Offenhauser auto racing car engines, Motor sports engine design

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Offenhauser’s Golden Decade at the Indy 500

May 26, 2007 by  
Filed under Features

Perhaps no racing name is more closely linked with the Indianapolis 500 than Offenhauser. This venerable engine manufacturer was a dominant force at The Brickyard from the early 1930s up until the 1960s. Offenhauser remained a force to be reckoned with until 1983, rounding out a spectacular half-century run as America’s most advanced racing engines.

It all began in the heady days of the Roaring Twenties when investors were more than happy to fund the newest technological breakthroughs. In the field of racing engine design, one name stood out: Fred Offenhauser. Working closely with Harry Miller, Offenhauser introduced an engine that was revolutionary for its time yet quite familiar to us today – a dual overhead cam (DOHC) motor sporting 4 valves per cylinder. Although small in displacement, even for the era, the advanced 4-cylinder engine Offenhauser & Miller introduced in 1930 was deceptively powerful. The first variant of the new engine displaced 151 cubic inches and promptly set a new land speed record of 144.895 mph. Further development of the engine saw displacement increase to 251.92 cubic inches. Using a 15:1 compression ratio, this engine was rated at up to 420 horsepower and was eagerly sought by racing teams of the day.

Offenhauser-powered cars won the Indy 500 a staggering 24 times from 1934 through 1960, including an unparalleled run of 11 consecutive victories from 1950 to 1960 inclusive. Paving the Speedway’s trademark brick track in 1956 was expected to increase average speeds, yet 32 of the top 33 qualifiers featured Offenhauser engines. So dominant was the Offenhauser engine that in 4 races; the 1954, 1955, 1959 & 1960 Indy 500s, EVERY car in the starting lineup had an “Offy” engine! It was this rare feat that sealed Offenhauser’s reputation as America’s premier engine maker, and the name Offenhauser still resonates in the halls of Indy 500 history long after their days of glory have faded.

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