A bit of Delco history

By Staff
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Art Brochu
A Delco copper-cooled car engine that Art Brochu spotted in a South Carolina auto museum.

After reading the story about Delco light plants in the August/September 2008 issue, I thought I would send you what I saw and was told about the forerunner of those 4-cylinder engines.

To begin with, in 1923, the Chevrolet car division of General Motors built and installed this engine in approximately 100 test cars with 4-cylinder, 4-stroke engines. They were among the first 500 engines built. The engines were air-cooled by a fan and shroud arrangement on the top of the engine. Each cylinder was encased in a copper sleeve of many thin flat fins. The air was blown back and down around them for the cooling and they were called copper-cooled engines. The idea, I think, was to have a simple light-weight cooling system.

The testing did not prove out very well in most parts of the country and GM called them back to the factory. Why? For two reasons: The dealers in hilly country found out that the cast into the block oil sump was not right. When climbing a steep grade, the oil ran back to the rear of the sump so the number one cylinder was starved for oil. Descending hills, the rear cylinder had the same problem. Both situations caused bearing failures. The other big problem was that in hot areas of the country, the number four cylinder did not get enough air and after overheating, would seize up.

Back at the factory, this engine was considered a failure. They weren’t sure what to do with all the engines until an engineer redesigned the cooling shroud area. He also mounted a flat-belt pulley on the front end of the crankshaft. That way, the engine could be bolted to a stationary base and belted to an overhead line shaft to run shop equipment. They were sold as stationary power units for use on flat-level areas. This was the beginning of the Delco Light Company division.

I saw this car engine in a very large and nice auto museum in southwest South Carolina. I also saw another one of these engines at an engine show in Florida. The engine’s owner showed me a picture and some information about the engine in a book he had.

Art Brochu
42 Huckle Hill Rd.
Bernardston, MA 01337

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