it does.    

      You should be “in time”. Please provide me feed back on this method. 




 I'm still in Love with Listers, a sound as sweet as country music.

George B.