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June 24, 2007

The Little Engine That Could: How About a 1.1cc Corvette 327 V-8?


That's it above.

Jim Norman's story in today's New York Times about the cult of building functioning miniature automobile engines blew me off the line.

Large story small: Jim Moyer of Boyds, Washington built the ultra-small block Chevrolet Corvette 327 V-8.

More: Each cylinder's bore is 0.6 inches, compared to the 4 inches in the original; the eight tiny pistons have a stroke of less than half an inch compared to the 3.25 inches of the real engine.

Here's the article.

Saying 'Small Block' and Really Meaning It

Downsizing may be a chilling concept nearly everywhere, but not in the workshop of George Luhrs, a machinist in Shoreham, N.Y., with an affinity for the very small. Mr. Luhrs has built a single-cylinder engine you could lose in a pocketful of nickels and dimes.

The piston of Mr. Luhrs’s itsy-bitsy engine rides in a cylinder whose bore is just 1/8-inch across. The engine’s stroke — the distance that the piston travels up and down inside the cylinder — is only 5/32 of an inch. The spark plug? You could lay seven of them across the face of a dime and still see F.D.R. peeking through.

Mr. Luhrs, whose day job is doing experimental fabrication for aerospace and other companies, is not the sort of hobbyist content to just step back and admire the exquisite details of his handiwork. This engine kicks over and starts, Mr. Luhrs said, though he has yet to overcome all the challenges of working at such a small scale. The engine’s minuscule valves are not yet closing properly, causing the motor to lose compression and stall.

That this little engine runs at all is something of a mechanical miracle. If you let your imagination run wild, in a world where microsurgery has become routine and nanotechnology is mentioned constantly, you can almost visualize the making of ultrasmall parts. But as Craig Libuse, director of craftsmanshipmuseum.com, a Web site dedicated to the recognition of manual skills, observed recently, “You can’t scale electricity, and a fuel molecule is still a fuel molecule.”

For other modelers, the urge to scale back does not stop with miniaturization; it also extends to historical accuracy. Chevrolet’s mainstay V-8, introduced in 1955 models as a 265-cubic-inch engine, is known as the small block, but Jim Moyer, a 66-year-old semiretired machinist and welder in Boyds, Wash., took the concept a few steps further. Over an eight-year period, he built a very small-block replica of a later 327-cubic-inch version used to power Corvettes of the 1960s.

Its designation notwithstanding, Mr. Moyer’s 327, one-sixth the size of the real motor, has a displacement of 1.1 cubic inches. For those inclined to pull the slide rule out of the pocket protector, yes, the displacement in this little V-8 is considerably smaller than the scale would dictate. That is because the bore in each cylinder (0.6 inch, compared with 4 inches in the original) is undersize, a compromise to assure that the cylinders would withstand the heat and compression generated by the eight tiny pistons pumping up and down through their stroke of less than half an inch (compared with 3.25 inches of the real engine).

The cooling system of Mr. Moyer’s 327 is incomplete and will probably stay that way, he said. “I just like to see the pulleys and belts going around when it runs, and they would be hidden by a radiator.” To prevent overheating and seizure in the absence of a cooling system, Mr. Moyer runs his engine only for short periods.

“But I go out and start ’er up several times a day. I just love to watch ’er run.”

Roger Butzen, 63, the sales development director for a book-printing company, has been building miniature engines in his garage in Diamond Bar, Calif., for about 12 years. Among his accomplishments is a replica of a 426-cubic-inch Chrysler V-8 [below — both photos]


that looks and sounds ready to bolt into a Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda of the muscle car era — except that it is just a quarter the size of the original and displaces just 6.3 inches.

Before that, he replicated the V-twin engine of a friend’s Harley-Davidson; it looked just like the original but was only a third the size. Each of the projects took him about a year and a half to complete.

“It’s really fun,” Mr. Butzen said. “I enjoy all the time I spend in the shop, and I enjoy the expressions on people’s faces when they see me start one of these engines. Psychologically, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Mr. Butzen said he was nudged into his hobby by his wife, Maridee, who gave him a kit to build a model of a working steam roller that she thought he would enjoy assembling and running.

“I am sure she hadn’t a clue what she was getting into,” he said, adding that she had been “extremely supportive” as he bought more equipment and took over the family garage for later projects.

Mike Rehmus, editor of Model Engine Builder, a magazine published five times a year in Vallejo, Calif., said that the builders of miniature internal-combustion engines seemed to have in common a “satisfaction of making something mechanical run that started out as a pile of raw metal.”

“The first time it runs is pretty exciting — we call it the first pop,” he said. “This is pretty good therapy for a lot of people.”

Even at the larger end of motor miniaturization, these power plants are a trip through Tinytown.

Take, for example, the 1/3-scale Ferrari 312PB racecar that Pierre Scerri, a telecommunications engineer from Avignon, France, designed and built over a 15-year period, taking an estimated 20,000 hours. All it needs is a 1/3-size driver to slip into the seat, fasten the precisely scaled four-point seat belt, turn the absolutely accurate 1/3-scale key, and the 12-cylinder engine will roar to life with an exhaust tuned to the perfect Ferrari pitch, albeit not as loud.

Mr. Libuse of the online craftsmanship museum said that miniature-engine hobbyists exemplified the innovative spirit of American industry. “They don’t get the money that ballplayers and movie stars make,” Mr. Libuse said, “but they actually go out and do stuff. They are like the founders of this country.”


“When Ferrari needs a tachometer, they go to a manufacturer and order one,” Mr. Libuse said. “When people like Pierre Scerri need one, they build it from scratch. When he needs a set of tires, he doesn’t go to Michelin; he learns how to make tires and molds them himself.”

Note added Monday, June 25, 2007 at 3:23 p.m.:

I just received an email from Joe Moyer, the son of Jim Moyer (Moyer the elder built the magnificent 1/6 scale Corvette engine featured above).

Joe was kind enough to send me a link to www.moyermade.com, where "you can find more information and photos on my dad's engines."

That's where I'm heading next.

June 24, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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Thank you very much for including the above engine article in your blog. Although you zeroed in on my little Chevy,I appreciate your posting the entire article from the Times. My little engine is only one of many miniature engines that exist today,that bring much satisfaction to the builders,and tons of pleasure to those who attend the shows where these engines are. Those of us whose names appear in this article, I am sure would all agree, are just a small representation of this great hobby, and consider ourselves to be just that, a representation. Thank you also for responding to my Son Joe's contact. He was very pleased to get your reply.
Hope your day is going great so far.

Posted by: Jim Moyer | Jun 28, 2007 4:37:43 PM

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