Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a reader who called about the cover of the April 2004 issue of Gas Engine Magazine. You might remember that cover, which featured a beautiful shot of Jesse Cook's twin-flywheel Briggs & Stratton Model 5S. A product of Jesse's fertile imagination and mechanical skill, the little Briggs was beautifully done.
The caller questioned the appropriateness of a non-stock, heavily modified engine appearing on the cover of GEM, wondering if engines like Jesse's are beyond the scope of what we should be collecting or displaying. I obviously disagree, as I believe engines such as Jesse's represent a unique and critical ingredient of the old-iron collective - imagination.
What qualifies an engine for the cover? Moreover, what qualifies an engine as important or 'fit' for the hobby? I'd wager there are as many opinions on that subject as there are engine owners. And what about engines restored with a mix of non-stock elements such as extra chrome, brass or fancy paint jobs? Personally, I like engines that are still in their 'work clothes,' original down to the faded paint and soaked-in grease and oil.
But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate engines that are restored with a bit of personal flair. Wild paint jobs may not be my cup of tea, but they work for some people. Extra chrome? Sounds like more polishing time to me. But if you like it, whose to say you shouldn't apply it?
I also like restored engines, resplendent with new paint and crisp decals. It takes time and dedication - and no small amount of money - to properly restore almost any engine.
However, strict originality can be hard to achieve. Sourcing original parts can be tough, and financial considerations can force us to find substitutes. I've been called on failing to identify non-original engines, and I have to agree with that particular complaint. We're trying to preserve, both in our collections and in the pages of GEM, a significant element of American mechanical and cultural history. That makes it important we note, when we know otherwise, that an engine is not as it left the factory.
And yet, I also believe we do a disservice to the hobby if we fail to acknowledge and appreciate the unique imagination that pervades our ranks. While home-built engines will probably always spark debate, they're an important part of the hobby and worthy of note.