When Torture Testing Engines Was Not Just Mad Men Hype

Murilee’s post over at TTAC about Chrysler’s durability testing back in the ’60s shows that the phrase “torture test” was not just Mad Men generated hype. Back in the day, they’d run engines on the dyno, load them down so much that at wide open throttle they could only produce 800 RPM, and then they’d do that for ten hours. That was followed by 10 hours each of full throttle at loads that would produce 1600, 2400, 3200, and 3600 RPM, followed by 9 hours at 4000 and an hour at 4400, all on the same engine. That testing was done at Chrysler’s engineering department in Highland Park, Michigan. It just so happens that when Chrysler moved from Highland Park out to Auburn Hills, someone had the foresight to save at least some of the test equipment.

On that Auburn Hills campus is the independent Walter P. Chrysler Museum, which has fine collection of cars from the many marques that have contributed to Chrysler’s history. Like many car museums, they don’t have enough display space in the main exhibit halls to show all their cars and artifacts, and like many car museums they store some of the overflow in the basement. In this case they call it Boss Chrysler’s Garage (with that possessive S so popular with Michiganders), and there are some very cool cars, engines and odds and ends down there like the first Airflow prototype, the ’57 Dodge Sweptside, a pickup truck with tail fins, and a Hemi powered air raid siren that used to sit on top of a Chrysler factory.

There were 5 endurance testing cells and one performance testing cell in Highland Park. The console and scale from one of those cells has been preserved in the basement of the WPC Musuem, with one of the 426 Hemis that NASCAR banned, resulting in Chrysler pulling out of NASCAR for a while, setting the stage for Richard Petty’s drag racing career. The number of test cells at Chrysler’s engineering center comes courtesy of the *WOAICK, from this account, by Ed Poplawski, who worked on some of the most notable Mopar engines since the 1960s in the course of a 41 year career at Chrysler. Murilee ended up in the Highland Park test cells, so to speak, in pursuit of information on the Hemi Six that Chrysler designed for the Australian market. In his account, interestingly enough, Poplawski says that the Australian Six was the first engine that he broke on a dyno, perhaps this very one.

In the vintage photo on the wall, you can see the same scale and control console.

The Australian Hemi Six is a fairly obscure Mopar engine. Across Boss Chrysler’s Garage from the Dyno console and the NASCAR Hemi is another obscure six cylinder from Chrysler, this one a Slant Six. How obscure can a Slant Six be? After all, they made more than 12 million of them, one of the highest production engines ever. Well, this Slant Six has an aluminum block, which Chrysler actually sold for a couple of years in the early 1960s, soon after the venerable Slant was introduced. Apparently the idea was to improve fuel economy with reduced weight and maybe improve performance. The $47.35 option saved 66 lbs over the standard Slant. Casting problems, cost and lack of demand killed the option in 1963. The blocks were die-cast with iron cylinder liners cast in place. About 52,000 were made so they’re not that rare but they are rare enough that when Steve Magnante, famous as “Doctor Datecode” on Speed TV’s Barrett-Jackson coverage, came across one in a pick-n-pay junkyard, he quickly rented an engine hoist, picked the alloy RG block and paid for what is indisputably a museum piece.

*Whirlpool Of Arcane Internet Car Knowledge – © 2012 Murilee Martin

This entry was posted in Automotive History, Chrysler. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to When Torture Testing Engines Was Not Just Mad Men Hype

  1. noemdfan says:

    Actually, the “Hemi-6” cylinder “D-engine” was originally designed to replace the Slant Six. With larger displacement than the “leaning tower of power,” and a lot of machining interchangability (the same bore as a 318), it was originally designed to compete with larger GM and Ford inline 6 engines. Apparently, Chrysler “pulled the plug” on the development of the engine in 1966 after it realized there was no market for the engine. Chrysler Australia was looking for a larger engine for its Valiant line up to compete with the small block Chevy V-8s in their Holden cars and with the Ford smallblock in the Australian Falcons. They were more than happy to get a lightweight inline six of their own (http://www.valiant.org/valiant/hemi-six.html). After trying to complete the durability tests own their own with no success, an engineer from Highland Park came down to assist. By using colder heat range sparkplugs, they easily completed the tests. Next, they started developing the E-37/E-48, and E-38, and E-49 packages for their racing packages with sidedraft weber carburetors, a hot camshaft, and factory headers. The combustion chamber is not a true Hemi, but a Polyspherical Combustion Chamber. These engines came in the Valiant Pacer 4-door sedan and the Valiant Charger coupe, starting in 1969 through the end of production of the Aus-Val in 1980.

Leave a Reply