Pete Hagenbuch, Chrysler engine development engineer
and slot car builder
Charles “Pete” Hagenbuch was a Chrysler engine development engineer from 1958 to 1987; he worked in valvetrain, performance, emissions, and other areas. 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.
Pete was friendly and approachable, and volunteered a good deal of his time at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills. He also wrote numerous articles in our models and toys section, and helped Allpar with a three part interview.
Dyno operator Ed Poplawski wrote:
Pete was a great guy to work for.
The traditional system at Chrysler had a manager (Pete Hagenbuch) and he usually had 3-5 test engineers working for him (Doug Livermore, Richard Winkles, Doug Wilmot when I worked with Pete). Pete would give them work assignments and they in turn would tell me what tests were to be done and with what parts. They would then take the results, plot out the data, and discuss them with Pete and then come up with the next things to be done. ...
The last year I worked there in this dyno cell Pete made a change and I worked directly with him. Pete was very hands-on involved in all phases of the testing. He always had a plan in place and you knew where you stood with him. He made a point to make sure all our equipment was running and backed me up if any problems came up.
Burke Brown, who was in charge of the original LX car program and LH powertrain engineering, said:
I would call him the consummate, absolute role model of the dyno development performance engineer. He was all about running the dyno, getting really good data, sitting down and looking at that data, he understood all that stuff really well.
Doug Wilmot worked for him. There’s a term in engine development, MBT, “mean best torque.” Back in those days, Pete smoked a pipe. Doug did this (I thought) hilarious little spin on it [at his retirement party]. He called it “mean bowl temperature.” So if the pipe wasn’t too hot, all the data was coming out just right. If the pipe bowl was a little hotter, then the data wasn’t coming out real well. If it was red hot, that probably meant the engine blew up or something, he was burned up about something.
Pete could get pretty excited about either good data or bad data, “Oh, look at this, it’s really good!” or “This camshaft ain’t worth s--t!”
Marc Rozman said:
I worked for Dick Winkle, and Dick came under Pete. I remember that myself and another guy in a test cell were the only guys that had the Turbo II package. There was a discrepancy in the numbers between my cell and the number guy’s cell.
I remember being the new kid in the block, I went through the test cell top to bottom looking at every possible thing. I worked out what I did, what I found, what I saw, what I corrected, and it turns out that my cell had some issues, but the engine itself was correct and we were doing things correctly.
The other cell, the operator was doing something he shouldn’t be doing, porting the intake manifold, which you shouldn’t do for production parts and pieces, and he had the wrong injectors installed. That was a combination of his fault and the engineer’s fault. We had the same engineer, but I think I gained Pete’s respect then and Pete and I were always pretty much buddy-buddy after that. But you had to kind of prove yourself.
Pete was very good about that. It encouraged me to keep doing more. He was always good to me and a lot more receptive of a new person on the block. I always appreciated that, if you want me to keep doing what I’m doing right. He’d always back you up, and if it needed a different person for a different job, that was good. He’d recommend you. So a good guy.
In Pete Hagenbuch’s own words:
After gaining a BSME at West Virginia University [in 1956], where I also met my wife of 47 years, I earned my MAE degree from the Chrysler Institute of Engineering in 1958.
I worked in various phases of engine development, from the "parts and pieces" groups (pistons and rings, valve train) to engine performance, and finally, turbocharged engine performance. During that time I was involved with every engine developed by Chrysler, from the slant six to the 2.2 and 2.5 four cylinders.
I retired at the end of 1987. I had purchased my first computer in 1986, an IBM PC Jr. with no hard disk and 384 K of RAM. I had the then-new Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet software in a cartridge, version 1A. I took some time out from the computer in 1990 to build a 32' x 12' screen porch on the side of our house. That was my big retirement project. When we decided to move to the city in 1998, the thing we missed most was that beautiful porch.
Ann [Pete’s wife] and I have been volunteers at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum since it opened its doors in 1999.
This photo is of Pete Hagenbuch in 1962. In his own words:
The trophy was for winning the Formula 1 final after a series of heats and a semi-final race — in George Maxwell's basement on a four lane track for 1/32 scale electrically powered models. The electrics came from a 12 volt automotive battery connected to a trickle charger to keep it at full charge.
I forget the dimensions of George's track but I'd estimate something on the order of 75 to 90 feet per lap. The tracks were in some form of distorted figure 8s, which made the lap length equal for all for lanes (or slots).
I figured anybody associated with cars and/or car lovers would have seen a slot racing track at least once. In the later 1960s, any hobby shop that was serious about business had at least one or two tracks, some had as many as four.
The cars were guided by a device which attached to the bottom front of the chassis and carried two brushes to pick up current from the copper strips which were cemented to the track surface on both sides of the slot. We also had brakes built into the hand controller which shorted across the motor brushes turning the motor into a generator.
Nowadays you can buy yourself a complete slot car at any hobby shop but from what little I've seen of them they'd never even come close to the ones we built. I have a Unimat lathe on which I made some wheels, and I converted it into a drill press or milling machine. I used 1/2" aluminum for the main chassis, which held the motor, gears and guide. From this was hung a brass plate which served as the mounting for the body.
At most events we ran three classes; F1, Sports (topless) and GT (coupes). My winning car was a Maserati 250F.
A number of us built fiberglass bodies for ourselves and our club mates. I've sold them to people in most English speaking countries. When I quit racing (1968) I gave all my molds to a friend in the club so they'd still be available.
We started out using Pittman railroad motors, but soon the Japanese came out with a line of “tin cans” that were lighter and more powerful. We used to install ball bearings, rewind the armatures, and put in super field magnets when they became available. We balanced the armatures after advancing the commutators a bit. I also balanced my rear wheel and tire assemblies, something my mates didn’t know. They were probably doing the same thing.
Now you know all the latest dope on 1/32 slot racing from 40 years ago. I still have about 30 slot cars; all sitting on my desk in a monster case. You can see the case in the current photo. It's behind me with a small silver bowl and a large Ferrari model on top of it.
Pete passed away on January 11, 2012. For details, see his obituary. He was supposed to be featured in a book on slot racing. You can read more about his slot car activites at SlotBlot.net.
Model Reviews by Pete Hagenbuch:
Pete Hagenbuch, not content with designing the engines and fuel systems used in the actual cars, or in being a well-known slot car performance pioneer, has written reviews of numerous models: