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Timeline of the Fairbanks-Morse Z Engine

A look at the development of the Fairbanks-Morse Z engines from 1916 to 1944.

| August/September 2018

  • The front of the four-page Fairbanks-Morse brochure.
    Photo courtesy of Gas Engine Archives
  • Reprint of the Fairbanks-Morse brochure.
    Photo Courtesy of Gas Engine Archives

For the February/March 2018 issue of GEM, regular reader Jim Albaitis sent us color copies of an original 1916 United Engine Co. brochure, which we displayed with an article on United Engine Co. penned by Dick Webber.

For this issue, Jim sent yet another color brochure, this time for the Fairbanks-Morse Z engine line. Highlighting the 1-1/2 hp, 3 hp and 6 hp engines, the brochure was most likely produced in 1923, the year F-M introduced the “Battery Equipt” hit-and-miss version of the 3 hp Z. The 1-1/2 hp Battery Equipt Z was introduced in 1922.

The following Fairbanks-Morse Z engine timeline was penned by then 10th grader Wayne Grenning and published in the July/August 1981 issue of GEM. It was his first article to appear in this magazine, and Wayne appreciates that in his youthful exuberance he may have gotten a few facts wrong, chiefly the introduction of the Z series, which he dated to September 1916: It’s believed to have been introduced two years earlier, in July 1914. Further, as Wayne later appreciated, Fairbanks-Morse never made a 3 hp or 6 hp headless Z engine. Finally, Wayne’s original article referenced the 1-1/2 hp Z as a 1 hp. That has been updated here. – Editor

F-M Z timeline: The Technical History of the Fairbanks-Morse

This is written to help Fairbanks-Morse collectors. Original manuals, catalogs, documents and reprinted sales literature were used. For this article only 1-1/2, 3 and 6 hp engines will be discussed.

The Fairbanks-Morse Company was founded in the late 1880s with headquarters in Chicago, Illinois. Fairbanks-Morse manufactured many kinds of engines including the Eclipse Pumper, Jack of all Trades and many industrial engines. In September 1916 the Z series was introduced. [Engine historian C.H. Wendel dates the introduction to July 1914, which Wayne believes is actually the correct date.] In the following paragraphs and figures the development of this style will be outlined. Development of the Z engines will be described chronologically through the years 1916 to 1944.


In September 1916 (Number: 200,000) Fairbanks introduced a new engine line, the Z series. The 1-1/2, 3 and 6 hp engines were headless [the 3 hp and 6 hp were in fact not headless, as Wayne later discovered], with valves and igniters on the governor side. Headless describes a type of casting in which the cylinder and head were cast with the crankcase body as one unit. Rotary Sumter magnetos were used on these early Z engines and were driven by the crankshaft gear. Headless construction for all models was short lived because of the difficulty of overhauling and take down of the engine. Headless engines were characterized by a governor located on the upper left side of the cam gear.


Gas Engine Magazine A_M 16Gas Engine Magazine is your best source for tractor and stationary gas engine information.  Subscribe and connect with more than 23,000 other gas engine collectors and build your knowledge, share your passion and search for parts, in the publication written by and for gas engine enthusiasts! Gas Engine Magazine brings you: restoration stories, company histories, and technical advice. Plus our Flywheel Forum column helps answer your engine inquiries!

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