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text by Pete Hagenbuch, Chrysler’s head of engine tuning from the 1960s to the 1980s
This is a body model that they used to use in the stress lab. They used to build one of these for every body shell we ever tried to develop, in clear plastic. It’s a very accurate model of that car. We used to see them all over. The stress lab was just one building north of the building I used to spend a lot of time in, and you used to see these things everywhere.
Would they flex them under a polarized light?
Yes, they’re looking for the high stress point, something where they need to smooth it up or beef it up, or both. That, like the chassis mock-ups, is something the computer does today.
I used to spend a lot of time in the chassis mockup area, looking at the engines and their environment. A new model would probably have fifteen different chassis mock ups, unless they had a lot of different engines – then it would be more than fifteen. Now they do it all by computer.
I would love to look over somebody’s shoulder as they do it, but I haven’t been invited [laughs]. All the guys who worked for me are retired.
Well, you probably recognize that, that’s the savior of Chrysler Corporation, number seven or eight... the K car. It was a nice little car. It wasn’t very expensive, it got good fuel economy.
Of course, this was Iacocca’s gift to all those of us that loved convertibles, because there weren’t any convertibles for some long period of time in the American auto industry, and our competitors didn’t really rush into it after we brought this out. They probably thought it wasn’t going to make it, but it did. It wasn’t a very good car, but it was a convertible.
That’s one which was my baby [2.2 turbo], that was my last big project. We went in, and nobody had any experience. They didn’t hire out anything, we just went to work and learned it. And it was hard work. Garret made the turbos, at first, then they got aced out by Mitsubishi, who was cheaper, after I had retired.
Now, the really good one… the walls were ground out for higher speed. The problem with this engine was, the TorqueFlite transmission couldn’t stand the kickdown in the torque range so it just died, leaving pieces all over. They had to change the whole shift pattern and everything to make the transmission live. The race group started playing with it, just taking more and more wall out, and the power kept going up and up, and I think we actually sold them the last year that way. It was a great engine. But of course, it was only available in the 300 letter series, which was a very expensive car. So, they didn’t make very many of them.
I was in the valve train group, running valve dynamics, listening for where the valve flow starts, with one of these cross ram 413s. Well, with all the noise from this baby, the only way you could do it is to practically stand right at the side of the engine.
Engines were my friends, I trusted them. We were just about finished; we were up to 5600 rpm, and it was still hanging together, this great huge thing with the big valves, and, believe it or not, I was standing here like this [right next to the engine]. All of a sudden, everything in the room disappeared in white smoke, it just filled the whole room. I turned around and dashed through the big double door where the engines come and go, and the operator hit the big red panic button on his console, and went out through the little door, and we met in the hall, and after about a minute, Safety was already on their way. Later, I went in and looked. The cylinder head cover was all discolored, right by the second port, back [number 3 cylinder].
We didn’t use manifold gaskets on the exhaust manifold. They were just surface on surface and they worked fine. This one must have had a fault. So, exhaust gases burned a ripple in the port face and then it went up and burned through the cork gasket. The next thing you know, all the oil in the area was burning. That’s what the smoke was.
A friend was down in the endurance lab with his boss, and they were both standing between the two engines in the test cell listening for a noise which had been reported. We knew later the flexible exhaust pipe ruptured and fell onto the base plate. Believe me, the noise it made was apocalyptic! Anyway, John and his boss both dashed out and operators who were swarming to the noise said that John got out first, even though he was farther into the room, and his boss had a big footprint on his chest. I don’t think there was any truth to that, but it was fun.
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