Sunday, June 06, 2010


Finally!  Reader John Hall discovered a photo of Polish engineer Leo Kuzmicki (pronounced, if I remember my Polish, Kootsmitsky), an unsung hero in the history of the Norton Manx, Vanwall F1 car, and Hillman Imp.  The photograph was found on an Imp fan site, and discusses a bit Kuzmicki's development of the Coventry Climax engine, which was originally an iron four-cylinder pushrod motor used to power fire pumps, then re-purposed in the late 1950s for the first Lotus cars such as the Elite (one of the prettiest cars ever made, methinks).

The Imp engine became an overhead-camshaft, all-alloy unit of 875cc, which had to be shoehorned at a 45º angle to fit into the pre-existing Imp body.  The radiator was slotted beside the engine, at the rear of the car.  Kuzmicki's Imp engine was beloved by speed tuners of cars and racing sidecars, as it was very well engineered and strong, and light at 170lbs including carbs, alternator, etc.  It was considered the smoothest production four-cylinder engine of it's day and for many years after production ceased.

Below is a photo of the man himself beside the Imp unit:


Anonymous said...

Hi, Paul,
Glad you were able to find more info (and a photo!) of the great, underheralded Leo Kuzmicki. Regarding the Hillman Imp, while the base engine was indeed robust, its Achilles’ heel was in its accessories and installation. The cooling fan was beside the engine with a long V-belt, which was under very high tension due to the power demand and geometry. The water pump was concentric with the fan, so the bearings were side-loaded and failed regularly. Most Imp owners carried a spare water pump at all times. When Rootes Group’s Stoke engine plant was running one shift, 5 days per week, the adjacent water pump line was running two shifts, 7 days!

The Imp also had an odd design-related dynamic trait. Because the car’s Center of Gravity was behind its Center of Pressure, strong crosswinds on the Motorway made the Imp a real handful. But with lowered suspension a 997-cc Imp could hold its own pretty well against a 1275-cc Mini Cooper.

Keep up the great work.

Lindsay Brooke
Senior Editor
SAE International
Troy, MI, USA

Will Owen said...

Thanks for the information about Kuzmicki. One correction I should like to make is that the Coventry Climax fire-pump engine was single OHC from the beginning, not pushrod. One of the design criteria for this pump was that it should start from dead cold and run immediately at service revs. Given the oil technology of the time (post WW2) this required not only large clearances but a simple, direct valve gear to avoid sticking lifters.

David Marks said...

In the late nineteen sixties I joined Chrysler UK as their training manager at the newly acquired Whitley site. Shortly after joining I received a call from Leo Kuzmicki, who was then Head of Powertrain, asking me to pop over to discuss some training problems. As I sat chatting with him over a coffee I noticed a rather splendid diecast ashtray with a beautiful model of the Vanwall Formula One car whichhad been raced by Stirling Moss. Being something of a Formula One fan I foolishly asked if he had been a Vanwall supporter. “You could say that David” he replied, “I designed the engine.” That taught me not to be a smart arse. We both had a good laugh about it though ... He really was a thoroughly nice man

Anonymous said...


I worked as an engineering apprentice at Associated Octel Engine and Fuel research lab, join gin in 1977.
At that time Leo Kuzmicki was working there as head of the engineering section, he was a true gent, rarely seen without his pipe, lit or unlit.
As a 17 year old I was in awe of him and having read more of his life since I have to say that the feeling of awe remains.