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Holy Grail!
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The Holy Grail!

The Stude "Cammer" engines are safe and sound!

I got interested in the "mysterious" overhead cam engine(s) that I was hearing about from other Stude folks. Try as I might, I couldn't get very much information about it, nobody had all the parts to the story. I kind of just let it go, but I don't need to tell you that an engine like that IS the holy grail for a Stude racing nut like myself.

Well, as luck would have it, I was cruising the 'Net and came across an old article about it. Wow! That lit the fire under me again. I was determined to find out all I could scrape up about it, so here's what I have........

Studebaker had a long and distinguished role at Indy since the 30's. In 1953 J.C. Agajanian Sr. decided he wanted a new racing engine. He funded, (for $15,000.00 1953 dollars), an experimental engine program based on Studebaker's new  V8 block. The engine was built with a set of Leo Gossen -designed 4 valve, DOHC cylinder heads, Spulding cams, Scintilla Vertex magneto, either I-beam, (Cadillac), or tube connecting rods and Hilborn injectors. 

This Clay Smith-tuned 269-inch hybrid put out 372 horsepower at 7100 RPM. However trouble with the starter motor input shaft kept it off the track during qualifying. Everything was later sold to Lindsey Hopkins for his 1956 Indy car and it is unknown what the outcome of that deal was. 

Workmanship on this ultra-rare beauty  is said to be incredible, (except for one major deviation). Three of these engines were built and it was unknown for the longest time what fate had befell them and all of the tooling used to produce these beauties. Now, as Paul Harvey says, "The rest of the story"........

The engines are safe and sound, in fact two are in almost pristine condition with the third serving as a parts bin. All of the tooling has survived in tact as well. A long-time racer and businessman named "Speedy Bill Smith" has them sequestered and on display at his racing museum, "Speedway Motors", in Lincoln, NE. 

Yep, the great part was that "Speedy" is 74 but still as sharp as a tack and I got to chat with him about the engines. Speedy says he "had one hell of a time finding the engines". He had to drive about 25 miles into the backwoods of Oregon to "some hippy's house" to retrieve them. He said that judging by the condition of the engines and tooling when he found them, "It wouldn't have been long before they were lost forever".

Of the three engines he has, two have been restored and the third engine is there but was not put together because "It was originally just a parts engine anyway". Even the original tooling and molds are there but not on display. Speedy Bill thinks he has enough tooling there that could be used to build another engine.

I asked him what he thought about the capabilities of the engine and he said
that it was "Way ahead of it's time", and "It would have been competitive for at least 10 years", (a long time for all out racing engines). 

He says the ONLY problem with the engines was that after all the money that was spent to develop it, they needed a good crank lathe to do the crank work and they made a fatal error, they tried to scrimp. They wouldn't spend the money for the right crank lathe. A lathe that was too short was purchased and was used anyway. 

The bad news was the newly minted crank casting had a snout that was too long to fit the lathe. Their fix was to cut the snout off to get it in the lathe! Yep, after the crank work was done, they welded the snout back on. With the new engine mounted in the car on qualifying day at Indy, (you guessed it), the external, 24 volt starter used at that time, snapped the snout right off at the weld! That ended the engine's career, (sponsors pulled the money). Bill says that it was a real shame because the designer was a genius.

Bill also has the 1938 Packard straight eight that ran at Indy during what he called "the junkyard era". It was a time at Indy that sounds more like a stock car race than a high dollar professionally built race car event.

 

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