Did Fairbanks-Morse Ever Make a 17 hp Z?

Author Photo
By Staff

Photo by Cristy Miller

Reader Cristy Miller, Nappanee, Indiana, has come into possession of a very interesting 17 hp Fairbanks-Morse Z, and he’s hoping to learn more about it as it’s not an engine Fairbanks-Morse ever cataloged, nor does it appear in any available literature. Cristy purchased the engine from a man who inherited from his father, who had recently passed away. According to Cristy, the man and his father had collected a number of engines over the years, including this 17 hp Z. “The gentleman I bought it from said the year was right around 1920,” Cristy says.

Photo by Cristy Miller

A little more looking uncovered the serial number 689137 stamped at the rear of the cylinder. That number dates the engine to 1927. Cristy doesn’t have much information on the engine, other than being told that prior to the seller’s ownership it ran a sawmill for years until the babbitt bearings wore out. According to Cristy, those owners didn’t want to deal with rebabbitting the bearings so they sold it to the man he bought it from, who then had them redone. “The engine now starts and runs very well,” Christy says.

According to Cristy, the man he bought it from said the engine was one of six made in F-M’s Canadian plant. One was supposedly destroyed during testing, another was said to have been lost to a fire, and yet another supposedly went to Australia. That leaves two engines unaccounted for, both of which could be long gone, if in fact they ever existed. All records from Fairbanks-Morse’s Canadian operation were supposedly destroyed.

Photo by Cristy Miller

This is definitely an interesting find. The engine tag is clearly marked “17 HP,” and Cristy’s 17 hp looks identical to Dale Rieppel’s 1931 15 hp Z. It even appears to have the same factory-upgraded fuel pump, although with slightly different linkage.

Photo by Cristy Miller

The engines have the same bore and stroke, but carry different speed ratings, with the 15 hp rated at 350rpm and the 17 hp rated at 400rpm. They have the same flywheel diameter, although the flywheels on Christy’s engine are slightly thinner, with a 3-inch face versus the 4-inch face on Dale’s 15 hp Z. Both engine are spark plug-fired using a Fairbanks-Morse magneto, and they’re both throttle governed, as almost all Z engines were.

Photo by Cristy Miller

It’s known that Fairbanks-Morse experimented constantly with Z engines, making minor changes to see how they might affect horsepower and functionality, so it’s entirely possible the company entertained a limited run of 17 hp Z’s based on the 15 hp engine. Why they abandoned the idea we couldn’t say, but if anyone knows more please contact Cristy and GEM so we can share what you know.

Cristy Miller
13991 North 950 West
Nappanee, IN 46550

Please send your questions and comments for Flywheel Forum to Gas Engine Magazine, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265 or email editor@gasenginemagazine.com

Published on Nov 14, 2018

Gas Engine Magazine

Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines