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Hagerty Employee

9 of the world’s greatest engine designers

Not all engine designers get the credit they deserve, but occasionally their names carry as much weight as the storied badges on the trunk lid or hood. In no particular order, here’s our pick of legends behind some of the greatest engines of all time.


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Advanced Driver

The father of all great engine designers has to be Stephen Fekete, the Hudson engine designer who invented the fully counterbalanced crankshaft for the 1916 Hudson Super Six. It made high speed inline 6 cylinder engines possible. In one stroke, it about doubled the horsepower of the Hudson 6 cylinder engine.


I think if him every time my BMW approaches red line.

Advanced Driver

I'd have the SB Chevy & Chrysler 426 Hemi designers on that list, but it's difficult to pick one designer alone (Ed Cole & Willem Weertman, respectively) because others on staff contributed. Another complication is the Gen1 Hemi is what inspired the Gen2. In any event, I've yet to see a list of Best/Greatest/Favorite Anything that didn't have a bunch of us adding/subtracting/whining to or about it, haha.


Something to note: most of these designers worked long before the modern era of computer modeling, when all they had to work with was a slide rule, a few engineering tables, and their gut feeling. Until the first prototype coughed to life they didn't know if their design would even run. 


What no BRM H16

New Driver

And now the Motorcycle engine designers.....

New Driver

It's MV Agusta, only one "u".

Intermediate Driver

John Z. DeLorean deserves mention, for his "Trophy 4" and OHC "Sprint 6" designs. He wasn't just an engine designer, his rear-mounted transaxle with "rope-drive" driveshaft in the 1961-63 Pontiac Tempest also is worthy of note.

Pit Crew

Wouldn't the greatest engine designers include Nicolaus Otto and Eugen Langen who improved on the Lenoir design  to develop the basis of today's 4-cycle engine?


Henry Ford contributions included practical four cylinders for the Model T and A, and the first V8 for the masses that powered many dreams and hot rods, the Flathead V8.


As excellent as every one of these great engineers has proven each and every one stands on the shoulders of four great Frenchmen who designed and built the world's first DOHC racing engine.  Ernst Henry was the draftsman who put the combined ideas of Jules Goux, Paolo Zucarelli and Georges Ballot on paper so these three lower status "uneducated mechanics" could build their dream engine in 1911. It won the French Grand Prix of 1912 against the favored 20 liter FIATs and Benz racers and then went on the win the Indy 500, with Goux driving, in 1913. One of the two Indy engines was sent to Harry Arminius Miller to rebuild in 1914 (because Peugeot was involved in preparations for WWI) and its revolutionary secrets were "adapted" into all the legendary Miller/ Offenhouser engines which ruled American speedway racing for the next four decades. Peter Brock  

Intermediate Driver

Smokey Yunick to me should have made the list. 
What better example than his Omni, with performance and mileage?
Plenty of offerings both showroom and aftermarket of innovation stateside.

Factory offerings were often comprised of packages that included much more than just a cam.

And our aftermarket includes packages to take a current LS and stand alone EFI and computer controlled transmissions, allowing you to put this in an older model. You can even use a laptop to tune them.

With some boost, a person can have 1000 + horsepower, reliably.

When you talk F1 cars and Rally cars, although we have COPO cars, our equivalent lies more in the aftermarket.

New Driver

The question was for designers.  Ed Cole was an engineering manager.  The flathead Ford V8 was designed by a team who were given limited specs by Henry Ford.  Harry Miller and Jano should definitely be on the list.  What about the designer of the Peugeot twin-cam, the world's first?


Giuseppe Busso.

Great little V6's

New Driver

I've admired Ernst Fuhrmann's engines for the early racing Porsches, as well as Ettore Buggati's engines.


"Clessie L. Cummins", "Harry R. Ricardo", "Rudolf Diesel", "George Brayton", "Nicolaus Otto", "Hans von Ohain", and "Frank Whittle".  All the men in this article stand on the shoulders of these founding fathers of internal and external combustion engines.

New Driver

Why no mention of the Packard Engineers?  they did awesome designs for cars and our military.

Pit Crew

I have worked on many of these, but the "B engine" Chrysler. Everything on those engines made sense and was excellently Engineered. 350, 361, 383, 400, 413, 426, 440. Take one apart and rebuild it and I think you will agree, it belongs on anyone's Best Of list.

Intermediate Driver

How about Carlo Abarth. His tiny motors were giant killers.     Jim.


Glaring omission - Harry Arminius Miller, who dominated American racing for nearly 50 years. 


How about Ferdinand Porsche? In addition to the VW Beetle, Dr. Porsche also designed and built many prize-winning Grand Prix cars for Germany's national racing team before turning his attention to creating the Volkswagen. 

Also, Felix Wankel, who designed the famous rotary engine which was developed further by Mazda of Japan and Mercedes-Benz in Germany, deserves a mention amongst these other engineering greats.


The John Weller designed 2 litre 6 should be worthy of a mention. Designed in 1919 and powering AC sports and racing cars untill it ceased productionin 1963. It held many prewar spead and endurance records, Monty Carlo entrant and competing suceess in 1956 sebring 12hr.


Phil Irving. A very talented engineer who developed the Repco engine for Brabham F1 cars as well as the famous Vincent V twin motorcycle engine.


Another vote for “Dr. T”— Fabio Taglioni.   

Intermediate Driver

What about the engine that bears his name? Or is everybody only interested in horsepower? Rudolph Diesel. I'm a torque guy and I just love the sound of a diesel tractor.


I agree that It’s a shame that not one American Made the list. How could you miss Tom Hoover the father of the 426 hemi, the engine that completely revolutionized drag racing and nascar (until they banned it). The HEMI also kicked the muscle car wars into high gear in 1966. In 1965 the HEMI also powered the first funny cars (altered wheel base cars, or AF/X cars). Without it there would be no top fuel dragsters or funny cars today making 8,000 hp and running sub 4 seconds. 


William Heynes - Jaguar XK engine 

New Driver

Great article on the 9 greatest automotive engineers.  But why not make it 10 and include Vittorio Jano?  Surely he should be on the list too considering his legacy.


I would include Sir Harry Weslake, pioneer of 4 valve cylinder head engines and make it 10 of the best.


How could Franz Xaver Reimspeiss be left off this list?  Gee, he only designed the ubiquitous VW Type 1 air-cooled engine that powered over 20 million vehicles worldwide.


Joe C.

Seminole, FL

Intermediate Driver

Cool designers yes! Not so cool car names (in the U.S.A.) Chevette ,Escort,Pinto?

Who would have thought we'd see those names here except for comical purposes?


My dad who if were alive today would be a 125 years old always spoke of a Wills St. Claire. He remembered a dealership in downtown Brooklyn , NY where they were sold.  Dad always boasted what unbelievable and fast cars they were. I was never able to get much information on the mark. A few weeks ago Jay Leno's Garage featured a fully restored 1922 Wills St. Claire. The vehicle had a four cam overhead valve V-8 with a cooling system that ran a remarkable 180 degrees despite any weather condition. The Wills was faster than 99% of the cars on the road in 1922.  Check out the video at Leno's Garage and then ask how is it not on the list? By the way why isn't the Duesenberg Model J supercharged engine not on the list?


Amen on Ed Cole!


What about Ilmor?  and the beast they created in record time to win Indy in 1993 badged a Mercedes?


An interesting Historical Perspective, but a little misleading for us Yanks in the Audience...


I felt better when I spotted the barely noticeable, '...from UK...', well that just explained it all, almost...


Why not the Jag 6, 12?

The Austin A-40?

ANY Rolls?


But to publish here in the US and leave off Ed Cole, 'Pops' Kettering, and countless contributors to Engine Families from GM like Cadillac, the Fords (Merc, Linc), Chryslers, and vintage offerings from Duesenberg, Auburn, Cord, Marmon, Packard, and so on?


Kinda bummed...


Intermediate Driver

Whilst agreeing with most of your choices was not Bill Blydenstein a tuner rather than designer and as a Brit I have to point out that you have your own fair share of irresponsible drinkers.

Pit Crew

I am surprised that Vittorio Jano was only mentioned in passing and didn't get his own entry. He was responsible for some truly epic engines in his long tenure at Alfa Romeo. 

New Driver

Fabio Taglioni anyone? The famous engineer had a storied history with Ducati and certainly deserves recognition.


With all this great talent, you forgot to mention Harry Miller - from whom many of the contemporary engine designers based their designs.

Pit Crew

Gioto Bizzarrini Lamborgini V12.


I find the Airbox Corvette understated. Not even my Corvette crazy husband ever heard of it.  Suzanne Dayton Havre de Grace, MD


No Ed Cole?  An unfortunate oversight.

Advanced Driver

As noted by some others, the Hemi (gen 1 and gen 2) are notable for their staying power and racing heritage.  The Chrysler "B" engine for its durability and buildability.  The Chrysler "LA" small block for its longevity (I believe it was produced for almost 40 years in one guise or another).  How about the Toyota 2JZ for its smoothness, low NVH, and bottom end ruggedness?  Or even the Toyota 1UZ engine?  No Japanese engine builders at all?


One I know, the other I have not researched.  During my engineering intern days at GM (minny moons ago), the President was Edward N. Cole.  He was the father of the Chevrolet small block, which lives on today, to some degree, in the C8 Corvette.  So Ed had some success.


The other was whoever at Mercedes designed the M119 engine; I have not researched any names.  That engine fitted to the Sauber C9, won Lemans, 1 2, 3 (see Ford GT40).  Rumor/stories/lore has it that the M119 C9 was reaching 400kph at the end of the Mulsanne Straight, which was considered "too fast" (240mph).  At any rate, a Chicane was installed at the end of the "Straight", which prevented reaching such high speeds; or so the story goes.  The M119 in the C9 ran double turbos, but was de-tuned to 700hp, in racing form, from it peak of 900-1100hp design form.  Thanks to the videos of Youtube, the C9 can be seen running in 1989, as well as in the Classic Car races.  The booming sound of the V8 sounds more like a Nascar stocker, vs. the shrieking small block 6's and v12's of competitors.


And the mopar 340?


I expected to see Ed Cole & Arnold Lenz, for the small block Chevy & performance V8 Pontiac, respectively. The pressed rocker arm developed by Pontiac gave the masses performance without being exotic.


We should also celebrate Charles Kettering for his contribution to "Dieselization" of North American Railroads and world over including shipping. Kettering developed the Diesel Engine over several years at GMs Research Laboratories. Diesels superseded steam as it was proven to be capable of twice the work at half the cost. Definitely a great achievement and contribution to the American dream. 

New Driver

I also vote for Vittorio Jano!

Pit Crew

While the inclusion of one person who wasn't really an engine designer perhaps reveals the author's cultural bias, all these whiny comments along the lines of "How dare he not include the people who developed my favorite inexpensive commodity engine" say a lot more about the cultural biases of the commenters!  Holy cow.  Just because someone comes from a different background than you and doesn't automatically equate production volumes or commercial success with engineering greatness (note that the article doesn't say anything about the latter part of Lampredi's career), doesn't make them a "eurosnob" (etc.) any more than your cultural background and personal preferences make you a jingoistic hick.  The language of engineering transcends culture and spoken language, no?


Unrelated question: the caption on the Rosche photo is obviously a bit misleading--does recognize the engines in the picture?  (Must be an S70 variant, right?  But the cylinder heads, especially of the engine on the right, don't match S70/2 photos I've seen on the internet or my personal photos of the S70/3.)

Advanced Driver

I kept looking for Henry Royce--ah, but he didn't design a racing engine, did he!


Sir Harry Ricardo has to be on that list.  Dude pioneered like. Everything.