Transparent Engines Explained: One Kickass Plexiglas Moving Picture

When I first started chatting with Brian King via email over four years ago, the primary topic of discussion was his carbon fiber AWD Cutlass and not his custom Plexiglas projects. Little did I know that I would someday be discussing his creative, yet utterly unorthodox methodologies all over again, but for a very different project entirely.

Yet here we are, and do you know what? I still dig this guy’s approach to blending practicality and keeping an eye on the basics. And while King’s LSX-swapped, 841 horsepower, ProCharger powered Cutlass is equally impressive and purposeful, one-off carbon work and crazy conversions aren’t his only specialty.

Plexiglas Engine_1

Photo Credit: SmarterEveryDay/YouTube

Sure, we loved King’s burnout video, where he roasted a set of tires on DIY wheels that he made entirely out of epoxy. But it’s the topic of today’s article that is arguably his most intriguing feat yet. A V8 engine composed primarily of polycarbonate, complete with a full valvetrain, lubrication, and all of the necessary final touches to either electrically or manually “hand-crank” the motor to put everything into motion.

And while King has documented the construction of the entire project on YouTube, these are primarily a nuts-and-bolts type of two-part installment, with lots of time-lapse action and behind-the-scenes construction work. That’s why, when Destin from the YouTube channel SmarterEveryDay came up to Nebraska to see King’s engine in person, we were thrilled beyond words to get a complete walkthrough from a third-person perspective. And as you shall soon see, there’s more than one good reason why we are so stoked to see these two souls together in one sitting…

Plexiglas Engine_21

King has also built an electric guitar out of epoxy and candy and is currently constructing a full carbon fiber framed car that, you guessed it, he is constructing from scratch in his garage. Photo Credit: SmarterEveryDay/YouTube

Smarter and Clearer Every Day

King started this whole transparent project in his garage back when the pandemic first hit, when he found himself stuck at home with ample time to tinker. Carbon fiber AWD Cutlass long complete, King took to this polycarbonate (aka “Plexiglas”) project with relish, with the results being one of the most brilliant mechanically-inclined teaching aids we have ever encountered.

Since King knew that he could skate by on tolerance levels rivaling that of a freshman at a keg party, a busted 5.3L LS engine was sourced for $50 before being torn apart to determine what was salvageable. Some of the first things to get axed were the intake and exhaust manifolds, which would have not only complicated the polycarbonate production process but also hampered a clear view of the engine’s internals.

Plexiglas Engine_5

King machined a support for the bearing assembly so that both the camshaft and crankshaft could operate on the OE timing system. Photo Credit: SmarterEveryDay/YouTube

As for the reconstruction of the engine itself and all of the Plexiglas work, King utilized a lathe in his garage, as well as various woodworking tools, including saws, sanders, and filing finishers to form the Plexiglas exoskeleton. All of which was carved and constructed in freehand form!

A quick review of his DIY videos will show that King’s steady hand, acute attention to detail, and clever sense of practicality allowed him to first engineer and then machine everything to the point where all of the Plexiglas plates could be removed via the use of a screwdriver and a pry pick.

Not only did this allow him easy access to components for adjustment as needed, but it also allowed viewers to better see and document the internal combustion process on camera. Talk about thinking ahead!

Plexiglas Engine_10

No piston rings were used on this project, as King wanted the engine to move freely and not scratch up the polycarbonate. Photo Credit: SmarterEveryDay/YouTube

One Big Kid Plexiglas LEGO Kit

After disassembling the short block, King set aside all of the LS block’s core components and painstakingly measured the bare block’s dimensions before moving on to the Plexiglas stage. All of the pieces cut, shaved, and fitted together, King set to tackling the crankshaft and making the motor work.

Freehanded from the “oil pan” up, King modified the crankshaft so that the bearing cartridges could easily slide into a notch he had machined into the Plexiglas. This allowed both uninhibited rotation, better viewing, and a superior maintenance access point. On the top end, a similar method was implemented, allowing the camshaft to spin freely on its original LS timing set.

This [engine operation] could not be more clear!—Destin, SmarterEveryDay

After confirming that both the crankshaft and camshaft were spinning in unison at appropriate intervals, King went back to the drawing board for some finishing details. This included the designing and fabrication of a set of lifter support rails so that the pushrods could actually toggle the LS engine’s lifters at the right time thanks to that OE timing set and camshaft. Lifters, pushrods, oil galleries, and other upper-end components could now be easily identified once the top Plexiglas plate was removed.

LED lights were then outfitted on each cylinder to illustrate firing order, all of which have been affixed along an aluminum heatsink. This keeps each light running cool, so that when the engine is plugged in the LED lights don’t burn out, or worse yet, catch fire. A tiny magnet located on the face of the cam gear controls each LED “firing order” by toggling electronic switches located at four different intervals during the camshaft’s rotation. Just like any normal 4-stroke engine combustion cycle!

Plexiglas Engine_14

Naturally, this engine is by no means gasket sealed and leaks oil, internally, left and right, but being that there aren’t really any seals in this thing and it is purely for informational display purposes, King isn’t too worried about this leakage. Photo Credit: SmarterEveryDay/YouTube

 Lights, Camera, Action!

When it’s time to fire this Plexiglas puppy up, the entire system runs on a standard 110V electrical plug. Additionally, the engine can also be hand-cranked by spinning the crankshaft. But unlike an iron block LS engine, King’s Plexiglas engine can spin forward and in reverse. Additionally, King can implement an electric drill to slowly and consistently implement power in controlled amounts for a more easily understandable display.

As the engine moves and air bubbles help you keep track of oil circulation, custom-machined oil galleries up top show how lubrication flows to lifters and things of that nature up in the valvetrain. Being that King knew that he did not need oiling for the entire system — or oil pressure for that matter — the back-end of the engine does not disperse the lubricant, merely allowing it all to drop straight back into the pan.

And yes, there’s a reason why that “oil pan” King built is filled with fluid. To get optimum crankshaft coverage for display purposes King could not use a sump, and so an overfilled pan is used instead. This causes a ridiculous amount of splashing, but that’s alright. At least everything remains well-lubricated.

Plexiglas Engine_12

One interesting closing note is that the strength of the magnet itself occasionally causes a cylinder to “misfire” which was witnessed in the video. Photo Credit: SmarterEveryDay/YouTube

Finally, for those of you looking to skip straight to seeing this engine in action, feel free to jump to the 15:15  mark in the video, where King plugs in the motor and a musical montage ensues. And while we typically don’t suggest watching birthing videos, anyone in search of a little behind-scenes action should definitely check out Part 1 of the Plexiglas engine build, as well as Part 2 of this see-through motor’s construction. Just don’t forget to subscribe and follow, because Brian King’s creativity does indeed deserve more attention.

Article Sources

About the author

Micah Wright

Raised on LEGOs by grandfathers who insisted on fixing everything themselves, Micah has been a petrolhead in training since age four. His favorite past times include craft beer, strong cigars, fast cars, and culinary creativity in all of its forms.
Read My Articles