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SuperFinds: Erich’s Engines, and a Morgan

My friend Erich is the most ardent engine fanatic I know. Regardless of whether they’re steam-driven or petrol-powered, he absolutely loves their inherent mechanical beauty. His only proviso is they must be more than 100 years old to qualify for his affection.

After returning from a viewing in Switzerland, Erich invited me over for a steak lunch in one of his lovely hideouts near the Swiss Alps, not too far from Lake Constance. He said he had something to show me and I was really curious.

Arriving at his estate, I saw him hoisting a very large water-cooled straight six-cylinder engine onto a bench.

Early Aeronautical Engine

Above: A thing of beauty. Possibly an early aeronautical engine, but what was it used for?

Erich’s smile, and the gleam in his eyes, told me this was an engine like no other, built, I would say, somewhere around 1904, or even earlier. Brass was used extensively in its construction, most noticeably for the cylinder jackets. Sadly there was no marque inscription. So, not knowing exactly what it was, we both sat contemplating its origin and purpose over steaks and (later) cigars. 

It had a propeller shaft, so possibly an early Zeppelin engine? Or could it be a U-boat engine from before World War I? Maybe, maybe not. It may even have been destined to power a ship or provide propulsion for a car with a propellor. Any suggestions from our readers? My best guess is there’s some sort of aeronautical connection. What I do know is it’s an incredibly beautiful; in fact it’s the most beautiful engine I have ever seen.

The engine was a work of art, but so too was the engine crane itself, which looked as if it might have been inspired by the Eifel Tower.

Motor hoist

Above: Erich’s beautifully engineered motor hoist with its working manual winch sees regular, sometimes heavy use. 

After lunch and a glass of the best Barolo, we drove up to Erich’s picturesque airfield nestling in an Alpine valley. Awaiting me there was another real engine SuperFind.

In a small hangar, sitting right alongside Erich’s Boeing Stearman was a monstrous 27-litre Hispano-Suiza V12 Type 57 Aero engine from a pre-World War II French fighter aircraft. What a sight! 

V12 Hispano 27-litre Aero engine

Above: The V12 Hispano 27-litre Aero engine looks very compact. Imagine fitting it in your pre-war car chassis!

In fact, this Hispano is super rare and a very compact beast capable of delivering around 500hp. I've seen many of the early Hispano V8 motors in my lifetime, but never a V12. Still brand new, it has had only two hours of total dyno running time and comes directly from the old Hispano-Suiza Aero factory in Winterthur, Switzerland. It stood, appropriately protected and unused, in the old workshop for over 90 years until Erich arrived with his motor crane.

Erich assured me that it is still like new inside, ready to be installed in an early fighter plane, or, if you’d prefer, in your old Rolls-Royce Phantom I or Napier chassis. That would actually not be a bad idea at all, and probably easily done with the addition of a compatible gearbox. As the engine is too young for his collection he wants to sell it on to someone who’ll make good use of it. Any takers? 

Engine fanatic

Above: Erich (right) is the most ardent engine fanatic, and he regularly falls in love with them as long as they are over 100 years old.

Driving on, via the monotonous Milano-Genova motorway down to Monaco, I stopped near  Allessandria, a region famous for its Borsalino hats, good food and the best wineries of Italy, and looked online for anyone in the area who was engaged in classic cars.

I found a little Google entry of a garage mentioning classic cars and called the owner. He was very forthcoming but did not speak English so we tried French. After an hour of searching around a very rural area with no GPS signal, I found the workshop down the smallest back alley, hidden deep between the vineyards.

Entering his shop, the owner apologised very politely for not having any more high-carat material on show, but guided me towards an early RHD Morgan Plus Four and a Porsche Super 90 Coupe.

1968 Morgan Plus Four

Above: 1968 Morgan Plus Four with aluminium body. Such a delicate, lovely machine. I almost forgot how small they were.

Always a Morgan type of guy, I immediately fell for the Plus Four. It’s just such a delicate, beautiful thing in the flesh. It was a 1968 Plus Four with the early Ford Kent engine. Seemingly all original, and looking ‘straight out of the box’ new.

The whole body was made from aluminium, not just the wings. Surely an expensive extra on the Morgan sales list. Apart from the racing Plus Fours I cannot remember seeing such an early aluminium-bodied production Four.

Anyway, the owner tossed me the keys and said, ‘Let’s go.’ Immediately I found myself folded behind the steering wheel of that lovely machine, pressing the starter, and driving off.

Nice and relaxed, we cruised through the wine country and had a creamy coffee in a little bar next to the church, admiring the impressive shape and flowing lines of the little sports car. 

1968 Moggy

Above: Virtually as new, the little 1968 Moggy with its aluminium body poses in front of an Italian café. Surely one of the most currently underrated classic cars.

I felt hard-pressed not to put down a deposit right away. In the end, I held back, but perhaps I’ll return next spring. In the meantime, can anyone tell me if the aluminium body was a standard Morgan extra in 1968?

Article by Michael Kliebenstein

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Michael - December 8, 2021

Dear Richard Crump,

Thank you for responding to my little story about the aero engines.

I remember the Lord Brocket affair very well, but I wasn’t aware there were also aero engines at the estate.

The Beardmore engine has strong connections to Austro-Daimler. That may be the reason this one appeared in Austria, so you could be right.

I looked it up; the Type 120 HP is similar but was built in 1916. I believe the one I photographed is a bit earlier.

Thank you for putting me on a good track. When I see Erich next time I will look for a big ‘B’ or any other hint in that direction.

I am always overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the engineering realised in those early days. Astonishing!

Have a great Christmas, and please let me know when you see something out of the ordinary,

Kindest regards,

Michael Kliebenstein

richard crump - December 7, 2021

The mystery aero engine does have a look of Beardmore about it. I owned the remains of one some 15 years ago which I had purchased from the Brocket Estate in Hertfordshire following on from the Lord Brocket scandal. The Estate governors sold off some items and I acquired the Beardmore engine, which eventually found its way into the Peter Jackson Aero Museum in New Zealand. The same hugely talented guy who has just released the amazing Beatles film “Get Back”. Another Beardmore engine is in the ownership of the Shuttleworth Trust in Bedfordshire. Lovely joys of engineering! Regards. Richard Crump

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