In the world of performance valve trains we’re often given a number of claims in regards to what parts do what things. More often than not we take these claims at face value and tend to run with it. I’m currently working on too many projects to count, and as a result I tend to do a fair share of homework on these claims to ensure that I get my desired end result. Recently I’ve been looking into valve train components. Before in the past I’ve just bought big cams, dual valve springs, titanium retainers, and fancy adjustable cam gears….not because I necessarily knew everything about them, but because I wanted all the options. However, now I’m faced with a project I haven’t done before. I reliable daily driven built set up. The platform I’m working on is a 2005 Infiniti G35.
Since this is my daily I wanted longevity as well as performance. I’ve been looking around at street cams for this project, and with it comes springs and retainers. It was at this point that I discovered a claim from internet engine builders. Tribal knowledge around the super highway states that titanium retainers are great for performance, but they’re not reliable and have a tendency to last a whopping 20k miles! Naturally for a daily driver this concerned me greatly. I furiously scoured the internet clawing at anything that would dispute this notion. That is until I had the bright idea of get it straight from the horses mouth.
I reached out to John Verburg at Ferrea racing components for an explanation into these internet allegations. Our conversation started off very short, sweet, and to the point with John stating its wear is more geared towards how the retainer is used as opposed to how long it’s used. He also stated:
“It is a loaded question and whoever told you that they were good for 20K miles just made that up. In a nutshell, you are correct, titanium retainers are not recommended for daily drivers, but neither are racing engine components. As with any high performance parts they are designed for specific requirements, and in the case of titanium retainers, that would be light weight.”
My particular application was looking at a set of JWT S7 cams with the Ferrea valve/spring/retainer kit with and end goal of around 450whp daily driven. So since I had broken the ice with John I was in it for some more detail.
John informed me that he would recommend steel retainers for a daily driven vehicle, but that didn’t answer my question about titanium retainers wearing quickly. I continued to ask away and he was more than happy to take the time to deal with my inquiries. John stated that titanium is actually a soft metal (Rockwell C of 36) while steel is (Rockwell C of 50-55). That was clear and concise to me that the difference in material could easily be attributed to the claims about the abnormally short lifespan of these components.
There are also a number of other factors that come into play when it comes to your valve train that I suppose if you think about it make total sense, but lets me honest that none of us really look THAT far into it. If you have loose fitting components (retainers on valve springs, or burrs on your springs) then naturally the softer material will give way before good ol fashioned steel. John informed me of the need to dress the springs. Now I know what you’re thinking, What the hell is dressing a valve spring?
When the spring is wound and cut there will always be a sharp edge from where the machining was done. This is typically on the flattened side of the spring. The manufacturer is supposed to “dress” the spring which would include getting rid of the burs and/or sharp edges. Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen from manufacturer to manufacturer since this adds to the cost, but wait..there’s more. So even though these super nice springs have been dressed a bit, it is up to the engine builder to finish the spring off prior to final installation on that particular cylinder head.
“there is no reason that a titanium retainer made thick enough to handle duress, and with correct fitment in a properly dressed spring will not last 50-100K miles, but if this fitment is poor and the retainer is thin or the spring is not dressed, then wear can occur and may shorten the life of that retainer to 1-5K miles. What the end result has to really factor: Is the retainer designed for longevity or super lightweight, and how much effort was put into the quality of the fitment and the finishing of the spring.”
So are titanium retainers bad for a daily driven vehicle that sees spirited driving? I believe the short answer is no, provided quality parts that fit are used and that time is taken to insure that everything is installed appropriately. The manufacturer always provides instructions. This isn’t to say that you don’t know what you’re doing, but you just paid a lot of money for a product. Why not at least give it a look to make sure you do what they want done, it could save you butt in the long run.
As far as I’m concerned my research has paid off in spades and I figured I’d share it with like minded individuals. I learned some very interesting things from John, and I can say that it has given me the insight I needed to progress with this and all future builds. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for and that patience is a virtue.