Series 3 E Type V12 Overheating Fix(es)

Series 3 E Type V 12 overheating had become a chronic problem even when properly tuned and sorted out = until we did the following:

  1. Replaced the factory original radiator core with an aluminum radiator from Wizard Cooling. Radiator shop will do an inspection on the original core.
  2. Replaced the original fans with new higher volume electric fans (retaining the original shroud)
  3. Sealed the top of the shroud across the bonnet - blocking the bypasses to the original air intake snorkels (raising the air pressure forward of the radiator a bit/ increasing air flow)
  4. Ducted the port and starboard fresh air intakes directly into the air cleaners (will add some photos)

Now it runs normal/subnormal temp even hard running.

Glad to hear…my biggest issue was the radiator…I also went with an aluminum radiator and replaced the fans and have not had an issue since…and that is living in Atlanta and driving in traffic with the AC going…JS

The new radiator probably accounts for 90% of the improvement, since all other systems were in good order. Will know more after we inspect the old one.

Years ago my S3 ran hot after engine removal to replace gearbox seals and also engine work done also while it was out. I replaced the radiator with a high quality one, new thermostats etc. but noting really helped. Temp. would spike and then decrease unpredictably. One day I was replacing cooling hoses and discovered that the lower radiator hose was impinging on the front frame, squeezing off 1/3 of its volume. It was almost impossible to see unless working with the hose. The mechanic had shifted the hose forward from the oil cooler mount about 1/2 inch before engine reinstall and that was the problem. There is not much clearance there so word of warning be careful!

Hah. I know that mechanic ! Is he out of jail yet ?

Herewith a concise summary of the most relevant contributing factors to the V12 overheating / running hot. Where needed, further expounding is offered further down.

SUMMARY (This section is again split into PRIMARY and SECONDARY considerations)

PRIMARY CONSIDERATIONS: (In no particular order, except for point 0)

  1. Temp gauge operational
  2. Incorrect physical FORMAT of thermostats;
  3. Thermostats do not open far enough to regulate flow via the bypass circuit;
  4. Temperature rating of thermostats.
  5. Thermostats do not open(or close) at the temp they are supposed to;
  6. Fans don’t come on, or if there are two, only 1 comes on;
  7. Fans don’t turn in the correct direction, or 1 of them don’t;
  8. Fan(s) don’t run as hard as they should;
  9. Radiator blocked with leaves/grass/plastic bag other in front;
  10. Radiator cores blocked/partially blocked;
  11. Inefficient water pump;
  12. Incorrect temp rating of the otter/fan switch.


  1. Incorrect ignition timing;
  2. Excessively rich/lean fueling;


  1. Temperature gauge: Perhaps this ought to be top of the list??? :roll: An entire book can be written on this topic alone. Suffice it to say that the temp gauge, temp sender, wiring, connectors, voltage “stabiliser”, fuses, ignition switch all has to be good. I intend finding the Ohm value that should have the gauge bang smack in the middle as a quick way to check everything except the sender.

  2. Thermostat Format: This means that the thermostats fitted to the car do not have the bypass valve “footplate” (an extra disc on the bottom of the thermostat); Here is the correct FORMAT for the V12:



  1. Thermostat physical movement range:

First some comments on the merits of a bypass route for a cooling system such as fitted to the V12 (and 4.2’s): As the name suggest, the bypass route, allows coolant to bypass the radiator by flowing out the engine, directly back to the intake side of the waterpump. This concept has various benefits: 1) It allows coolant to flow at all times, even when the thermostats are fully closed. By allowing this flow even when the thermostats are closed, it 2) prevents excessive coolant pressure resulting from the water pump “dead heading” against the thermostats (and potentially blowing out the freeze plugs from the block - which I have actually experienced on a Rover V8 engine) and 3) it results in the heat absorbed into the coolant being distributed more evenly throughout the engine resulting in the whole engine having a more uniform temperature.

Thermostat movement range refers to the physical distance the bypass valve moves towards the bypass port. It has been found that some (particularly new thermostats) do not move enough (or the same amount) as they open to physically close the bypass port when the thermostat reaches is “100% open” position. Stopping short of the bypass port by as little as 1mm allows a meaningful amount of coolant to still bypass the radiator (via the bypass circuit) rendering cooling system less efficient. The above pic shows one method (bolting a 2-3mm disc to the bypass valve) of solving the “does not open far enough” problem. Ideally you want to find a thermostat that moves at least 1mm more than the required range of 42mm (IIRC) to be sure that the bypass port will be fully closed if the thermostat is fully open.

  1. Thermostat temperature rating: The temp rating of a working thermostat is highly unlikely to CAUSE overheating. At best it may reduce the cooling margin of the cooling system. Eg, if you are running 88ºC thermostats, there is only 12ºC of “margin” in the cooling system before water starts boiling. With 74ºC thermostats, the “overheating margin” would be 26ºC. IMHO: there is no need to run thermostats higher than 82ºC. Although further expounding is offered below on the otter/fan switch, it should be mentioned that the temperature rating of the fan switch is MUCH more important than the temperature rating of the thermostat. MarekH points out as follows:

MarekH wrote:A contributing factor to NOT overheating is having enough time (EDIT: margin as jagwit called it above) to do something about the cooling system if it is not performing (or alternatively shutting down the heat generation system if you like).

In that respect, an 82’c thermostat gives you more warning time than an 88’c thermostat by the time it takes to heat the engine by 6’c. You have more headroom for the system to misbehave before it becomes critical.

I would thus include the thermostat temperature rating as a contributing factor to protecting yourself from overheating, but it’s actual rating number doesn’t tell you anything about overheating.

  1. Every thermostat MUST be tested before installation . A “new” thermostat is no guarantee that it works correctly. Ask me how I know… (BTW, an IR gauge testing against brushed alu or brushed stainlees steel gives false readings. I painted my kettle matt black where I measure). I have seen stats that do not open, stats that stay open, stats that do not open nearly as far as they should (this was a NEW one!!). Bottom line, make no assumptions. Since there are TWO thermostats, BOTH should be tested every time the cooling system acts up. The S3 is only fitted with one temp sensor on the RH bank. Things could thus be going wrong on the LH bank and the driver may not know it.

  2. Fans: The original fans ARE good enough!! Stronger fans most likely only serve to treat a symptom, not a cause and may even CREATE charging issues. Fans may not run as hard as they should due to damaged/worn brushes, bad electrical contacts (including bad earths), insufficient voltage from alternator, sticky bearings etc;

  3. Radiator blocked either for coolant flow or air flow: This results mainly due to neglect and/or ignorance. A cooling system should only have distilled water and reputable anti-freeze. Tap water should only be used in emergency. Brackish water and sea water should be completely avoided. The latter causes calcification and eventual blocking of the radiator core. Poor quality or no anti-freeze results in excessive rust of all the metal parts of the cooling system (That red powdery stuff you so often see in coolant).

MarekH wrote:Most of this solidifies and settles in the engine block around the base of the cylinder liners and this does nothing to help cooling. Some of it, if churned up, will circulate and settle at the bottom of the radiator and the engine bottom hose.

  1. There is a lot of misunderstanding around the purpose of the fan switch and how it interacts with the thermostats.

A thermostat is NOT something which is either open or closed. It is meant to always run at a point between fully closed and fully open when the engine is at operating temperature. At this “in between” point, they are able to regulate the engine temperature around its rated temp, BUT it can only do so IF the coolant entering the engine is sufficiently cool. On cars with a bypass circuit, it should be noted that the bypass circuit also remains in play for as long as the thermostat is not fully open (when the bypass circuit should be fully closed. As the thermostat starts closing (implying that the engine needs to run warmer) from its fully open position, the bypass circuit immediately starts coming into play, as Colin pointed out below to maintain coolant flow and to avoid excessive temperature variation the block.

The purpose of the fan switch is to ensure that the coolant entering the engine from the radiator is sufficiently cool such that the thermostats can regulate the engine temperature. Eg, if you have 82ºC thermostats but the fan switch is rated 92º-87ºC (meaning the fans will switch on at 92 and off at 87), the thermostats can no longer regulate the engine temp because 1) They are already 100% open and 2) the coolant that passed through the radiator is already at 87-92ºC even before it enters the engine!!! The otter/fan switch should have a rating where the “ON” temp should be at least 4ºC below the thermostat rating.

Eg for 82ºC thermostats, the fan switch should have a rating of typically 78ºC/74ºC. This way the coolant that enters the engine block can effectively cool the engine as determined by the thermostats that can now regulate the temp by allowing coolant to flow faster or slower as required.

  1. Ignition timing could also have a substantial effect on the cooling system. This is mainly caused by timing too far retarded or too much advanced. Retarded timing can result from incorrect distributor adjustment or the centrifugal advance mechanism not operating correctly. Many more modern engines deliberately retard ignition timing during engine warm-up, to render the engine INefficient, in order to achieve faster warmup of the engine (and CATs).

  2. If fuelling is set too rich, it would also result in excessive heat being produced by the engine. Modern cars deliberately use rich mixtures to achieve faster warm-up of the engine and CATs.

Went through all that and ended up at #9 after 47 years of service … .

Be sure the distributor advance is working. They run hot if the advance is not working.

Good point - all mechanicals checked - to insure running properly, then if everything else works, it must be the radiator :sunglasses:

Not exactly. This thermostat has a mod to reduce the distance to the bypass port. The correct thermostat has at least a 42mm reach and needs no mods. You can find a list of acceptable and unacceptable thermostats in my write up on the S3 thermostat:

The standard V12 does not have vacuum advance. In fac, it has Vacuum RETARD!!

The ONLY time the standard V12’s timing is anywhere near optimal, is thus at full throttle.

Fitting a vacuum advance to the V12 is a very good and inexpensive upgrade because then the engine will be more efficient at partial throttle as well. But then comes the whole debate on where to get the vacuum from for the vacuum advance… I run mine directly off manifold vacuum.

The engine still has distributor advance as its main timing adjustment for revs, which is the fundamental have-to-have maximum advance setting under load.

Vacuum modulation of timing - however arranged - is a nice-to-hve extra which optimises timing for a different set of criteria: economy or emissions. I like vac advance and am wary of vac retard, but neither is either essential like distributor advance nor critical if dud - hence the necessity of checking the bobweights move freely.

Great thread to read when you are in middle of overheating engine troubleshooting. I’m running out of ideas and patience. I am now concerned that the thermostats are part of if not all of my trouble. I have gone through everything mentioned including timing and timing.start up is easy, too easy. I think this thing is retarded. I will advance a lot. I am taking the vacuum pot out of the equation. After normal warm up I am teased
With nice little drive while temp guage reads at “AL” end of normal. Fans are on. Then suddenly temp
Takes off. Heads to the danger zone. I shut down. Check the radiator. It’s still at 170-165. Rear of engine both sides at heads is 215. Front 205. Ivan not find a recommended thermostat that will reach the bypass port completely.

A new aluminum radiator and a new high volume fan ?

James Northrup

Got both. Added the aluminum radiator and fans. It’s not the radiator. Temp checks on radiator shows less than 180 degrees all the time. Even when engine temp starts running away. I’m convinced I have wrong thermostats. All articles I have read cite thermostat numbers that are no longer in production. I can’t find a current production that seems right. I’m pretty sure the radiator is being partly bypassed by the partly open valves. Rick

If you sure it’s the bypasses, put orifices to restrict the flow through the bypasses. Or just clamp the hoses a little… (I know nothing about the V12s, but I did sleep on the couch last night.)

Can’t have too much data or data that is too accurate. Maybe several of these:

That’s not crazy. I could add thermo sensors in any profile I can find, use this to clip on and look. I have spent way more for other instruments. Rick.

Thermostats are considered a wear item. If they’ve been in there more than 10 years or 100,000 miles change them.

First question is, where are you measuring radiator temperature? For the S3, the temp in the top tank isn’t representative. You need to measure at the top of the radiator and at the bottom, and the difference between those readings is what matters. The header tank will read closer to the bottom radiator temperature. If it reads lower, the hose between the header and the lower coupling is restricted.

If you’ve been reading my S3 cooling faqs and find the listed thermostats are NLA, let me know. The Gates superstat was a good pick, I
don’t know if Gates and Motorad have partnered, or whether it’s affected availability.

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After you shut down, I wonder if having higher temps isn’t because the coolant isn’t circulating anymore.

How long does the car run in the normal range before temp suddenly shoots up? Could it be something like a hose collapsing on the water pump intake?

I ve never had any issue with my series 3 although in all fairness I installed an alloy rad years ago

When i had the engine rebuilt during a full restoration completed 3 years ago, we installed modern Audi fans. I also added a second temp gauge (removed the clock) so now I have a temp reading for each bank.

Whenever I measure temp manually on any engine, I take the reading at the temperature sender so I can judge the gauge accuracy