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Ed Poplawski: A 41-year career in Chrysler Engineering (Part I: Dyno Man)

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Ed Poplawski: A 41-year career in Chrysler Engineering (Part I: Dyno Man)

by Ed Poplawski

I started at Chrysler engineering on March 23, 1966 and was hired to work in the Engine Performance and Endurance Testing area. My first two weeks were in the Endurance Testing area, where there were five test cells, each with two engines running 24 hours a day.

My job was to take hourly readings on all the engines running and to perform periodic maintenance on them like oil changes, etc. We also did tests on the engines to evaluate their performance like nitro checks (where you pumped large amounts of nitrogen into each cylinder through the spark plug hole and look for air bubbles in the coolant system to check for leaking head gaskets), compression checks, putting purple dye in the coolant and checking the outside of the engine with a black light to look for water leaks.

Every so many hours you would shut the engine down and pull the oil pan to do a bearing inspection, pull the heads to check the valves and valve seat wear, and do a carbon cleaning of the combustion chambers and piston tops. The reason for this was because back then we used leaded gas and there would be build-up on these parts and we would clean these parts so the engine would run at peak performance. We also replaced gaskets or bearings or piston rings or pistons or valve train components like springs and rocker arms, or any other parts of the engine at periodic intervals to determine wear and endurance of these parts. This went on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Next, I was assigned to a Performance Engine dyno test cell where there is one operator in a cell with one engine and one dyno. I worked in various Performance / Race test cells for the next 24 years, and worked on many and varied engine programs. For example, the Australian Six (which is the very first engine I broke doing WOT [wide open throttle] power testing), 440-6bbl, 340-6 bbl, Thermoquad development for the 340, NASCAR and NHRA race engine development like the 355 race engines, Pro-gas 288 drag engines, Road Runner 383, Street Hemi development and Ball-Stud Hemi development (400 & 444), W-2 cylinder head development, variable venturi carburetors, Super Six, 2.2L and 2.5L Turbo 1 and II, 4-valve Lotus and Maserati head development, and single cylinder engine development. I also spent 3 years in the Air Flow lab developing and evaluating various cylinder head and port designs for our engines like the "fast burn" combustion chamber.

The 1977 Polaroid photos are of myself in Room 7A, one of four race dyno cells Chrysler had in use in the late 1960s to the late 1970s. The other dynos were 7B and Rooms 12 and 13; this dyno was capable of running 12,000 rpm. The engine is an eight-barrel version of the 288 cubic inch drag engine that Ted Flack ran in his Pro-Gas Mopar, a destroked version of the 340. Power runs were made from 6,400 to 10,000 with readings taken every 400 rpm. This engine was a screamer!
Performance testing was different than Endurance testing in that you were trying to optimize the actual performance of the engine as far as torque and horsepower and fuel economy and spark advance. You were trying to get the most bang for the buck. We would try all sorts of new parts like modified intake and exhaust manifolds, changing the camshaft or camshaft timing or the camshaft events, various spark plugs, different cylinder head port and combustion chamber designs, additional carburetors and different type and sizes of exhaust systems, change the jetting of the carburetors, use different spark advances and air cleaners and air filters, different ratios of water pump pulleys, windage trays, etc.

The engines were instrumented with thermocouples in each port of the exhaust manifold to measure exhaust gas temperatures, stainless steel sampling tubes were also installed in each exhaust port to sample the exhaust gas itself to determine the fuel / air ratio of the engine and the emissions of the engine, a 6" deeper oil pan was installed so that the performance would not be affected by the windage in the crankcase, thermocouples were also installed in the air cleaner inlet and in other places of the engine depending on the type of data we were looking for.

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Testing involved either part throttle or wide open throttle tests starting at 800 rpm and going up to 6000 rpm depending on the type of engine we were running, taking all of our readings at 400 rpm intervals. We would read torque, horsepower, spark advance, oil and water temperature, air temperature, fuel flow, exhaust gas temperatures, fuel / air ratios, air flow, vacuum in the intake manifold, etc. At the end of the test we would bring the engine back down to 800 rpm, shut off the fuel and the spark, and go back up through the speed range with the throttle wide open and measure the friction at each speed. After the test the test engineer would calculate and plot the data and talk with his manager and they would plan the next changes to be done to the engine. Then I would perform those changes and we would repeat the process over and over again until we got the performance we were looking for.

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Up until the mid 1970s, when OSHA was created by Congress to monitor health and safety issues, the dyno operator and test engineer were in the test cell with the engine. There was a console where all the controls and meters and gauges were, and then 6 feet away was the engine, hooked to the dyno with a 4-6 foot propshaft. The propshaft was encased in a 1/4" thick steel guard.

When you ran WOT (wide open throttle) power checks form 800 to 6000 RPM, taking readings every 400 RPM, the exhaust system would start to turn red hot. From about 4400 RPM on up to 6000 RPM, the complete exhaust system from the engine to the outlet was red hot and glowing. The sound of the engine and dyno was extremely loud as you can imagine.

When and if there was an engine failure of any kind, parts would start flying around the room and it was time for the operator to make tracks as we used to say. Many times water lines would rupture and boiling water would spray all over the place. Or if a rod broke and went through the oil pan, 180° oil would spray all over.

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Although this didn't happen very often the opportunity was there all the time. See the photo, above, of Room 40, Building 136 at Highland Park Engineering center. The dyno operator at the controls is Ken Heatlie and Bob Lechner is the Test Engineer.

This was an exciting job to say the least. The exhaust systems would be red hot, the noise was unbelievable, and when parts and pieces of the engine broke it was all men for themselves as we dodged them and got out of the cell. And this was an everyday occurrence.

After OSHA came into existence 6" thick walls with bulletproof glass and sound deadener were installed between the operator and the dyno/engine for their safety and protection. What an improvement that was! However, the test cells which were used for full race engine development always had a steel wall and bulletproof glass between the engines and the operators because the speeds we tested at were much higher (up to 10,000 rpm) and when an engine broke, usually the damage was extensive to the engine, and in some cases fires would break out. All the test cells had CO2 fire extinguishers in the ceilings to put out any fires that would occur.

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Many times when a crankshaft broke it would fall downward and literally rip the oil pan off the engine and all the oil would splash everywhere and usually cause a fire. Connecting rods breaking were also interesting because many times the rod would jam itself between the bottom of the piston and the crank and the engine would come to an immediate and abrupt stop. Now that was entertaining!

In response to our questions:

Most of the performance engineers were real motorheads so they were easy to work with and were really interested in their jobs. One of the fun guys to work with was Al Nichols. He was the camshaft guru and he had a language all his own that you had to learn so you could communicate with him. He was into everything from carbs to cams and those newfangled things called computers.

[The Ball-Stud Hemi] was pretty straightforward program. As far as I remember they only built the 444 cid motor with a Thermoquad. I think they built about a dozen engines but I'm not really sure. Had a few issues with pulling out the studs for the rockers but that was fixed pretty quick. I remember there was at least one car with the engine in it, a 1970 Plymouth GTX. The engine made a little over 400 horsepower with the Thermoquad. There were no plans for a dual quad engine as they were going to try to make it pass emissions.

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[The Australian Six] engine was designed here I remember. I worked on the 245 version with a two barrel carb. They did run a few engines on the endurance dynos, I remember for sure. I did some performance development on the 245 engine, mainly camshaft phasing stuff. This engine was the first one that I broke on a dyno run and it scared the hell out of me. Something to do with the oil pump and the distributor shaft that broke at high speed and caused the engine to run out of oil and it seized up. To me the engine was pretty neat with the "hemi" head and it had a nice sound to it. I am pretty sure it had a higher top end speed than the Slant 6 because of the valve train setup.

Marc Rozman was a dyno operator like me, and if I remember right I trained him in the operation of the dyno when he first hired in. We got to be friends over the years and since photograpy is his hobby he took all the pictures at my retirement party on 2007. There was a time when our test cells were side by side. I had a race engine and he was doing emissions testing and I drove him crazy when I ran my tests because I made so much noise he couldn't do his testing until I was done.
ALSO SEE: Ed Poplawski's "second career" with Chrysler, in prototype and racing engine procurement.

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