Miscellaneous Internal-Combustion Engines

Opened: 29 Sept 2008

Updated 18 Aug 2011
Breton engine added

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This gallery shows the truly bizarre engines that fit nowhere else; for example, the Polizzi flap engine, which looks like one of the great losers of all time.


THE BRETON AERO ENGINE: 1909

This bizarre engine was shown at the Paris Flight Show in 1909.

Left: The Breton engine: 1909

The Breton engine propped up on a couple of elegant wood pillars. The object to the right is the stationary ignition magneto.

The Breton was a rotary engine; the engine rotated around a stationary shaft, and carried the propellor around with it. The peculiar design consisted of two V2 engines side by side. Three of these assemblies were mounted around a central shaft and drove it by spur gearing. Strangely the cylinders in the V2s were arranged to fire simultaneously, so the smooth flow of power theoretically possible with a 12-cylinder engine was thrown away. The cyinder heads for each set of four adjacent cylinders were a single casting.

The gearing was such that the three planetary crankshafts rotated at 1600 rpm, while the whole engine rotated en bloc at 400 rpm around the stationary central shaft, carrying around the propellor. It was supposed to give 60 HP at this speed.

From Flight magazine, 13 Nov 1909

It appears the two adjacent cylinders shared a combustion chamber, as only one spark plug per pair is shown in the photograph.

Flight magazine described it thus:

Dimensions: 82 mm by 85 mm, weight, 90 kilogs, price 10,000 Francs. The size is clearly far too small, and I suspect that some English journalist unfamiliar with the metric system confused mm with cm.

Left: The Breton engine: 1909

Air was drawn into the crank-case by fans on the three crankshafts for cooling purposes; one intake can be seen as a dark slot in bottom centre of the photograph. The cylinders were finned, but not deeply.

The valves were operated by cams on the central shaft, and fuel injected into the valve-chambers by pumps worked off the valve tappet rods. The curved injection pipes can be seen in the photograph above.

From Flight magazine, 13 Nov 1909

As far as I can determine this engine was never heard of again after the 1909 Paris Flight Show, but the idea of multiple V-engines geared to a central shaft resurfaced in 1939, with the Bakewell Wingfoot engine, shown below.


THE POLIZZI FLAP ENGINE: 1929

Left: The Polizzi flap engine: 1929.

Originator: Paul Polizzi, USA

Quite what benefit Mr Polizzi hoped to gain from this ludicrous arrangement is unclear. There would have been the usual sealing problems at the end and sides of the flap, plus extra difficulties sealing the pivot point at 12.

Info from Patent 62251


THE PIVOTAL ENGINE: 2008

Having been rather rude about the the engine above, it came as rather a shock to find that there is a flapper engine under serious development today. Run, don't walk, to The Pivotal Engineering website. (Thanks to Jones The Engine for bringing this to my attention)

Left: Two, three and four chamber Pivotal engines.

These engines are assembled from modules.

Info from Pivotal Engineering website

Left: Two views of the water-cooled flap piston.

Info from Pivotal Engineering website

I only know what is posted on their website, but it does look as if they know what they're doing. They claim that their engine can have its combustion space thermally controlled, with no hot-spots, and that makes it especially suitable to run on hydrogen. Trying to run a normal IC engine on hydrogen results in catastrophic pre-ignition because hydrogen has such a low ignition temperature.


THE BAKEWELL WINGFOOT AERO ENGINE: 1939

Left: The Bakewell engine front view: 1939.

The Bakewell engine looks at first like an ordinary radial, but it was nothing of the kind. It consisted of four 90-degree V-twin engines, each with its own crankshaft, which was then geared to a common central propellor shaft. Propellor reduction gearing was fitted, the standard ratio being 1.57 to 1. This form of construction was claimed by the makers to give "inherent balance".

The eight cylinders had a bore of 4in and a stroke of 4.5in, giving a displacement of 452 in3. (7407 cc) Output was claimed as 165 HP at 2800 rpm. The compression ratio was 5.4 to 1.

The idea of multiple V-engines had already appeared in 1909 in the Breton engine, shown above.

From Aerosphere 1939.

Left: The Bakewell engine rear view: 1939.

Fear me, earthling! The Bakewell engine was built by the Shaw-Palmer-Bakewell Co of Los Angeles. Why it was called "Wingfoot" is currently obscure.

Because of the 90-degree V angle, the cylinders nestling together in fact belonged to different V-twins.

At least one of these engines has been preserved.

From Aerosphere 1939


THE JAMES ENGINE: 1963

Left: The James engine: 1963.

This engine was put forward by Richard James Cylindrical Motors Ltd. It was a two-stroke engine with two swivelling opposed pistons operating on a single crankshaft at the bottom of the housing, and employing uniflow scavenging. It was based on work started as long ago as 1929. This is believed to be a picture of the prototype, which may well have been the only one made.

An friend of Alan Lea (who has kindly provided the report on which this article is partly based) said: "he'd seen one in Vancouver in the early 70's. He said he'd seen it running on an office desk with a (exhaust ) pipe stuck out of the window. No vibration or apparent unbalance."

The James engine apparently got some support from the Canadian Federal Government, but what happened after that is currently unknown.

Info from Setright

Left: The James engine: 1963.

The internals of the James engine.

The prototype engine had a swept volume of 29.2 in3 (478.5 cc) and a compression ratio of 11:1. The pistons were 2.375 by 2.750 in, at the rectangular section, and had a 2-inch stroke. (measured at the outer radius?) The engine body was of aluminium alloy with a cast-iron cylinder liner. The water jacket was cast integrally with the main block. The connecting rods were of drop-forged H-section steel, the big end having a single-row roller bearing; the small-end bearing were of the needle-roller type.

The pistons were sealed by L-shaped piston "rings" of cast-iron, pressed against the cylinder walls by spring expanders.

From report An Evaluation Of James Hemispherical Opposed Piston Engine by John J Szendrey Dipl. Ing., 17 March 1967. (Very kindly provided by Alan Lea)

James animation
Left: The James engine animated. Click on buttons to start/stop.

The fuel/air inlet is at extreme right. The transfer port is visible behind the right piston.

Another fine animation by Bill Todd. Javascript must be enabled for buttons to work.


THE CHATER-LEA FACE-CAM ENGINE: 1926

Left: The Chater Lea face-cam engine: 1926

Chater Lea was a respected London-based firm which supplied frame fittings to bicycle and motorcycle makers, but also manufactured complete motorcycles. The single-cylinder 350cc face-cam engine appears to have been designed by Arthur Goodman and development engineer Dougal Marchant.

A vertical shaft driven off the crankshaft by bevel gears turned a pair of face cams, one above the other. The upper cam operate the inlet valve, and the lower cam the exhaust valve. A worm pump at the bottom of the vertical shaft fed oil up the hollow shaft centre to lubricate the cams; a separate pump supplied the crankshaft bearings and roller-bearing big-end. Note the spline connections to the shaft, presumably to allow for thermal expansion.

The possibility of desmodromic operation, (ie using the cams to positively close as well as open the valves, so valve springs could be dispensed with) was considered, but not adopted because it was felt that the mechanical clearances required for successful operation would be too critical for a non-technical owner to cope with. You did your own maintenance in those days.

The original source of this drawing is unknown, but from its style, was probably Motorcycling magazine.

Production ran from 1926 to the early 1930's, and approximately 550 face-cam models were made; this seems to demonstrate that it was a sound design. At least one example survives at The National Motorcycle Museum in Solihull.


THE DONOVAN FACE-CAM ENGINE: 1930

This single-cylinder engine was designed by the motorcycle racing rider and manager Don O'Donovan, for Raleigh, who then made motorcycles as well as bicycles.

Left: The O'Donovan face-cam engine: 1930

The induction and exhaust valves were actuated by tappets bearing on a single horizontal face-cam. The vertical shaft to the face-cam was driven by bevel-gearing from the crankshaft.

The arrangement is very similar to the Chater-Lea engine described just above. According to Bird, O'Donovan "would have had ample opportunity to study it". Enough said, I think.

The O'Donovan engine was never actually used on a Raleigh but was sold to Dunelt who used it in one of their models.

There is unfortunately a terrible snag in this very neat and compact arrangement. Since the same cam is used for induction and exhaust valves, there is no opportunity for optimising perormance by having different event timing for the two valves. I Am Not A Motorcycle Engine Designer, but I would have thought this introduced crippling limitations. (The Chater Lea engine had a separate face-cam for each valve, and so did not suffer from this problem)

The original source of this drawing is unknown, but from its style probably Motorcycling magazine.

Info from "A Glimpse of the Vintage Years of Motorcycling at Brooklands" by Roger Bird. (self-published in 2008)

Left: The O'Donovan face-cam engine: 1930

Note the telescopic tube around the valve driveshaft, to allow for thermal expansion of the cylinder. The oil pump can be seen underneath the bevel box, exactly where it was placed on the Chater-Lea engine.

Left: Don O'Donovan contemplates valve-timings

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