I had time today to work on the '59 engine, and I was able to get it started with a minimum of trouble! Here's how it went.
I realized that the plastic cast starter housing I got from Energy-1 in California wasn't doing the trick. It simply had too much give in it and allowed the starter to move and flex, causing poor engagement with the flywheel. While it looked cool, I can't recommend purchasing it.
Chuck has an engine test stand rig that has the bell housing of a Type-IV VW transmission, which incidentally, Type-I and Porsche 356 engines can bolt right up to. So I borrowed it and brought it down to my work area. With a little help, I got the engine off my own engine stand and onto the test rig. At first, I just turned the engine over with the starter for 30 seconds or so. I left the coil disconnected from the cap so no spark was reaching the engine. This made sure that the oil pump was primed and the engine would have pressure when it finally came to life. It also gave me a chance to do a preliminary oil leak check, and I did find two: the oil pressure sender (I had used the wrong size crush washer, and it was easy to fix) and a little seepage from the bottom of the oil pump cover (which I haven't dealt with yet, but will require a little more work). Other than that, the engine looked dry as a bone.
Then I made sure that the distributor was near 0 degrees advanced when the engine was a TDC, and I poured a bit of gas down each Zenith carburetor throat. I took some rubber gas line and lead it from the engine to a can of gas a nice safe distance away from the rig. Finally I hooked up the coil wire, and I hit the starter button.
To my great relief, the engine started to catch almost immediately, and started up with a minimum of trouble. At first, there were a couple of very nice loud backfires through both the carbs and out the exhaust while the float bowls filled with fuel and everything settled down, but after a short while, it was running very nice and smoothly at idle! Seems I even got the idle mixture screws on the Zeniths in a decent approximate position.
There are two tiny gas seepage leaks at a pair of crush washers on the Zeniths that I saw that will need to be fixed, but otherwise, no gas leaks. I put the timing light on the engine and adjusted the distributor, which was already pretty advanced (20 degrees) at idle from my initial "eyeballing it," so I retarded the timing back to 2-3 degrees retarded at idle. The engine is running smoothly with no strange noises. I can't even put in words how happy I am that everything seems to be running smoothly, and no leaks left! Major accomplishment.
More pictures of the 1959 Normal rebuild are available here.