Post 1945 engine designers

Walter Hassan


WALTER HASSAN is the man behind the engine on the cover, the flat-16 Coventry Climax Formula I Grand Prix engine. He would deny this strenuously, attributing all the credit to Leonard P. Lee who, as Managing Director of Coventry Climax Engines Ltd., was courageous enough to sanction the ambitious project before his family business merged with Jaguar Cars Ltd. Despite all this, however, Hassan is the man who really created the new engine.

Now in his third stint as an employee of Sir William Lyons, Wally Hassan (as he is known to everyone in the racing game) was born in London 60 years ago and as a young apprentice began an association with Bentley which lasted right through that marque's last racing days. After the Bentley racing had ended, Wally built the 8-liter Bentley-engined Barnato-Hassan single seater in which Oliver Bertram took turns with John Cobb (driver of an aero-engined Napier Railton) as holder of Brooklands Track's lap record. Hassan also did a short stint building ERA racing cars before going to SS Cars Ltd (later re-named Jaguar Cars Ltd) at Coventry as Service Manager.

After a wartime period of work on Bristol sleeve-valve radial aircraft engines, Hassan returned to the Jaguar factory as development engineer and had a great deal to do with the evolution of the XK-120 and subsequent double-overhead camshaft models. Removing himself a couple of miles in 1950, he became Chief Engineer of Coventry Climax Engines Ltd, launching a series of single-overhead-camshaft 4-cyl engines for portable firepumps, which were soon discovered by the motor racing fraternity. By 1959 a double-overhead-camshaft 2.5-liter 4-cyl Coventry Climax engine enabled Jack Brabham to win the Grand Prix world championship.

Half-jokingly, Wally Hassan will relate that the 1959 championship (and that of 1963 when Lotus provided the chassis) was almost won by an engine called an Oswestry-Climax! When wartime bombing forced factories out of Coventry, Leonard P. Lee re-established himself in the quiet little country town of Oswestry on the border of England and Wales, there being much heart searching before the postwar decision to return to Coventry was taken.

If he were listed in Who's Who, Hassan would probably list his recreations as beer and racing cars. That would be a typically modest and jesting reversal of priorities. Hassan does not let the urgent problems of producing better and yet better racing engines prevent him from enjoying life, but neither does he let pleasure interfere with the job in hand.

Time for proving the soundness of the flat-I 6 concept is very short, with a formula change due at the end of the year, but Hassan is very much a practical man who has earned a reputation for making things work-and for doing so before it is too late. Meanwhile, one of the good reasons which tempted Jaguar to buy the Coventry Climax business was that its Technical Director, Bill Heynes, thereby acquired the right man to put in charge of future power units for the whole expanding Jaguar-Daimler-Guy empire Walter Hassan.

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Author: ArchitectPage