Interview with Pete Hagenbuch, Chrysler engine development engineer
Pete Hagenbuch was a Chrysler engine development engineer in the engines area from 1958 through to 1987; he worked in the performance group. His work covered Chrysler’s most legendary engines — the 426 Hemi, the B/RB-series big blocks, the LA small blocks, the 2.2 turbos, and even the Australian Hemi Six. This is our first interview, of two — the second is posted here. You can read more about Pete and actually see pictures of him here.
Was the Australian six was originally as a truck engine in the US, as the old story goes?
Nope. That is absolutely false. They were developed in Highland Park. My group did the performance development; I did a lot of it myself. It was designed because Australia was getting into racing and the 225 just didn’t cut it. It was never meant to be a race engine and believe me it wasn’t. They wanted a big displacement six.
Why wasn’t the 273 considered?
I think they had classes. I think you are talking class racing, as in number of cylinders. I think that the Holden Monaro was the car they wanted to beat.
Well, let me just give you a brief rundown on that engine. It was designed and developed in Highland Park. It was to be an ultra light engine. You have to understand that this was something that Chrysler had never done before. I mean they were pushing the boundaries knowing that it would have to change in development which is a hell of a nice way to develop an engine. We had always before designed bulletproof engines and nobody ever knew how much lighter they could have been. So this one it was done the other way. Or as Larry Brown, ex-Pistons coach, would say, “The right way.”
The oil pan fell off of the first performance engine. Not literally but there were only two screws left holding it, the block was so floppy. And there was a long engine with a big bore and so the camshaft was long and the distributor was toward the rear of the engine and the torsional vibrations were fed into the camshaft and into the distributor. That was terrible they had to work and work and work on the cam and the cam drive, I don’t think they moved the distributor because that was changing the casting drastically. But the cylinder walls were thin, everything was thin. There was a lot of beefing up in the pan rail and the main bearing bulkheads. I believe, and this is not my field of expertise, I think they beefed up the crank shaft too. And we gave them a hell of a good engine, it really was.
We did the 245, they did the 265 against our advice, turned out it was a very good engine. We thought it was a little bit too much for the structure.
It had ball stud rockers. That was the first time we were ever exposed to ball stud rockers. Fortunately by then I was in the performance group so I didn’t have to make them work.
Their problem down there was the same thing our stamping plant did, that is the most critical things on the rocker arm are the relationship of the ball socket, the pushrod socket and the valve pad. Our advice to them was to form the ball socket, coin it and then coin the rocker pad and the push rod socket in one operation, thus controlling the critical tolerances. Our stamping plant said, “we can’t coin those two surfaces at the same time! Hell, Highland Park is nuts,” so they didn’t.
The rockers were all over the map. Valve lift varied by 50 thousandths from a high one to a low one, and they were breaking on endurance partly because of the quality of the coining operation and partly a whole lot of other reasons. When they finally bit the bullet, after I lectured them that this was the only way you are going to make a stamp rocker work, they did it and it’s been fine ever since, just like we designed it and tested it.
That was the biggest problem that I encountered down there. They had other problems. For one thing, they couldn’t get an engine to run lab endurance for more than about 20 hours or so without dropping a valve or putting a hole in a piston. Well I suspected right away in the States what it was, and when I got there, sure as hell, they were running wide open throttle lab endurance (their schedule was probably different from ours, but ours consisted of 10 hours each, and I may forget one, but the first 10 hours were 800 wide open – can you believe that? - then 1600 wide open, then 2400, 3200, the fifth 10 hour cycle was 3600, and the last was 9 hours at 4000 and the last hour at 4400, all wide open throttle. And their engines were failing in the second 10 hours due to pre-ignition or valve overheating.
And you know what I found when I got there? They were using car spark plugs for Heaven’s sake, hot spark plugs, the ones that keep from fouling while your wife tootles around at 30mph. Wide open throttle endurance at Chrysler has always been run with just about the coldest spark plugs that you could find or that Champion would make for you. We weren’t testing spark plugs, we were testing engine structure.
So I started out as the great white hunter or something. The day after I arrived jet lagged, they gave me the whole day to catch up, that was nice of them I thought. The first place I went was their endurance lab, and looked over their parts and pieces and I asked for the spark plugs. They showed me the spark plugs and I said, “There isn’t an engine in the world that will run 60 hours of wide open endurance with this spark plug in it, and yours isn’t any better than any of the others! You have to have cold plugs!” “Oh,” they said. So everywhere I went after that I was treated with respect. It was ridiculous. It was just a natural thing we always did but somehow — and there was an American down there attached to developing the big 6, the kangaroo 6. Come to think of it, he spent most of his time here in the engine development — in the bearing group, but he still should have known about cold plugs and he didn’t.
It wore off when I had trouble with a few of their other problems, but for about a week I was a saint. And before I had been there a week they had completed a 60 hour endurance schedule and the engine looked beautiful.
Now, why did that engine never come back to the US or Europe?
It was too big for Europe, I think, and we didn’t have any interest in it. With cheap gasoline V-8s beat the hell out of sixes, let’s face it.
Was the slant six originally designed to be a four-cylinder, as some have said?
Not that I know of, who would have bought it? In 1960? Who the hell would you sell a 4-cylinder car to? No, I don’t think there is any truth to that.
That engine was an outstanding design from the time they put the pencil to the paper. It was one of those — you know when you design an engine you don’t know its going to be great. You do all the things you learned over the last couple and hope it works. And the small block Chevy was one, and the slant 6 was another. They just turned out to be superb engines.
Do you know anything about the lower rings letting oil through at idle in the very early slant 6s?
Absolutely, that was my job! They were terrible. The 225s only, the 170s didn’t have a problem. You gotta go back in time, back then we used a cast iron oil ring, with a spring expander behind it. It was vented all around, there were oblong opening spaces for the oil to pass through back into the crank case. On the 170, there was no problem at all. On the 225 it was 200 miles per quart. It was the first engine we got into the 3 piece type ring which I kind of assume everybody uses now. I can’t remember the names of the rings but a Sealed Power design was the one we used eventually. You know, two thin steel rings, chrome plated, and an expander to keep them out against the bore. The 225 was the first place that Chrysler ever used a ring like that.
Is there any reason that wouldn’t have been a problem on the 170?
Absolutely, one inch of stroke.
One inch is a lot of stroke, was boring it out considered instead or was there not enough material?
To make a 225 cid six cylinder with a 3 1/8” stroke would take something near a 3.9” bore, certainly not do-able on the 170 block.
Lengthening the stroke is a very good way to save money and have two different displacements. Aside from a gain in low end torque, that’s the only good thing about it. The effect is greater on small bore engines where an increase in stroke has a greater effect on the stroke/bore ratio. The bad things are poor top end performance and difficulty in attaining satisfactory oil economy. If you are looking for low speed torque then a long stroke is an advantage. The B-engines, in the raised B [RB], it started out as 413, there was a 426 wedge and of course a 440, all of which used the long stroke (3 ¾”). That was possible because the bore spacing allowed for a 4 ¼” bore size. And they were all oversquare, meaning the stroke/bore ratio was less than 1.
The Trenton, MI plant built all the B-engines. Because the volume of 413s wasn’t large enough to maintain a separate line we had two 383s; the one that went into the Dodge and Plymouth and later all the muscle cars was the short stoke version, 4 ¼ x 3 3/8. They had a long-stroke 383 to fill up the line.
But we have had a number of engines like that. We had the 318 and 273, which were essentially the same engine with a different bore. It’s those kinds of decisions that get made, from the outside looking in you think these guys have their heads up their asses, but there is usually a reason for something like this.
Now the beloved slant-6 was designed first as a 170, but they knew all the time that it was going to be raised an inch and become the 225. But it was well into the 170 development program before we even saw a 225. Boy, that thing was a disaster! For an engine with a reputation like it now has, that thing was a pig to start with. Everything was wrong with it, things I can’t even remember. The parts were all made for the 170 with the exception of the block, crankshaft and connecting rods. All of them require modifications, a lot of which found their way into the 170 as well. It just proves you can’t build two engines that much different in displacement with the same identical parts and pieces; it doesn’t work out that way.
What was the end solution? Was it to make it….
Oh, there were changes to everything. The crankshaft had torsional vibration problems which were rectified; I wasn’t close to that phase of the program, being plenty busy with piston rings and oil economy.
Why wouldn’t that happen on the 170?
Because the crank shaft has a whole lot more overlap, like a half an inch because it had an inch shorter stroke. The 170 is the nearest thing I have ever owned to an unbreakable engine. I told you in my email that I used to shift mine at 6400 when I was in a hurry. You’d be surprised how many cars I blew off with that 170. If it had had a fourth gear that 1960 Valiant would have been a fabulous car, as it was it was merely a great car.
I drove my 3 speed stick shift up Mt. Washington on vacation. I got behind a Volkswagen, I’d pull off and stop because it wouldn’t run that slow even in first gear. Really, it’s the truth — that VW had it in bottom gear of four, he was just putting along and I couldn’t maintain speed behind him. I had to get to a pull off and let him disappear and it took about 5 minutes and we caught him then we had to pull off again.
That was the one thing that all the Valiants lacked — a decent set of four speeds, of course five speeds would have been even nicer.
Did you work on the intake manifold tuning?
Depends on what period we are talking about, I got into intake manifolds when I switched to the performance area, before that, not at all really, unless there was a structural problem.
I got into all kinds of problems in the valve train group with noise emanating from what seemed to be the intake manifold. But if you are familiar with the B-engine you know that the intake manifold gasket also was the valley cover. It was all one piece of sheet metal gasket that also covered the tappet chamber. It came with two fiberglass packs wrapped in foil to help reduce the noise that transmitted through that sheet metal cover.
That was a heck of a job, they had all kinds of designs, they even went through a full closed-in manifold, like a 318, but the B-engine was the big, light engine. That was the whole deal. Part of it was that gasket, that manifold, it didn’t weigh anything, but boy did it have noise problems. I spent six weeks in our silent room in the middle of summer and we ran with everything closed and Chrysler was not air conditioned.
The slant 6 almost without exception was given a single barrel carburetor...
Absolutely, did you read my reference to when we came back to work in 1975? Here I was the head of the valve group working in the road test garage with 2 road test mechanics that didn’t know much about engines. The three of us together managed to set up the first two barrel 225. I don’t know if we called it a power pack or not but that was one swell engine for performance anyway. That really turned out to be a winner, in fact my youngest son had one and he just loved it.
What did you do to convert it?
Well, the first and most important thing was the carburetor; it had 2 holes in it. Oh, there is so much you can do, Dave, that doesn’t even show. We messed around with the spark advance schedules and did a super calibration job on the carburetor. We had a low restriction air cleaner. Improved exhaust system but still single of course. I wanted in the worst kind of way to have a twin exhaust system because, man, will that do wonders for a 6. You put one, two and three, and four, five and six together and you run ‘em down about 6 or 8 feet and bring them together in one tailpipe and you’ve added great huge gobs of output. Engines, especially engines that are low output, the things you can do, the things you can get for just a little bit of effort are just unbelievable sometimes. But to turn that 225 from what I always thought was a real slug, but a dependable, durable slug, into one hell of a nice engine that was a fun program.
Was what you developed, was that what actually came out in 1976 as the super-6?
Yes, it was the super-6. We worked on it in early ’75. That was a fun, fun project. Everything you did made a difference. You would have loved to have driven one with a split exhaust system like I described. That was all done on the QT by some of our fabricators. We had a lot of fabricators in the department that were attached to different groups. You don’t often think about that but they did all kinds of sheet metal work, big and little, and the exhaust systems and headers and everything. We really had an operation. Like I say, we had a lot of specialist groups and they had a lot of good people in them.
Do you know what else was dropped when it went into production?
Not that I can remember, but, Lord, that’s 35 years ago. I remember a lot, of course the stuff I remember the most is the stuff I enjoyed the most. Details of how it got into production, I’m sorry I just don’t remember. I think most of our modifications stuck but I don’t think the twin exhaust ever had a chance, like I say we did it on the sly.
Although the revised intake manifold was used.
I don’t believe there were any changes to the intake manifold other that to adapt it to the two barrel.
The intake manifold was way better than average. I remember it had long branches, they weren’t all the same so you didn’t get huge tuning effects but it sure beat the hell out of the log manifold.
Then there was the hyperpack. Now that was a manifold. Four barrel, those branches were about as equal as you can get, given the space you had to work in. They weren’t equal, they were fanned out like the standard 6, but not nearly so much.
If somebody wanted to reproduce the 2 barrel on the slant 6 these days would it make sense to stick to the original layout that you did as much as possible?
Unless they are sheet metal fabricators, you can build yourself a hell of an intake manifold out of tubing but if not, the thing I would do first and foremost after adapting the 2 barrel carburetor. Are we talking about just a nice driving car or are we talking about a stock class dragster?
Nice driving street car.
The biggest thing would be the exhaust system, absolutely, and then of course a 2 barrel carburetor. The reason I asked the question is that I assume somewhere in the world you can still buy a manifolds for the hyperpack. For a nice driving street car you don’t want it, it had no heat. I had 2 friends who had a brand new Valiant hyperpack and they drove to Chicago in a snowstorm and the car kept going slower and slower. It was really snowing hard, they had to look to find a place to pull off where they thought they could get back on the road. And they lifted the hood and the whole hood was jammed with packed snow, I’m not exaggerating they showed me a picture of it. You lifted the hood and you could see the contours of the underside of the hood. The whole damn engine compartment was packed with snow and of course the carburetor was totally iced. If you live in Southern California you could probably drive a hyperpack, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a street car. But, a properly tuned 6 cylinder exhaust system is fabulous and of course if you can run …
First of all due to the firing order you want to run one, two and three and four, five and six. If you can run both of those all the way to the back you would get even more, but even bringing them together after say, oh I’m guessing a 6 or 8 foot run you won’t believe what you get out of it. It’s great, fabulous. That would be my highest recommendation. And there are people everywhere that will build you exhaust systems, custom shops, all over.
Do you remember who you worked with on developing the system?
It was during the spring of ’75 when barely any engineers were in and barely any mechanics were in. The mechanics I worked with were not engine lab mechanics and of course I knew their names then but I can’t remember their names now.
How did you feel about dropping Plymouth?
I hated to see the Plymouth name disappear, as I did Desoto. The only thing I know of that was worse was killing Oldsmobile. That went back to 19 … what was the curved dash Olds – ’03?
Oldsmobile was the oldest American nameplate in continuous production.
And those idiots at General Motors just dropped the goddamn name. I’m still pissed at them, I’ll never get used to that one.
No, that wouldn’t have been my first choice to drop.
I’ve been looking seriously at Pontiac. Back when they dropped Oldsmobile, Pontiac had nothing.
I think automakers prefer a sporty reputation over a reliable reputation.
Yeah, and of course nobody gives a damn about history anymore.
No and if they did then Plymouth would, of course you already know my feelings about Plymouths, I’ve made that clear.
I love Plymouths too. But Dodge I always thought was a half a cut better. So that makes me feel a little better about Plymouth. But still when you think about it that made Barracuda an orphan, not to mention Voyager, which I thought was a well respected name.
I know several people who switched to Toyota when the Voyager stopped.
They could have gone to a Caravan. They are exactly the same except for the grill and badges.
You know that and I know that.
Well they should have. But there were some fabulous Plymouths. In fact I am sitting here looking at the best one ever and that’s the ’57 Fury (in 1/18 scale).I have an entertainment center that is jam packed full of VHS tapes, you know the towers of each side very carefully making room for one car model in front of each section of VHS’s. I’m looking at eight car models here in my Lazy-Boy and a ’57 Plymouth is one of them. There’s a Continental Mark II, a Chrysler 300B, ’39 Lincoln Zephyr convertible, 55 Imperial, 53 Cadillac Convertible, the vaunted Cord 812 and the Auburn 851 speedster. And I get to sit here and look at them every day and I love them all. Including the Continental Mark II and the Lincoln Zephyr. In fact this model of the Lincoln Zephyr is one of my very favorite models, made by Signature which is a Chinese company and it cost $29.99 and if they were out of production I wouldn’t sell it for less than $100. And I’d get it, it’s a gorgeous model. So you see I’m not pure Mopar, I like cars, though I must admit I haven’t owned or leased anything that wasn’t Chrysler since my ’60 Valiant.
Actually, I like to forget it, but before my Valiant I had a Simca Aronde. They were sold by Chrysler dealers then, that is without a doubt the biggest pile of junk that I ever owned. I had it for a year and 3 months and you name it, it happened to it. Including the cheap plastic glove box door that one cold day I closed it too hard and it broke in two. They weren’t fit to sell. They weren’t commercial, commercial is a big word in the auto industry and they weren’t.
What happened in the last few years? When were the last few years?
I retired at the end of 1987. Our performance group, which shrank to about 6 people, was swept up into what was known then as the engine emissions group. And there wasn’t much money for performance work and there wasn’t much interest. I was awfully glad when we bought AMC and they made me an offer. In fact, they made me an offer I could hardly refuse. They gave me retirement at age 55 with all the benefits I would have accrued by age 62.
They did that for most everybody. Chrysler was very involved with the good of their employees. They did have lay offs, sometimes they couldn’t help it, but they worked hard to find you another job somewhere else or avoid laying off. It was usually the local management that got to decide on the people because they were the ones that knew them best. But they were always that way.
People have said that there is some similarity between the 2.2 and the slant 6 and there have been some controversy over how close they are and whether that is just a matter of using old machining, coincidence or because some of the same people worked on them. Is there any similarity?
Well for one thing, I don’t think the slant angle was the same so that throws out the tooling aspect. For another, the two engines were designed by the same department but it was 20 years apart, I would say zero, zilch, nothing. They had wedge chambers, both of them did. They both took advantage of the slant to have a somewhat more promising intake manifold design because the room was there just due to the slant. Other than that I just don’t think that there were any similarities.
We have the slant 6 in the late 1950s and the LA series V-8s shortly thereafter, then we have a long delay before we hit the 2.2. What was going on in between?
Emissions. Really, honest to God, emissions. Nobody cared about performance, the performance got lower and lower [after 1971] until there weren’t any durability problems to worry about. Drivability was of utmost interest and was a total flop. We didn’t have drivable cars that passed emissions, I don’t think anybody else did either. There was just nothing going on, it was all emissions. It was keeping up with the congressmen and senators and their appointees. There was just nothing going on, from about oh what was the first awful year, 1971 model year maybe. EGR valves, that was awful, that was terrible. Air pumps were terrible. Catalysts were high back pressure items and nobody could afford two catalysts so dual exhausts went out the window. There was just nothing, nothing but trying to get the hydrocarbons, the CO and the NOx down to passable levels.
The 2.2 started out with a carburetor, but when they got turbocharged you used the multiple port injection rather than TBI.
It was a multi-point but it was not sequential. I think there were two shots per cycle. It was into the intake manifold not into the cylinder head like you would think fuel injection should be.
Was there any reason for that or just cost?
Oh, yeah cost. Sure, it costs lots more to have sequential, multi-point. Of course, doing it electronically now it’s probably not near as costly as it was. I mentioned everybody hated throttle body injection, well there were a lot of reasons for that, one was that we were left with the same problem we always had and that was trying to get half way decent mixture distribution to all of the cylinders. A single throttle body was no more help than an antique carburetor.
When you went to multiple point injection on the turbos, why did that never reach out to the other engines?
Turbo was a premium engine, it carried a premium price. Later, we did get TBI on some sixes I believe. I didn’t work with sixes from 1980 on. We had reorganization and I was in charge of all 4 cylinders. My guys followed the performance on the Mitsubishi 3 liter for a while but nothing really involved. That’s just cost.
The thing that always bothered us about our system, you are aware that for probably the first 20 years every single fuel injection system that we released was based on RPM and charge density, not an air flow meter. Air flow meters were expensive. But you could calibrate a whole family of engines with one air flow meter. Those that I worked for were sure that it was cheaper to do a thousand calibrations on TBIs.
Everybody hated it, it was stupid, and it was ridiculous. There had to be a different set of electronics between an A body and a P body of the same engine. There had to be different electronics for every insignificant variation of every engine model, and each had to have its own calibration which took weeks and several people, one engineer and a couple technicians and a dyno operator not to mention car work for drivability. We did it over and over and over, it was just plain stupidity. It was also a lousy way to build fuel injections because what you were doing was you were calculating air flow from the density and the RPM, density being manifold vacuum or pressure in the case of a turbo.
Boy, you really dug up an old pet peeve that I haven’t thought of in years. I’m not sure now if we have all air flow meters but I hope we do.
I’m pretty sure they switched over now.
They finally did it, and they are even looking at super chargers now. They should have looked at them in 1980, Eaton had a beauty. Eaton had a little Rootes that was just fabulous and would have been great for the fours and sixes. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the one Pontiac uses on their Grand Prix. But anyway, it was a great little machine and I never, ever got a chance to run the thing.
What reason did they give for not using a supercharger?
They wanted turbocharging, it was the thing of the moment. It was far superior if you were going for maximum, top end output. Who the hell wants maximum, top end output on a passenger car?
Supercharged cars blow your mind up to 60MPH. There are ways to reduce all the friction they absorb when you’re at part throttle, you can dead head them, you can bypass them, and you can do all kinds of things. They can be built, I’m sure Pontiac has proven it although I don’t know, to get reasonable fuel economy.
I sent you a few of our favorite little rhymes, but one I forgot was “don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up.”
Do you recall the other engineers you worked with?
… I knew most of the resident engineers in the engine plants, some of them I worked with daily. I was quite familiar with the resident engineer of our stamping plant. The [expletive] just stood up and swore and cussed me right and left to tell me there is no way anyone can make these damn stamped rocker arms. They gave up after 6 months, said they couldn’t do it.
Well, we had outsourced it first, but then somebody wanted it inside so it would be cheaper. So I had the dubious honor of working with this guy in the stamping plant but they couldn’t do it. Those guys didn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground when it came to making parts with critical dimensions. They didn’t learn a thing. Boy, I tell you I got dressed down several times. “What do you mean the arms are no good?” I said they’re no good, standing out there on the plant floor with all the workers standing around listening, because they aren’t any good that’s why I said they are no good!
That was really something that was a real downer. Going to Australia and fixing their stamped rocker problem was a piece of cake compared to that. I don’t know how much detail you want to get into but while I’m thinking about it – the thing Australia was doing wrong was the same as the stamping plant here was doing wrong. You remember what ours looked like, bathtubs? And they ran on rocker shafts. …
Regarding the 2.2 liter high output engine with 110 horsepower…
Yeah, that was my baby.
How did that come about? How did you find the extra 15 or 20 horsepower?
Our high output was just the next production 2.2. We felt that it was not performing as well as we wanted. I developed it. It was a big hurry. That was back in the days when we all wore these big blue and yellow signs that said “We Can Do It”. Are you familiar with the We Can Do Its?
No, but it sounds like something that would come from that time.
I will scan mine. I still have it. In fact I have it mounted on the side of my filing cabinet. It reminds me of the probably most rewarding period of my working life when we developed that engine from scratch. The minute it was in production the so called high performance version was in development. We had some kind of special exhaust manifold which was on the front. I think the exhaust system was bigger. It was a lower restriction. Bumped up the compression ratio a notch. Well, again, it was a fun program. That engine, everything you did made it run better, it was like the 170, it was very rewarding. There wasn’t anything real super special. It was really just a further development of the original 2.2. We got it up from an honest 100 horsepower to I think 110.
Then the Turbo IV was also after you left. I don’t know if you worked on it in development.
I am guilty on what we then referred to as the Turbo II. It used a Garret variable vane turbocharger and a long branch tuned intake manifold. It would have been a hell of an engine if Garrett’s turbocharger did what they said it would do. As it was I think we sold a 100 of them. I retired before it went into production. The variable-vane turbocharger’s vanes became fixed as carbon built up, or so they tell me!
The long branch intake manifold did make it into production in the 1988 model year. I had a 2.2 in a Dodge Daytona (a kind of forgotten car, but a good one in its time). I also had a 1989 LeBaron coupe with a 2.5 turbo and an automatic. Actually it was my wife’s car; I was driving a Dakota pickup.
The first turbo could have benefited from that intake manifold very nicely. You understand that none of us knew more than what we read in the books about turbocharging when we started, and they didn’t hire an expert so we just kind of stumbled around and came up with something that worked. The one thing we did right was locating the turbocharger right on the exhaust manifold, not in some remote place like some people have done just for space reasons. That was probably what saved it from being a total disaster. The losses in the heat in the turbo are huge, you can quantify them per inch away from the manifold outlet, the farther away you are the higher the losses, so that was one thing we did right.
The second thing we did right was, I learned later it got me in a lot of trouble because in a meeting with my boss, his boss, his boss, his boss and his boss and everybody else practically that was working on the turbo engine, we made the decision to make it a premium fuel engine. I said that is like a breath of fresh air, I’ve been trying to tell people we needed to do that for the past year. Some of those people were there and they didn’t appreciate it but nobody ever said anything. I heard later that my name was mud in certain circles for a while, but it wore off, I did something good later. And I was right; the thing would have been a disaster on unleaded.
I’d say that the biggest breakthrough, sad as it sounds, was when we specified premium fuel. For two reasons, one, we got a huge advantage in output and two, none of us except the electronics lab trusted the knock sensor in that engine, it was not reliable and to run that engine hard on regular octane would have melted the pistons or worse. It would have got into runaway pre-ignition and that’s all she wrote, that’s holes in pistons and all kinds of other horrible things. So, we finally managed to do that and that made the turbo. And of course the subsequent Turbo II was a premium fuel engine.
I do remember there was a subscript or a note in the owner’s manual saying if premium fuel is not available that mid-grade is satisfactory if you do not run the engine hard.
Ok, well you were taking a hell of a chance if you put in regular. And you paid a lot of money to get the turbo and back then what was premium, 5 cents? So it was damn foolish not to use premium. There were a lot of guys found out too, we had a lot of them, I got back into the business of visiting dealers there for a while.
We would always insist on a sample of fuel, and I didn’t want it out of the fuel tank I wanted it out of the fuel system so I knew what was going into the engine when it failed. Turbos are just naturally prone to melt and blow up, it’s not a proper way to design a passenger car engine it never has been and never will be. The under hood heat is a problem, deteriorating seals and all kinds of things. All the fancy wraps we put on the wiring you run a turbo hard for a year or so and you find that all those things have changed color and the whole place looks like it’s been fried.
No V6s developed in the time you were there. Is there is any reason that wasn’t pursued or was it pursued and they weren’t happy with what they got?
No, you know what it was? I didn’t sit in the circles that made these decisions, but the first GM V6s went into Pontiac Tempest and the Olds F85, they were 90 degree V6s. That’s a hell of a way to build an engine. With a manual transmission, you could feel it go chug-chug, chug-chug, that’s the way they fire. They don’t fire evenly because of the incorrect bank angle which should be 60 or 120 or 180, but then that would be a Corvair so you wouldn’t want it to be 180. I didn’t agree with Ralph Nader but I wasn’t a Corvair admirer especially not the first one. Given the 90 degree bank angle the engine cannot have an even firing order. The firing order can be improved by offsetting the rod journals on each crank throw but it’s a Mickey Mouse way to do things! What GM did was to cut two cylinders off a V8 and call it a V6. And then we did it too.
The only one that I know of that we built was the one that came out when the Dakota pickup was introduced. The 3.9 which was built in Mound Road, on the Mound Road machining equipment which included a 90 degree bank angle and it was another one of those boom-boom, boom-boom type engines.
I had two of them, both automatics and it didn’t bother me a bit but the manuals were awful, especially if you lugged them down in speed. It set off all kinds of sympathetic vibrations, just an awful way to build an engine. And Chrysler at that time had principles; we didn’t build engines that way. I’m confident that it went through the top and came back down with the message that “no way, you can’t do that it’s not commercial.” Then years later we had already admitted that automatic Tempests and F85s were acceptable as long as you didn’t watch them idle under the hood where they were just thrashing around. With the vibration absorption you get in a torque converter they were okay as far as driving was concerned.
Once you started using the 3 liter Mitsubishi V6 engines, did that change anything?
That was a very good engine. Well, the first cars I’m sure of that it was in were the A-body, the Dodge Spirit and the Plymouth Acclaim. I had a Spirit with the Mitsubishi, my wife used to kid me because everywhere we went I said “I love the way this car sounds”. It just had a beautiful exhaust note. We had a Plymouth Acclaim with the Mitsubishi V6, I don’t know how much longer it ran after that. I switched to Dodge Daytonas once they became available, I loved those cars even the un-turbocharged 4.
I remember the first time I drove one of those, in 1984, I was shocked that a 4 cylinder was that nice to drive.
Yes, it was nice. I had a whole string of them, I had the first one in 1984, I had an 1985, skipped a year, and then I had an ’87 original turbo with the short-branch manifold and then I had an ’88 turbo with the long-branch manifold and that was a lovely car. Of course these were all 5-speeds and my wife refused to drive them. My wife has known how to drive manuals her entire life, she learned on a 50 Chevy, but if there is an automatic in the house she will not get into the driver seat of the manual. She does an incredible job of driving them but she just hates them. But not me, I like to know what gear I’m in. I like to dictate what gear I’m in.
So when those came was there any interest in developing a V6 or did it just take a long time to get the Chrysler V6 developed?
Well, there was a V6 under development, which was in my group as I retired. I don’t remember a thing about it. I do remember an argument about push rods versus overhead cams. I know that the research group had a hemi head arrangement for it, whether it ever came to anything I don’t know. But there were none in-between. Except we left one out – the 3.3 and the 3.8. I didn’t have anything to do with that one.
Our current Grand Town & Country feels great with a 3.8. It doesn’t seem to be gulping fuel at a huge rate, haven’t had it very long. Yeah, those were good engines. That was a good example of saving cost where it wasn’t important. In a minivan you don’t need overhead cams, pushrods are fine. You design the thing to have gobs of torque up to about 3000 rpm and you don’t worry about it beyond that.
I completely overlooked that one. I’ve never had one of the minivans that had the 2.2. I’ve always had that huge hunk of cast iron, the 2.6 Mitsubishi. That was a pretty useless engine but it was stronger than a 2.2 for a minivan.
Were there any cars other than the Omni/Horizon you were particularly proud of?
Probably the 1963 Chrysler. It was the first all new car that I planned as Manager of Chrysler Product Planning. It was styled by Cliff Voss. It had formal elegant lines which I still admire when I see one at Chrysler meets. The car had two shortcomings - the rear track was not wide enough for the body and the stamped grille was cheap looking for a Chrysler. We tried to sell a wider track axle housing and a cast grille to management but they were judged to be too expensive.
Did the Omni/Horizon sales success in the US surprise you (or others at Chrysler)?
No. We knew it was a great car and attractively priced. It ran 11 years with very few changes. We must have built around 2,500,000 Omnis and Horizons. It's still a good car. If we had modernized and improved it I think it would still be around as a Ford Focus competitor.
Do you make personal appearances at events other than your Museum talks?
Yes. I have talked four times - twice to national Dodge Charger groups, once to a Chrysler 300 Club event and once at the Chrysler Museum.