Just Breathe: A Few Old Skool Engines… and the Patents Behind Them

So Long Summer of ’16 –

This month we wistfully say goodbye to the summer of ’16, as it fades in our rearview mirror. To close out this season, we’re offering a small montage of photographs and pay tribute to some of the best examples of American automotive engineering of yesteryear.  If you’ve never gone to the Syracuse Nationals, or to a local cruise night, put it on your list for next year.  You’ll be visiting a rolling museum, and for those (like us) of a certain age, it will surely bring a smile to your face.

A Golden Age

Our habit at a car show is to park our rides somewhere in the herd, do a safety check to be sure that nothing is leaking or on fire, and then head out “to see what everyone else brung.” Some of our favorite examples of old skool hot-rodding and new-wave (in its day) engines tend to turn up on cars of the era from 1957 – 1965.  It really was a Golden Age for the Big Three in Detroit, as well as for guys wrenching up their own creations in garages from Nags Head to Malibu.  The jet and space ages were underway, driving the “look” of cars to include lots of chrome, expansive sheet metal, and big fins.  Fuel refining had raised octane ratings to the low 100s, enabling compression ratios well over 10:1.  Corporate engineers and backyard grease monkeys were inventing new ways to get more gas and air into those combustion chambers.  That motivation, and the desire to also have the “look” under the hood, resulted in some truly innovative induction systems bolted down between the cylinder banks of potent V8s.

Stroll through the rows of classic cars on just about any local cruise night, and chances are you’ll see some fine examples of these vintage inventions. Recently we did just that, and took the time to shoot a few photos of some of the best that were on display.  Of course in our line of work when we see any invention, especially one made of cast iron or aluminum, we can’t help but think, “I wonder if they patented that?”

Turns out that for three of the most inventive engines in the field at a recent cruise night, the answer was “yes.” We hope that you enjoy these photos of classic fuel intake systems, and drawings from the patents that protected them.201609-lm-doghouse-rfi2

The Doghouse

We lead off with the “Doghouse.” Circa 1955, as the designers at Fisher body mocked up new sheet metal fins and chrome, many of the engineers at the Rochester Products Division of General Motors quietly toiled in their labs developing new carburetors. 201609-lm-doghouse-tag On one cutting edge R&D project, Lawrence Dermond and Elmer Olson invented a fuel injection system, which went into production in autumn 1956 and was offered as a performance option on the ’57 Chevrolets and Corvettes.  The results were impressive – the fuel injected “283 small block Chevy” engine attained one horsepower per cubic inch of displacement, a remarkable feat in its day.  201609-lm-2898096-rfi-dermond

Dermond and Olson were granted U.S. Patent No. 2,896,096 on August 4, 1959 for their “Fuel Injection System.” Chevrolet offered its “Ramjet” fuel injection on Corvettes up through 1965.  Forgoing the Ramjet moniker, old skool enthusiasts more commonly call it “running the Doghouse,” a reference to the system’s distinctive rectangular box cast aluminum manifold set between the cylinder heads.

The debut of big block engines, particularly in the Corvette, spelled the end of Doghouse production. Although output peaked at 375hp from a small block 327 in 1965, comparable horsepower could be had from a big block 396 for a lot less money.  Nonetheless, Rochester fuel injection remains highly prized among vintage performance enthusiasts today.  Complete systems on eBay are typically priced at between $5000 and $13000.

The Four-Thirteen

Not to be outdone by the RP guys, Chrysler engineers invented and developed some of the most innovative and potent induction systems and engines of their day. The fruits of their labor in the late 50s and early 60s led to dominance on the dragstrip and stock car tracks for the rest of the decade.  426 Hemi powered cars blew the doors off most anything they lined up with.201609-lm-3142289-413-cross-ram

The Chrysler crew focused on big block engines and big induction systems. John B. Platner and Charles D. Moore invented the famous dual quad “cross-ram” manifold, and were granted U.S. Patent No. 3,142,289 on July 28, 1964 for “High Output Engines” that included the cross-ram induction system.  (Fig. 1 of the patent is reproduced nearby.  Kudos to the illustrator on that drawing – it is a work of art… at least to us.)

201609-lm-chrysler-413-cross-ramThe original cross-ram intake system was offered as an option on the 1960 Chrysler 300F, on a 413 cubic inch “Wedge” engine. It remained an option up through 1964, with a peak output listed at 420hp.  It’s always a pleasure to see one of these at a show, and think about the engineering challenges that were overcome in its development and subsequent production.

“Yeah, my fuel injected Stingray and a Four-Thirteen…”

Chrysler 300s with the cross-ram setup are highly valued among muscle car collectors. As of this writing, a setup for a 1960 Desoto, including the cast cross-ram intake pipes, dual Carter four-barrels, and air cleaners is listed on eBay for $3799.  The 413 cross-ram also had its place in popular culture in its day, as one of the two vehicles in the Beach Boys’ “Shut Down.”  (In the song, the “fuel injected Stingray” running a Doghouse beats the Four-Thirteen.  We suspect Mopar enthusiasts would care to differ on that outcome.)

201609-lm-426-wedge-ss-iii-cross-ramNever satisfied with the status quo, Chrysler engineers continued to develop new variants of the cross ram induction system. A more compact configuration was offered as an option on the 426 Wedge engine on B-bodied (full size) Plymouths and Dodges.  The output of the 426 Wedge, marketed as the “Super Stock” engine, peaked at a reported 421 hp (for the street version) in 1963.

Old Skool Inventors Get Theirs

While the Big Three’s factories, R&D centers, and proving grounds were busy competing to put out the “hottest” new cars, the automotive aftermarket was also exploding. In its early days, this was largely driven by individual inventors seeing a problem or an opportunity, and inventing a solution.  Aftermarket carburetors, intake manifolds, headers, heads, cams, pistons, rods, crankshafts, and much more were developed and put into production to feed the American public’s appetite for more power, and one-of-a-kind custom vehicles.  The SEMA1 Hall of Fame roster2 is filled with the names of these inventors and entrepreneurs – such as Hays, Crane, Edelbrock, Hilborn, Hooker, Hurst, Iskendarian, Mallory, Moroso, Moon, Offenhauser, all of whom invented new products and started businesses to commercialize them.  These names are now better known as brands of products that are still sold in the vintage enthusiast and automotive aftermarket today.

Man-A-Fre – a Vintage Intake

One of these inventors, Robert Patrick, invented and developed a multi-carburetor intake manifold, which he subsequently manufactured and sold under the name “Man-A-Fre.” The setup is designed to run four 2-barrel carburetors in a rectangular array between the cylinder heads.  Patrick was granted U.S. Patent No. 2,896,597 on July 28, 1959 for “Carburetor Adapter for Internal Combustion Engines.”201609-lm-2896597-patrick-manifold

Patrick didn’t make the SEMA Hall of Fame, and we don’t know what became of his Man-A-Fre Mfg. Co., but we recently did have the pleasure of seeing one of his vintage manifolds at a recent cruise night. It was installed on a small block Chevy engine, in a ’32 Deuce Coupe.  A yellow one, which was an excellent repro of the ’32 that made Patrick’s manifold famous long after it was first put on the market: the iconic “Milner” Deuce Coupe in the movie classic, American Graffiti.  (Harrison Ford, as Bob Falfa in one of his first movie roles, characterized the shade of yellow more precisely.3)201609-lm-patrick-milner-4x2-setup

True to the original setup, the owner had four immaculate Rochester 2-barrels on top, each with a polished aluminum periscope stack.  Patrick’s patent was also an easy look-up – his patent number and “Man-A-Fre Mfg. Co., Atlanta 3, GA” are prominently cast in the valley between the carburetors.  Like the Doghouse and the Chrysler cross-ram, Man-A-Fre manifolds are rare and prized among collectors.  Although Patrick’s patent has long since expired, his manifolds have held their value well.  At press time, one was listed on eBay for $3449.

There’s Still Time…

…Until we put our toys away for the winter. We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief montage of photos showing the engineering of vintage engines, and the patents that secured “for limited times to inventors the exclusive right to their discoveries,” which gave us all of that V8 power years ago.  And we hope that you will enjoy the upcoming weekend, and get out to a local cruise night and visit one of these rolling museums before the weather turns.

  1. Specialty Equipment Market Association, the world’s largest automotive aftermarket trade association.
  2. See
  3. See Better yet, see the movie.

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Chrysler 300F cross ram by Morven aka Matthew Brown, 2004. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Doghouse, Dog Tag, 426 Wedge, and Milner’s Mill by J.M. Hammond.

Authors John M. Hammond P.E. (Patent Innovations, LLC and Robert D. Gunderman P.E. (Patent Technologies, LLC are both registered patent agents and licensed professional engineers. Copyright 2016 John Hammond and Robert Gunderman, Jr.

Note: This short article is intended only to provide cursory background information, and is not intended to be legal advice.  No client relationship with the authors is in any way established by this article.