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Old 30-08-2012, 09:17   #1
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Universal Engine, Gas vs Diesel etc.

I've read here somewhere that a Universal gas engine always seems to need to be worked on. What do you guys say?
I guess Universal & Atomic Four are the same basic engine?
Now I have noted that Universal also built a diesel engine. Is that one any good, or will it be plagued with the same problems?
All information on these subjects is appreciated.
-Bruce
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Old 30-08-2012, 11:12   #2
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My direct experience is that the Universal marinizations of Kubota engines are to be avoided. The Kubota portions are fine. The Universal work is shoddy and parts expensive.

Many better engines are avaiable: Beta, Yanmar, others.
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Old 30-08-2012, 11:36   #3
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We had a Universal in the Catalina, and it was fine. It needed a heat exchanger after 25+ years. I pulled it out and sold it to a guy who slapped it in his Catalina, and he's still puttering around with it. There's no need to buy Universal parts, just about everything can be cross referenced to either Kubota or another OEM.

Look, it's an engine. It's hundreds of parts, lots of them moving, with narrow tolerances, most made of metal, in a corrosive environment. It's going to take work. If you want easy, go electric :-). We've recently bought a boat with a fine motor, and it's been hours and hours of work just trying to catch up with the deferred maintenance. Heck, I didn't realize I was supposed to retorque all the bolts every 50 hours. But it's in the manual. Oil changes, filter changes, fluid changes, belts, impellers, pumps, zincs, it all takes maintenance, i.e. work...

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Old 30-08-2012, 13:11   #4
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Re: Universal Engine, Gas vs Diesel etc.

You might post your question at catalinaowners.com forum. Many Catalinas came with Universal diesels. My 1986 Universal has failed to start once in 14 years and that was a result of a shorted glow plug that damaged some wiring. Very reliable, not as quiet as a Yanmar. I have bought two parts for this engine: a glow plug and a water pump">raw water pump. Still has the original alternator, starter, fresh water pump, heat exchanger and electric fuel pump. I did have the injectors rebuilt at 1100 hours about 10 years ago. Simple and reliable.
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Old 30-08-2012, 13:30   #5
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Re: Universal Engine, Gas vs Diesel etc.

Aloha and welcome!
Atomic 4 gas engines were the best thing going about 50 years ago and boat yard mechanics stayed busy keeping them running. Gas is quite a bit more dangerous aboard your boat because the fumes can ignite. A bilge blower to clear the fumes out of the boat was necessary before starting the engine.
Here are the reasons the Atomic 4 kept mechanics in buisiness, it has ignition points and plug wires (diesels don't have), it has spark plugs (diesels don't have) and the carbs needed occasional adjusting (diesels don't have).
If you are good gas engine maintainer from the old days when there wasn't a lot of electronics on cars then you'll be able to keep an old Atomic 4 running.
kind regards,
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Old 31-08-2012, 19:03   #6
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Re: Universal Engine, Gas vs Diesel etc.

I also currently have a boat with an Atomic 4 in it. It was rebuilt in 2009. However, I am planning a long cruise with the boat and would also like to know if I should replace it with a diesel. I was thinking either a Yanmar or Westerbeke. Which would you guys recomend? Both from a power standpoint, maitanece standpoint and fuel consumption standpoint.
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Old 31-08-2012, 19:15   #7
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Re: Universal Engine, Gas vs Diesel etc.

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I also currently have a boat with an Atomic 4 in it. It was rebuilt in 2009. However, I am planning a long cruise with the boat and would also like to know if I should replace it with a diesel. I was thinking either a Yanmar or Westerbeke. Which would you guys recomend? Both from a power standpoint, maitanece standpoint and fuel consumption standpoint.
Beta Marine. Uses a standard Kubota block as the starting point. Good engines, great service and support from the company.
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Old 31-08-2012, 19:43   #8
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Re: Universal Engine, Gas vs Diesel etc.

Medalist Marine made about 40,000+ marine gas engines over 50+ years under the Universal Atomic 4, Blujacket and other names. They required little maintence or service until lead was outlawed and finaly ethenol was forced into the fuel supply. Any issues with these venerable tractor based simple flat head engines is fuel related.

Westerbeke bought the brand and started selling Kabota based diesels under that brand. (Think Chevy/ Cadillac) They use this for the lower HP. Their higher line is Mitsubishi based.

The original gas blocks are no longer available and this has sprouted a nice rebuild community.

Beta Marine has a nice replacment Kabota based unit that fits in the narrow mounts the Atomic 4 used. (11.5" or so) Worth a look.

If I had an atomic 4 that worked I would likely keep it. If It needed replacement I would opt for a diesel for all the right reasons. No Fumes, No ethenol, Cheaper insurance, Longivity, Resale value.

Hope that helps...
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Old 31-08-2012, 19:46   #9
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Re: Universal Engine, Gas vs Diesel etc.

Kevin, How long, Where?
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Old 31-08-2012, 20:02   #10
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Re: Universal Engine, Gas vs Diesel etc.

Planning a two year cruise. Its several years away at this point to give me a chance to update my boat. But I'm planning to go up the US East Coast, cross the Atlantic to Ireland, then to England, France and Portugal. Go down into the Med and go to Gibralter, Malta, Scilly, Italy, the French Riveria, Croatia and Turkey. Possibly Israel and Egypt (depending on saftey at that point). Then back out into the Atlantic, down to Morroco then across to Brazil (hopefully in time for Carnival) and then up to Cental America, Mexico and the Caribbean and finally home again.
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Old 31-08-2012, 20:26   #11
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Wink Re: Universal Engine, Gas vs Diesel etc.

Pretty agressive schedule but the Alberg 35 is a worthy boat. Given the trip lenghth and where you are going a diesel would make sense. Milage under power alone would make sense. Lots of options out there. Just remember that when fitting a diesel they are normally 17 -18" wide on the mounts. The old Universal gas engines are only about 11.5". You should consider building and glassing in new mounts as part of the refit if you put in a diesel This simply allows better load on the hull and the original mounts were not designed for the weight or torque of diesel.

Beta has a nice conversion that fits (Close enough) the original mounts.

Go for it
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Old 31-08-2012, 20:51   #12
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Re: Universal Engine, Gas vs Diesel etc.

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Planning a two year cruise. Its several years away at this point to give me a chance to update my boat. But I'm planning to go up the US East Coast, cross the Atlantic to Ireland, then to England, France and Portugal. Go down into the Med and go to Gibralter, Malta, Scilly, Italy, the French Riveria, Croatia and Turkey. Possibly Israel and Egypt (depending on saftey at that point). Then back out into the Atlantic, down to Morroco then across to Brazil (hopefully in time for Carnival) and then up to Cental America, Mexico and the Caribbean and finally home again.
WOW! Sounds like a GREAT trip in store. I think it will be lots of fun when you make it to England & Europe.
-Bruce
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Old 31-08-2012, 20:54   #13
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Re: Universal Engine, Gas vs Diesel etc.

Yeah, me too. Give me a chance to explore my roots. I've been able to trace my ancestry back to the 800s and all my family is from England and Normandy, so I'm really looking forward to seeing areas where my ancestors are from.
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Old 31-08-2012, 21:22   #14
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Re: Universal Engine, Gas vs Diesel etc.

If you're going to sail that far, you might consider visiting some of the Scandinavian Countries as well.
And to stay on topic, I think I would prefer the diesel for that sort of trip.
-Bruce
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Old 31-08-2012, 21:47   #15
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Re: Universal Engine, Gas vs Diesel etc.

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I also currently have a boat with an Atomic 4 in it. It was rebuilt in 2009. However, I am planning a long cruise with the boat and would also like to know if I should replace it with a diesel. I was thinking either a Yanmar or Westerbeke. Which would you guys recomend? Both from a power standpoint, maitanece standpoint and fuel consumption standpoint.
Another vote for the Beta. They build "drop-in" replacements for the Atomic 4 that fit those motor mounts. A benefit is that all the "consumables" are grouped in the front.

I own a self-rebuilt Atomic 4 in a '73 Viking 33 I use in Lake Ontario. Short-haul, head to wind stuff. It's great for that, because it isn't affected by ten minute run-times.

I am installing a Beta 60 in a 1988 steel cutter for passagemaking purposes. Entirely different game plan! Diesel is a must for range, but once running, they prefer to stay running until thoroughly warmed up.
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