Interview with Pete Hagenbuch, engine development leader: Part 3

Pete Hagenbuch was a Chrysler engine development engineer from 1958 through to 1987. The first two segments were phone interviews. This page is taken from Pete’s emails over the following years.

Richard Petty and Pete Hagenbuch

We were quite specialized in those days. The "Engine Lab" had a number of specialist groups, as follows:

The coordination group whom we claimed learned less and less about more and more until they knew absolutely nothing about everything. Seriously, they did all the jobs no one else wanted to do. Scheduling, record keeping, engine builds, and on and on.

Then there were the specialist groups who, we said, knew more and more about less and less until they knew all there was to know about nothing. I was one of the latter.

The groups, each led by a Senior Engineer, were as follows:

1 - The piston group which had responsibility for durability and performance of pistons, piston rings, cylinder bores (mostly the type of finish which had large implications on run-in and oil economy), piston pins and oil economy.

2 - The valve group which handled all things related to the valve train. Such as valves, tappets, camshafts (a huge subject by itself), pushrods, valve springs and retainers and, of course, cylinder heads; particularly valve seats, and on heavy duty engines valve seat inserts and rotators, and valve rockers.

Australian ChryslerChevrolet did the whole industry a disservice when they invented stamped rockers. There were times I practically lived in vendor plants trying to get them made properly. We tried out own stamping plant but after a six month program they said, “we don't want them!”

It was stamped rockers which got me to Australia for five weeks in 1969. This group, which I headed for 7 years, produced some of the most exciting and interesting work I did at Chrysler. [Interview with Chrysler Australia’s chief engineer]

3 - The bearing group. Bearings were a tiny part of this group's responsibilities. Primarily, the cylinder block was theirs; also oil pump, connecting rods, crankshaft, timing chain or gears, rear main bearing oil seal and the oil pan and oil pickup. I never served in this one.

4 - The performance group. We stepped on everybody's toes controlling cam profiles, valve and port shape, combustion chamber, compression ratio, intake manifolding as regards distribution of F/A mixture, spark advance schedules, you name it! Also carburetion (remember them?) and later fuel injection which, when I retired was still single point, or "throttle body" injection in most cases.

TBI fuel injectorTBI was not a popular system. For a number of years this group did all the calibration work for EFI but eventually there was a whole new group set up which covered this area; emissions. More recently, engine performance, being of little importance in the 1980s, was folded into this group just before I retired on 12/31/87.

I entered “the lab” in 1958 after graduating from Chrysler Institute of Engineering and was assigned to the Piston Group. My first project was the development of the 170 cid slant six followed closely by the 225 version.

I also did a lot of production contact working on field problems like a newly approved piston ring source who gave us a different metallurgy for production than the stuff we tested and approved. The worst of this was the new rings that created such heavy cylinder bore that wear that the engines were junk after 20,000 miles. The name McQuay Norris still gives me chills!

I also got to work with our premier HD truck and industrial engine, the 354 double rocker [Hemi], which had all sorts of sophisticated stuff like Bright-Ray coated valve heads, Stellite seat inserts, sodium filled stems, and positive valve rotators. These engines were legendary. The most famous use was in the train at the Detroit Zoo where they had several locomotives and the engines just went on and on, well into the 1960s, when they were finally replaced by the (I think) 413 RB engine.

In late 1959 I became the lead engineer of the valve group. Nothing like learning from the top! Got to work with the Hyper Pak 170s on valve dynamics (meaning float tendencies). This wasn't much of a job, my stock 170 got spun to 6400 rpm every time I wanted to beat someone. I ran this group through 1968 and worked with damn near everything. Development of the LA including the 273 and 273 HP and then the 318 LA. Lots of work with B and RB engines. By this time we had a race group in the lab. We worked together on many items, including a valve tip wear problem on the 426 Hemi, the first to be called a “Hemi.”

Later on, we worked with Engine Design (a completely separate operation then, under a different Chief Engineer) to develop a hydraulic camshaft for the Street Hemi. The problem was valve dynamics and/or pump-up of the hydraulic lifters. This one was a pain. We'd run-in the new cam and lifter set and then blow up the engine trying for 6800 rpm. It seems like we went through a couple dozen engines but it was probably 12 or 15....I don't remember. It was fun, though!

street Hemi

Another project was development of the "Kangaroo Six", a large-displacement ultra-light weight design we did specifically for Chrysler Australia. In fact, it was so light and flexible that the oil pan literally fell off the first endurance engine! After beefing up and a lot of fooling around it turned out to be a pretty good engine. I know Australia increased the displacement at least once, making it damn near as big as the Hudson Hornet.

In 1969, I was assigned to preside over the near-total demise of the large engine performance group. I remember few accomplishments here, mostly just putting out fires. However, Chrysler Australia got into big trouble setting up production on the Kangaroo six, they cried for help. The natural one to go was my ex-boss (over both Piston and Valve Train Groups) but the fool was afraid to fly that far. So I went in my previous capacity and they were in such dire straits it took me 5 weeks to get them back on track. And the biggest problem was the damned stamped valve rockers. I loved Australia!

In the early ’70s, performance was practically forgotten and my work evolved to emissions, a period I would rather forget. Performance became driveability and emission controls strangled both. Air pumps, EGR valves, catalysts and high exhaust back pressure. Humbug!!!!

we can do it buttonThe most exciting time at Chrysler, at least for those of us who survived, began in about 1974 when the term "Financially Troubled Chrysler Corporation" was coined, probably by the Wall Street Journal, which never published a positive word about us during that whole period. Thank God for Lee Iaccoca. I worshipped the guy from afar. Thank the Lord I never had to work for him directly!

I'm truly sorry he got tied up with Kerkorian in trying to buy the company. It cost him getting his name on what truly deserves to be known as the “Iaccoca Tower” at CTC.

We all went home for the month of December but were given next year's vacation pay. With holidays paid, I never missed a days' pay. I remember coming in during that period to keep the high performance 225 project afloat. Pretty damn nice job.

In the late 1970s I worked on the development of the 2.2 4 cylinder, continuing to improve its performance pretty much through the 1980s. And, of course, the 2.5 version too. I believe all the tooling is now busily at work in China.

And last but not least, the 2.2 and 2.5 turbos. We started out with nobody who knew a lot about turbos. I knew enough to want to look at superchargers instead or also, knowing even then that the turbo is not really the answer for passenger cars, but nobody would listen. The powers that be insisted it be a regular fuel engine but the trouble was the detonation sensor wasn't reliable. I believe we did include a statement in the owners' manual stating premium fuel was advised but it was OK to use regular. I used premium in mine.

I had my first turbo in a 1987 Dodge Daytona. Nice car. I had a 1988 Daytona turbo when I retired. This was the much-improved model with the long branch intake manifold. Really nice! My last was a 1989 LeBaron coupe with 2.5 turbo and automatic transmission. Ann and I took it on a 7,000 mile trip out West and I have to admit, though I disliked the engine, it was good in the mountains.

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