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SNAPSHOT 12: Pipe 1912

At first glance it might seem that this Belgian Pipe engine is of V-pattern, but in terms of its basic layout it is actually a conventional straight-four, two blocs of two, although when it comes to the valve-gear then matters are somewhat less orthodox. Before exploring that, it should be mentioned that judging in part from the stature of the gentleman showing it off it is almost certainly an 80hp unit, which had a bore & stroke of 140 x 180 mm – giving a cubic capacity of a shade under 11.1-litres, large for any motorcar engine, never mind one as late as 1912.

We are here looking at the inlet side of the engine where the ‘cages’ for the overhead valves and their operating mechanism can be clearly seen. These innovative ‘T-head’ engines with two camshafts low on each side of the blocs and pushrods to the valves that were at 45º from the vertical had first been seen in 18/24hp form at the end of 1904, designed by Pipe’s technical director Otto Pfänder who had learnt his trade at Mercédès, then Clément-Bayard.

Various other sizes subsequently appeared and in 1907 the 80hp model with its valve angle at 60º was introduced by the Belgian firm. Regrettably Pfänder died in an accident in testing prior to the 1907 ‘Kaiserpreis’ race which had an 8-litre maximum capacity limit, some consolation possibly being that Hautvast’s Pipe with an ‘over-square’ short stroke (128 mm) version of the 80hp engine attained second place in the event.

Production of the smaller size T-head-engined Pipe cars ceased in 1912, replaced by more mundane vehicles, but the 80hp model with its large engine of advanced design continued to be available. Final drive was though by fully enclosed side-chains, so technically it was a motorcar that was a curious mixture of the avant-garde and the fast-becoming obsolete.

A photograph of the complete car in which this engine was mounted shows that it had an attractive sports-tourer body. It must have been fairly exciting to make the acquaintance of such a machine, but unfortunately none are known to have survived.


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