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sick disk system

You seem to be missing an important point here; if the disk drive
itself were the problem, then the other disk drive of your two would
be functional.  Although you didn't say so explicitly, I believe you
have two dirves and suffer the same problem with both.  That points
strongly to the controller, a part of your Symbolics hardware.  The
$3K they quote is their charge to swap 1 board...  I don't think the
spare Maxor disk will help you.

You can format a disk by running it as the second drive on your machine
and using the disk.flod info and the microcode from the first disk to
support the format disk fep command.  You then need to create an initial
file system that creates the FEP directory and stuffs all the known bad
blocks into a file to avoid storing data on them...  This is
non-trivial, but doable.  The IFS tape for your existing drive is where
the "initial file system" stuff, a modest supperset of what I just
described, lives.   It is specific to a given serial number drive,
as it records the media flaws of that particular drive.  The world
distribution tapes have what you need after there is an IFS.

Good Luck.....

Paul Martin