Willem Weertman - Chrysler engine designer - personal and engine chronology
Willem Weertman has long been famed as a force behind some of the most famous and beloved Mopar engines — small and big block V8s, the 426 Hemi, the slant six, and the new generations of 2.2 liter four-cylinders and 3.3/3.8 liter V6 powerplants. In 2007, Mr. Weertman published a comprehensive history of Chrysler engines which went into surprising depth on early engines, including those of Dodge Brothers. The photos, diagrams, and information presented here were provided by Mr. Weertman in 2009.
In June 1947, Willem Weertman graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor of Engineering degree, and became a student at the prestigious Chrysler Institute of Engineering, where he took two years of coursework and rotating assignments. In one class, Willem and others designed a six-cylinder, L-head engine. This was their first real engine experience, and they learned about pistons, connecting rods, and the crankshaft within the cylinder block; valves and the c0mbustion chamber, in the head; and bore, stroke, and displacement.
In April 1949, Willem Weertman started his last Institute of Engineering work assignment at the Resident Engineering Staff of the Plymouth Assembly Plant. When he graduated in June 1949, he became a permanent member of the Resident Engineering Staff at Plymouth Assembly Plant, assigned to car electrical engineering work. He bought his first new car, a 1949 Plymouth convertible, and met the woman who would become his wife.
In November 1950, Weertman started active duty with U.S. Navy on the hospital ship U.S.S. Repose during the Korean War. He completed his tour two years later and resumed work at the Plymouth Assembly Plant.
Small block V8 engines
In September 1954, Weertman was transferred to the Plymouth Mound Road V8 Engine Plant project, becoming its first resident engineer. In July 1955, Plymouth V8 A-engine started production at Mound Road Engine Plant and Windsor Engine Plant for 1956 Plymouth models. At the time, Mound Road was the most advanced engine manufacturing plant in the country.
Eventually, the A engines were redesigned, becoming the LA series.
“I was in charge of design for the LA engine conversion. The biggest difference between the LA and A engines is really the valve arrangement. ... we made all the valves tipped to the intake manifold and inline, as viewed from the front of the engine, giving it a wedge shaped combustion chamber. The reason we went to such a change, which triggered totally new cylinder heads and manifolds for the engine, was that the engine was designed to go into the Valiant car. The Valiant car was originally not designed to take a V-8 engine. So we were really limited in every which way about getting the engine in place and the older A engine was simply far too wide at the cylinder heads in order to go into the car.
“In the process we also wanted to take a lot of weight out because the Valiant, the Dart was the companion car of Dodge, wanted to have engines much lighter than what a conventional A engine would be. So we took as much as we could out of the cylinder heads and the intake manifold and the cylinder block which is of course the largest and heaviest piece of an engine. That triggered a new casting process for the cylinder block that allowed us to make all the walls thinner and we took a lot of the weight out of the block.
“From going from our polyspherical chambers to the inline valve wedge chambers we found [performance] was a wash. There was concern that it would be a loss but it was not.”
Big block V8 engines: B and RB
In November 1955, Weertman was transferred to the Engine Design Department of Central Engineering, and promoted to Manager – Engine Design. A new series of engines was in the process of being designed — the big-block B and RB V8 engines, designed to replace the relatively small Hemi engines, answering the competition’s displacement with ... displacement. The B and RB engines had several displacements; all used wedge chambers. These engines were the start of a centralized engine manufacturing division, building engines used by all four divisions (Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, and Chrysler).
The new compact Valiant needed a new engine; it had to be light and short (both front-to-back and top-to-bottom). The engineers chose to create an in-line six, leaning the cylinders 30 degrees to the right and moving the water pump to a position alongside the block to make the engine short.
Engine production started in July 1959, just a year after the RB V8, with a 170 cubic inch LG version for the 1960 Plymouth Valiant and a 225 cubic inch raised-deck RG version for other 1960 Plymouth and Dodge models. Ten years later a 198 cubic inch RG engine replaced the 170 LG engine.
The 30° slant is clearly shown in the cross-section diagram.
Special Hyper-Pak engines went racing with the four-barrel carburetor and a split exhaust. Special NASCAR compact car races were held in January 1960; the HyperPak engines swept the field, taking first through third place. The race was discontinued — permanently.
In 1961 and 1962, there was a die-cast aluminum cylinder block program; after around 47,000 engines were built with aluminum blocks, the program was cancelled due to high costs (see a discussion in the interviews).
Revell’s slant six model kit included a booklet with basic engine information, written by Willem Weertman, then Managing Engineer of the Engine Design Department.
While it was never produced, Bill did work on the slant six turbodiesel.
High performance V8 engines
1960 also saw the wild-looking long-branch, cross-ram Wedge, the result of resonance-tuning dyno tests, used in high-performance Plymouth, Dodge, and Chrysler (300F only) cars. It was tagged Plymouth Sonoramic Commando and Dodge D500 Ram Induction.
In June 1962, Weertman was promoted to Assistant Chief Engineer – Engine Design; and a new B-RB setup with dual plenums and diagonal carburetors, dubbed Max Wedge, was created for drag-strip racing by the Ramchargers and Golden Commandos. The engine was a success on drag strips, but something different was needed for NASCAR.
The elephant engine: 426 Hemi
The need for greater power for racing led to the creation of the 426 Hemi, an RB engine with hemispherical heads, , which required double rocker arm shafts and other features that pushed power to new highs. The design coupled the efficiency of the earlier Hemi V8s with the displacement of the RB engines.
The image below shows the original layout from March 23, 1963. A rush was made to get parts and start the dyno testing needed to make the engine ready to race.
This is an outside view of the Hemi engine. Weertman wrote, “Looked big and powerful and it was. AKA Elephant Motor and King Kong.” The components needed for the flow-through Hemi heads added to the bulk.
This cross section shows good ports.
Hemi on the dyno. First started, late 1963; race day, February 23, 1964. “Race simulation under way in January 1964. Disaster.”
“Bore cracks. New, thicker wall blocks were needed. The first new blocks were no good. Then success. Intense program. All Hemi work rewarded on February 23, 1964. Hemi-Plymouths took first, second, and third at Daytona International Speedway. Petty in #43 won, Jimmy Pardue second, Paul Goldsmith third; new track record, 154.334 mph. The winning block had been cast on February 10, 1964.
“The Hemi dominated drag strips. The Ramchargers’ Candymatic, shown here with Jim Thornton driving, achieved a record of 130.06 in the quarter mile at the 1964 NHRA U.S. Nationals meet.”
“Another Hemi project was the Bob and Bill Summers’ car, the Goldenrod. It had four fuel-injected Hemis mounted in-line, in pairs, back to back, with short-tuned ram pipes and dry sumps. 6oo horsepower per engine. Bob made a two-way record of 409.277 mph on November 13, 1965; the record still stands, and the car is at the Henry Ford Museum.”
Weertman’s work on the Australian overhead valve straight-six bore fruit in late 1969, as the Lonsdale, Australia factory started production of the legendary (within Australia and New Zealand) powerplant. This engine drove an Australian Valiant Charger to a long-standing acceleration record — beating Holden, Ford, and Chrysler V8 powered cars.
Although not directly involved in Chrysler Engineering’s extensive gas turbine program during the 1960s, Engine Design provided drawings needed for the vehicle installation of the gas turbine engine.
During the late 1960s interest arose in a version of the big-block B engine which would combine Hemi-like power with lighter weight, lower cost cylinder heads. An engine like this, coded A279 and known as the Ball Stud Hemi, was designed and tested. However with the high performance market shrinking rapidly, further costs could not be justified and the project was cancelled.
In August 1976, Weertman was promoted to Chief Engineer – Engine Design and Development. He therefore had a pivotal role in the most popular Chrysler engines of recent memory — the 2.2 / 2.5 liter four-cylinders used in K-cars and their descendents, the 3.3 - 3.8 liter V6 engines still used today, and others.
The 2.2 liter four-cylinder engines started production in the summer of 1980 at the Trenton Engine Plant for the 1981 L-body (Omni and Horizon) and K (Reliant and Aries) cars. A breakthrough in turbine housing cooling led to Chrysler’s offering a series of turbocharged versions of the 2.2 and 2.5-L engines starting in 1984, which provided substantial power increases.
On August 1983, minivan production started; at the time, it only used four-cylinder engines. A 2.5 liter version of the 2.2 was put into production in summer 1985 at Trenton Engine, for the 1986 minivans, replacing the Mitsubishi 2.6 liter engines (which would be used in other Chrysler vehicles through June 1987).
In the summer of 1989, a brand new engine and Chrysler’s first passenger-car V6 was launched at the Trenton Engine Plant. The 3.3 liter, overhead valve engine remains in production for minivans, and was originally used in the 1990 minivans and upscale sedans. (Chrysler’s first V6, the 3.9 liter truck engine, was introduced in 1988.)
Even after retirement, Willem Weertman was called in by Chrysler for consultations on some special projects. These included the Maserati 2.2 liter dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder, the Viper V10, and the 2-liter, 16-valve Neon four-cylinder.
About four months after I officially retired I called my former boss at Chrysler, Jack Bahm, and asked if he might have something interesting for me to work on as a per diem consultant. He said something to the effect of, “Yes, we have a joint venture with Maserati involving a car with a 4-valve DOHC engine that is a Maserati-designed conversion of Chrysler's production 2.2-L SOHC Trenton-built engine. The engine is being tested by an outside engineering firm in the Detroit area and some problems with the engine have arisen. Perhaps you can join the group and help with finding solutions to the problems.” I did exactly that.
The Maserati engine was, by contract, offered only in the car named, "Chrysler's TC by Maserati."
[Editor’s note: another DOHC 2.2 liter engine, developed by Lotus and dubbed the Turbo III, powered the Dodge Daytona R/T and Spirit R/T; Mr. Weertman was not involved in the Turbo III program, but the two DOHC 2.2s are sometimes confused].
Then about the time the engineering work on the Maserati engine was being completed, the Viper car entered its pre-production prototype phase. Jack asked me switch to the Viper project, which I did, becoming a rather active consultant on the base engine design and development. That really was a great program to be part of - it truly was a team of guys who were tops in their respective fields and didn't mind a lot of hard work.
The photo above was taken at the PG skid pad on April 27, 1991; Weertman was driving, with his daughter Janet in the passenger seat. Under the hood sat a huge V10 engine, propelling the car from 0-60 in around 4.6 seconds.
In 1992, one of the first Vipers showed up in Willem Weertman’s driveway. He drove it around to friends for demo rides. “Of interest, the engine was produced at the Mound Road Engine Plant, where I had been Resident Engineer about 40 years earlier.”
Willem Weertman wrote,
Following the production start of the Viper engine I made my final consulting switch to the Small Car Engine Engineering staff at the Chrysler Technical Center, which was working on the new 2.0-L 4-cylinder engine for the Neon car. I recall making computer-generated dynamometer and car development test schedules for use by Doug Livermore, the manager of the engine program.
In November 2007, Weertman displayed his Chrysler Engines book. It started in 2001 with a corporate request to write a short summary of engines used by Chrysler; it ended up as a thick book published by SAE.