Harry Wes­lake will be re­mem­bered with a trib­ute race at Good­wood’s 75th Mem­ber’s Meet­ing next month. We salute the en­gi­neer who im­proved some of Bri­tain’s great­est cars

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Feature - WORDS Mike Taylor

The name Wes­lake will be for­ever as­so­ci­ated with BMC’s fruitier prod­ucts. The Austin 3 Litre and MGC’s Morris-de­signed C-se­ries en­gine re­lied on his com­pany’s patents and he was also re­spon­si­ble for the ven­er­a­ble A-se­ries’ cylin­der head. But Harry Wes­lake’s work went fur­ther than that, with clients in­clud­ing SS-Jaguar as well as For­mula 1 en­gine man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Harry Wes­lake was born in 1897 in Ex­eter, Devon. His fa­ther was a di­rec­tor of Wil­ley & Co, a lo­cal gas en­gi­neer­ing com­pany, and af­ter ed­u­ca­tion at an Ex­eter pub­lic school, Harry joined his fa­ther’s busi­ness as an ap­pren­tice, learn­ing about gas flow tech­nol­ogy. Like all keen petrol­heads, he soon had his own wheels, and be­gan to take part in lo­cal mo­tor­cy­cle events.

Af­ter his par­ents died, he set up a small fac­tory to man­u­fac­ture Wex car­bu­ret­tors. Sub­se­quent rac­ing at Brook­lands gave his fac­tory plenty of pub­lic­ity but Wex Car­bu­re­tors closed in 1926, forc­ing Wes­lake to move to Au­to­mo­tive En­gi­neer­ing Ltd, hav­ing es­tab­lished him­self as as some­thing of a gas flow re­search guru. Within a short time he was in­vited to W O Bent­ley’s Crick­le­wood head­quar­ters where he was shown an 11bhp 600cc side­valve en­gine and tasked with giv­ing it more power. By the fol­low­ing day he and as­sis­tant Jack Con­nor had in­creased its power by more than 50 per cent. As a re­sult, he was re­tained by Bent­ley, and was soon work­ing on the cars it was en­ter­ing into the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

In 1934 he ap­proached Wil­liam Lyons of SS Cars, of­fer­ing to im­prove the per­for­mance of the Stan­dard en­gine the man­u­fac­turer used. Fit­ting an over­head valve con­ver­sion to the 2.6-litre en­gine gave an easy 103bhp. Harry’s ex­pe­ri­ence in gas flow tech­nol­ogy, com­bined with his re­search into com­bus­tion cham­ber de­sign, also helped him to troubleshoot a new Austin en­gine, swiftly cur­ing its per­sis­tent ig­ni­tion knock and adding to his grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion within the in­dus­try. Be­fore long he was work­ing for Coven­try Cli­max, Ri­ley and even Citroën.

Wes­lake man­u­fac­tured more than 500 2.6-litre Ford V6 en­gines in Cologne be­fore the fuel cri­sis killed it off.

Af­ter the war, Wes­lake set up a new re­search lab­o­ra­tory at Rye Har­bour in East Sus­sex, com­ing up with the heart-shaped cylin­der head for the 1.2-litre Austin A40 Devon. This de­sign fea­ture would later be seen on BMC’s A-, B- and C-se­ries en­gines, with Harry re­ceiv­ing roy­al­ties on ev­ery en­gine the cor­po­ra­tion sold.

Us­ing wooden mock-ups, Wes­lake worked on cylin­der head de­sign for Arm­strong Sid­de­ley and de­vel­oped an ad­vanced idea for pres­sure-feed­ing self-ad­just­ing valves op­er­ated from oil taken from the en­gine’s lu­bri­ca­tion sys­tem. His link with Wil­liam Lyons was rekin­dled around this time when he was in­volved with the XK en­gine’s hemi­spher­i­cal cylin­der head de­sign.

Harry then worked on the Austin-Healey 100/4, to cre­ate the 139bhp 100S and the 292bhp su­per­charged 100/6, which av­er­aged 203.11mph in tests in the USA. As a re­sult of a tie-up with BRM in the early 1960s, he worked on the Rover gas tur­bine Le Mans car – with the chas­sis and trans­mis­sion draw­ings orig­i­nat­ing in Rye in Jan­uary 1963.

By the mid-1960s, four-valve F1 en­gines were com­ing into vogue and Wes­lake was at the fore­front, espe­cially at BRM, where he was part of the devel­op­ment team for its com­plex V12 race en­gine. In 1966 a car fit­ted with this en­gine ran in the Ital­ian GP, but suf­fered with fuel star­va­tion prob­lems. But in spring of the fol­low­ing year, the re­vised 435bhp en­gine helped Dan Gur­ney to clock the fastest lap in the Race of Cham­pi­ons at Brands Hatch. Around the same time, Harry took com­mis­sions from Ford UK for the twin-cam Lo­tus Ford cylin­der head and the ‘S’ head for the works Mini Cooper en­gine.

Clearly im­pressed with his work at BRM, Ford’s mar­ket­ing supremo Wal­ter Hayes, vis­ited Rye in 1970 and agreed an in­vest­ment of £30,000 for a long-dis­tance V12 race en­gine to be used in the Gulf-Wyer Ford GT40s. How­ever, Gulf re­fused to take de­liv­ery on the pre­text that the en­gines were not de­liv­er­ing the re­quired horse­power, even though test­ing saw 463bhp, some 20bhp more than the equiv­a­lent DFV-Cos­worth en­gine could muster at the time. With costs haem­or­rhag­ing within Wes­lake, Harry’s step­son Michael Daniel (who was run­ning the busi­ness by this time), sold the Ford V12 en­gine pro­gramme just to keep the busi­ness afloat. How­ever, the ex­ten­sive work Harry had done for Ford’s com­pe­ti­tion Depart­ment re­sulted in a highly suc­cess­ful race pro­gramme in­volv­ing the Capri. A by-prod­uct was the vol­ume pro­duc­tion of 2.6-litre V6 RS en­gines. Some 500 were as­sem­bled in Wes­lake’s fac­tory in Cologne be­tween 1970 and 1976 un­til the fuel cri­sis and petrol ra­tioning led to its aban­don­ment.

Two years later Harry suf­fered a fa­tal heart at­tack. Wes­lake closed its Rye Har­bour site in 1983 to fo­cus on work for the Min­istry of De­fence and con­struc­tion of microlight en­gines, be­fore turn­ing to the re­search and devel­op­ment of gearboxes and re­cip­ro­cat­ing en­gines. This led to ma­jor ad­vances in mo­tor­cy­cle en­gine de­sign and devel­op­ment of a suc­cess­ful Scotch Yoke en­gine (which trans­posed lin­ear mo­tion into ro­ta­tional move­ment), which sig­nalled a world first.

More re­cently, Wes­lake has been in­volved in the pro­duc­tion of a range of op­posed po­si­tion two-stroke diesel en­gines for air­craft and marine ap­pli­ca­tions (among oth­ers) at Wes­lake Air Ser­vices. Mean­while, Michael’s son Dean is con­cen­trat­ing on the range of com­pe­ti­tion en­gines that Wes­lake pro­duced through­out the 1960s and 1970s un­der the aus­pices of Wes­lake Her­itage. Thus the name of Wes­lake is be­ing kept very much alive – as it will be at Good­wood this com­ing March.

‘By the fol­low­ing day he and as­sis­tant Jack Con­nor had in­creased its power by 50 per cent’

Racer Derek Bell once said that there was lit­tle to choose be­tween the 3.0-litre Gur­ney-Wes­lake V12 and Cos­worth’s DFV V8 en­gines.

Putting a Jaguar en­gine through its paces on a test­bed at Wes­lake’s re­search lab­o­ra­tory in East Sus­sex.

Ma­chin­ing a cylin­der head bil­let at Wes­lake’s Rye Har­bour fa­cil­ity.

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