Pete Hagenbuch’s tour of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum

Floating Power displayThis was another one of our engineering firsts, called Floating Power.

When they were working at developing the Plymouth, they noticed what we all know, that is, watching a four cylinder idle, it was just thrashing all over the engine compartment.

What if, instead of mounting everything down around the pan rail, they put the front mount now, as a pivot, very high, … here’s the thing that goes up and is pivoted in the block, and the engine drove nicely. It didn’t improve the idle quality any, it just didn’t shake the car as much, and didn’t look as bad.

They used it for years. People loved it.

Audience: Do we get to press the button?

Oh, certainly. [The display starts jiggling.] … Now, I’m not saying they didn’t exaggerate, but you get the idea. Actually, I would say that any four cylinder that I’ve seen idle, was about like that, except it wasn’t such an even beat. [Note: Pete Hagenbuch was one of the designers of the 2.2 liter engines]

Audience: There’s a leaf spring on the back.

In the rear mount? Really? That’s part of the floating… wait a minute… on this one over here… yeah, there’s a… son of a gun. I have not noticed that until now!

Audience: Okay. Yes, please. You’re going to give me credit, too.

I was an engine man but that was way before my time!

Floating Power Four engine

Moving on with some of my favorite non-automotive displays, because I’m an engine man:

The Chrysler tank engine for the M4 Sherman tanks

This is our 30 cylinder tank engine. We were asked by the War Department, or whatever it went by then, to come up with a 500 horsepower engine that would sit in the back of the brand new M-4 Sherman Tank that we had just developed with the Army, and which was scheduled to get an aircraft type air-cooled radial, only it wasn’t tooled.

Chrysler tank engine

Roosevelt wanted to send tanks to the British. This was 1939 or ’40… you know, the war had already started, and Chrysler said, “Yeah, we’ll do it,” and it took them a little over six months. There’s five 251 cubic inch, flathead Dodge six cylinder truck engines [total 1253 cid]. The biggest thing was the design and development of the casting, that married everything, it must be huge, probably heavier than… but in a tank I guess, you care, at least not a whole lot.

There’s an awful lot of hand work on that, all the welded manifolding and stuff, and you’ll see that it has five, independent carburetors. It has five distributors. It has five vibration dampers on the front end of each crank shaft, and on the back, it has a big set of spur gears, each pinion having an overrunning clutch, so if you loose an engine, you don’t hold back the other four. [This particular engine was actually discovered in Argentina and restored by Chrysler.]

Sherman Tank engine

The Government 500 horsepower, and Chrysler says, “These are 90 horsepower engines, will you accept 450”? They didn’t have much choice, because nobody else took them up on the job, so they didn’t have 500 horsepower. We built 7,500 tanks with that engine in them, plus a huge number of spares. And by then, the Lycoming, or whatever arrived, and Chrysler started building the tanks with the aircraft engine.

It was just one of the small jobs we did during World War II, and the next one is kind of small, almost insignificant.

tank engine detail: carburetors

The Chrysler-engineered Hemi-head airplane engine

It’s an inverted V16, with two valve, Hemi combustion chambers. Chrysler’s first experience with the hemispherical combustion chamber.

If you look at a cutaway of this engine, and you’re looking at a cutaway of the 1951 New Yorker Engine, you’d think they were brothers, except these were upside down. Don’t ask me why. Maybe it was so they could mount a couple of cannons in the nose. This would make it easier. The Messerschmitts had nose cannons and they were also an inverted V.


Anyway, this had all the bells and whistles, had fork and blade connecting rods and the big gear tower in the middle, driving the camshafts, driving the output shaft, which drove the magnetos back there, and the propeller… there were only about six of them that ever existed. It was purely a development program.

They hit their power target at 2500, with 2200 cubic inches, and that was 1944. We were already having ME262 Jets shooting down our bombers, and for all concerned, you know, it [the engine] was a total waste of further time and money. But Chrysler, being mainly concerned with engineering like it was through that period, paid Republic Aviation to finish their flight test program in the P47, which is pictured up there. It was the damnedest-looking P47 you ever saw, if you know what the original was like.

Anyway, it was, you know, cost plus, which Chrysler actually made a little money on them, and they also learned how to give them a Hemi chamber, the porting and everything. They also learned about safety wiring and how to design the fork and blade connecting rods, and the fork and blade, which is a whole science in itself, in making little tiny bearing inserts, two to a rod, two more to the caps.

They learned a lot. In fact, a lot of the guys involved in that, went on to greater things, later, in engineering.

V16 Thunderbolt Hemi engine

Gene: And this was naturally aspirated?

Interviewee: Oh no. There’s your charge cooler and there’s your compressor, but it was designed to have a turbo. The problem would have been, if they ever got to the point where they were going to mass produce it — General Electric made the turbocharger. Nobody else knew how to make them, and I don’t think G.E. was willing to tell anybody else how to make them. And they also, apparently, were unwilling or unable to expand their capacity. So, if you know anything about World War II airplanes, it explains a lot, because the Army apparently had first choice of the turbochargers because Navy planes supposedly didn’t have to fly at high altitude.

So, the Army said, “All right, we only have this many turbochargers. So, the B-17, the B-24, heavy bombers, they get them. The fighters that get them will be the P-47 with the Pratt & Whitney R2800, and P38 with the Allison V-1710.

A huge injustice, World War II, everybody that doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about thought the [Rolls Royce] Merlin was the best engine in the War, and that is nonsense! The best engine in the War was the Pratt & Whitney R2800. The Corsair and the Hellcat follows the P47. The Douglas A26, the Martin B26, the Curtis Commando that flew the hump, they all had our R2800s. They’re all great airplanes.

aircraft engineSo, the other unfair thing was that the Curtis P40, the Bell P39, they were left out in the cold without turbos. They had just one little compressor, like this one, so they weren’t any good above 15,000 feet. They weren’t much good at 15,000. The Russians loved them. The Russians were fighting the Germans, the Germans didn’t go high either, until they started trying to shoot down B17s, but that was a development program, too, for them.

The Allison, which has always been considered a really second rater, was the outstanding liquid cooled engine of World War II, as far as I’m concerned. The Merlin was a great engine. It was hugely survivable, and was reliable. It ran under huge amounts of boost.

The British were the only people that really understood mechanically driven supercharges, and boy, did they understand them. They had two stage, which meant two separate compressors with a cooler in between, which is why you call it an intercooler. If you have one compressor, it’s not an intercooler. It ain’t between anything. It’s a charge cooler. [Which makes the 2.2 Turbo II/III/IV series charge-cooled, not intercooled.]

Anyway, to me, the best liquid cooled engine in the War was the Allison V12, 1710 cubic inches. The most reliable was the Rolls Merlin, but the Merlin couldn’t be as good. The Allison had the classic four valve head with Pent-Roof Chambers and the ports were just to die for. Oh, we loved to have them on all our performance cars, ports like that.

If you were on the tour with us, you may have noticed that the writeup is a little different. Because print flow is different from tour flow, we’ve re-ordered the written version of the tour slightly to put the three engines together.

The Merlin had four valves. The valve stems were parallel to the cylinder bore axis. The ports were really really cranked around, because there wasn’t enough room up there for valve stems, and the cooling around the valve stems, they were not really what I would call well designed cylinder heads. They were reliable, and with enough boost, you can make anything have performance. But if you had high boost pressure on an engine with the classic “pent-roof” chamber, it would have even more output.

Now, it seems to me it’s a real unfair situation. That knowledge is not shared by even a lot of people that do know a little about airplanes. Anyway, I was an airplane lover before I came to Detroit to build cars, and once I started working with engines, I got really interested in aircraft engines, because that is as far as piston engines have ever gone. Some of those things were just unbelievable, and I think the Pratt and Whitney corn cobs, with 28 cylinders in four rows, the R-4360 was one of them

You know, everybody tells me on my tours, I spend way too much time. I guess they’re right.

Go back to the first segment: the Museum, Walter P. Chrysler, Airflow, early Plymouth.

Go to the next segment: Bantam Jeep, DeSoto Six, early Hudson, corporate history, Power Wagon

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