Series 1 XKE Starter grinding when starting

I actually posted this in an old thread so I’m starting a new one to refreshen the potential responses.

I have a '65 XKE. I had to replace my flywheel ring gear because teeth had been grinded off in places. That’s probably why I got the car for cheap, haha. I just did an engine rebuild and the starter will sometimes grind. I read the electrical books and here is my understanding about how the solenoid works: When you initially hit the start button the solenoid will pull its lever and push the starter gear forward…It will ALSO energize the starter a little to allow the gear to slip into the teeth of the ring gear. ONLY THEN should the solenoid allow full power to the starter to crank the flywheel. Well, if your starter is “grinding” it may be that the solenoid is allowing to fully crank the starter before the gear can slowly engage the ring gear. Right??? I have found that short of removing the starter (what a pain), one can first hit the starter button real fast and you will hear a “clunk”. This allows the gear to align with the ring gear. Then, you again push the starter button and the solenoid gear will correctly engage the ring gear and crank the engine without all the grinding. Is this “kicking the can” down the road?? YES. But it works, haha, without pulling the starter out of the car and repairing the reason why the solenoid isn’t doing it job correctly. My question to the group is this: How do you get the solenoid to do its job correctly? i.e. it isn’t slowly turning the engine as it is engaging the ring gear, and THEN putting the starter on full power to crank the engine. Or am I just crazy?

The starter may be just a little bit too close to the flywheel. I would try to just loosen the starter bolts just a little and try to wiggle it out away from the flywheel as much as you can. Tighten back up and see if it changes for the better.

I’ll try that when the weather gets warmer. My garage is an ice chest. Still, after just hitting the starter button real fast it aligns the starter gear with the ring gear. Then the second push of the starter button smoothly cranks the engine and it starts. Why do you think that is?

I would only be guessing why but that grinding noise cant be good. Maybe the starter bolts are a little loose and it is wandering around a little bit?

Stan, I am not sure your understanding is correct. You make it sound as if the starter has some sort of two speeds, it does not.
The 4.2’s use a positive engagement starter. When the starter button is pressed, the solenoid is energized. The solenoid then moves the lever to push the starter pinion into the ring gear. The starter is not yet turned on. The pinion gear teeth ideally will mesh with the ring gear. The teeth are beveled to help the teeth slide together. However, there are times the teeth will butt up and not slide together. At this point, the lever continues to move in but the pinion gear is spring loaded on the starter shaft and so it stops against the teeth but not engaged. At about the time the lever reaches its stop, the solenoid also has moved the electrical contacts together and now the starter motor starts to turn. If the pinion teeth had engaged completely, great and now the engine turns over. If the pinion gear had just butted up against the ring gear, now as the starter motor turns, the pinion gear spring will push the pinion the rest of the way into the ring gear and the engine turns over.

What is happening in your case? Well, history says there has been a lot of mixing and matching of starter motors and ring gears over the years, and when the matching is poor, you will get issues like you have. There are threads here on JL on how to make some measurements to see if yours is correct and if you may need a spacer or not, etc.

If yours is matched properly, then I would ask what condition your starter is in. What can happen is the pinion can butt up against the ring gear, then the starter begins to spin, however, if the pinion is sticking on the starter motor shaft either because of dirt or worn spots, the spring may not push the pinion in the rest of the way into the ring gear teeth, but instead the spinning teeth just “skip” over the ring gear teeth, not engaging. Letting off and retrying can cram the teeth together the next time and it may work.

So, at this stage I would guess you have a mis match, or loose or mis aligned as suggested by Kris, or a worn starter/pinion shaft.
Good luck!


Hi Stan…ensure that your starter has the spigot plate fitted between it and the bellhouseing…its a plate approx 1/8in thick… without it the starter will grind…note that ring dowles hold the plate in position on the bellhouseing…Steve

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Steve, I definitely remember putting the spacer in when I installed the starter (when the engine was sitting on the floor.) I think I’ll try loosening the starter, jiggling it around and retightening. Then see if it makes a difference. I can do this without pulling the whole starter out. Also, I noticed that my starter has an adjustment bolt/nut on the side (as described in the shop manual) which has to do with adjusting the “throw” of the solenoid shaft (I think). I probably need to make it throw more forcefully forward toward the ring gear.

To adjust the “throw” on the starter solenoid I’m going to have to remove the starter, which I wanted to avoid. I’ll save this job for when the weather warms, if nothing else works. It’s a hateful job to remove the starter, under the best conditions, let alone when it is 30 degrees F.

Tom, I got that idea about the two circuits inside the solenoid from a British Cars Electrical book (a nice one that describes wire color coding, et al, regarding electrical systems) that was describing how some of the British solenoids work. I wasn’t just hypothesizing out of thin air. The E-type probably does not. My starter has an adjustment bolt/nut assembly on the side of the solenoid which is described in the shop manual for the e-type. I probably need to err on increasing the throw more than it is. Regardless (when/if I remove the starter) I’ll tell you if that works or not. I do believe that my starter gear and the ring gear are properly matched. I think the solenoid is just not pushing the gear into the ring gear forcefully enough before the torque from the starter kicks in. It works perfectly (all the time) when I give the starter button a quick push and the solenoid aligns the gear with the ring gear. Then the second push smoothly turns the engine over and starts. No strange noises at all.

Kris, the “grinding” noise is the starter gear teeth hitting against the tooth/teeth on the ring gear. I’m pretty certain it is because the starter gear hasn’t seated into the ring gear. When I first just tap the starter button quickly and then push it a second time, both gears engage perfectly and the engine cranks over smoothly. Most things (I have found) that go wrong are usually simple issues. I just hate removing the starter…It is a hateful job…when the engine is in the car… I know that if I don’t solve this issue, the starter gear will actually grind away teeth on the flywheel, tooth by tooth…Yikes! I think the starter gear is a greater hardness than the flywheel ring gear teeth.

Stan, I would be interested to see if what you read it actually different or maybe a different way of saying a similar process. Could you direct me to the article? I am always interested in new things. I am currently not aware of a “two speed starter” I will also recheck my literature to see if I missed something.

There are no two speed starters, nor the need.

Hi Stan…i assuming you purchased this with the damage and the grinding…so getting back to basic…what do you have…its a 4.2 engine…is it a 4.2 bellhouseing… and a 4.2 flywheel…and a 4.2 starter motor…how many teeth on your flywheel…Steve

The car came (30 years ago) with teeth on the flywheel ground off. I had a new 133 tooth ring gear (from XKs Unlimited I think) put on the flywheel. The '65 4.2 is a number’s matching original and I believe (not 100%, but high up there) that this is the original starter. Engine, head, trans, diff, all original to the car. The starter spins before the solenoid has time to engage the starter gear with the ring gear. When I do a first quick starter button push it gets the alignment set up (at least it seems to do this and it works all the time). The second long push of the starter button starts the engine as it should normally. Otherwise, it is hit or miss if the gears engage when I do a long first button push. There is an adjustment nut on the side of the starter/solenoid assembly which I think may adjust the throw of the solenoid level. It is shown in the green XKE shop manual. Has anyone played around with this adjustment to see if it affects the gear meshing process?


I don’t think I said there was a “two-speed starter”. Some of the British starter/solenoid assemblies have an electrical configuration which allows the starter to begin an initial attenuated rotation as the starter gear and flywheel ring gear engage. This configuration is described in the book, “Classic British Car Electrical Systems.” If you would like a direct quotation I’ll get it for you.

I would be interested in what Rick Astley said about how a solenoid can energize the starter a little.

Stan, we all read things differently in our own mind, but this statement sounds like there is a low power speed, then a high powered speed determined by the solenoid providing power at different levels to the starter motor. As I said, I doubt if that is accurate and I am not familiar with any such system. Again, as i said, the starter motor should not be starting to turn electrically until the pinion is engaged, or at least the shift lever had moved the whole way.

Again, IMO, you have one of two issues. Miss matched parts or a worn/dirty starter motor assembly. The adjusting screw is to adjust the stop point of the pinion. I doubt it is the issue, but sure, give it a try.

IMO, your two step starting procedure is simply pounding and slightly spinning the pinion into the ring gear and causing a slight movement of the pinion so next time it will engage completely. It should engage completely on its own on the first try.

Alternately, I think the auto. tranny ring gear has one more or less teeth, which would cause a problem.

I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs.
But I trust dogs who don’t like people.

I was also, looked it up and Stan is correct!
What Astley is saying is that when starter motor solenoid is first engaged, the solenoid, as we know, has a pull in coil and a hold in coil. Astley does not use those terms, he says high and low current coils. So when first energized and BOTH coils are active, we know the pull in coil is grounded through the starter motor. So the current going through the pull in coil is going through the starter motor and thus there is some current, but not full current through the starter motor and thus the starter motor is possibly turning at a low speed to help engagement. Then, when the solenoid contacts close, full power is to the starter motor.

So Stan did indeed read it properly. I have never seen another description of the sequence in the same manner. My limited testing never indicated this “low” power speed, and I somewhat doubt if it is really relevant as it happens so quickly. But accurate or not, Stan did read it properly.

I do not see that influencing his troubleshooting needs.

If the solenoid is grounded via the starter, and not in series with the windings, the motor sees no current.