Cylinders – Motoring Moment

One-cylinder cars weren’t unusual. Many great marques began that way – like Cadillac and Olds. Two cylinder cars were a natural follow up. There are a number of both in the club. Three cylinder cars were less common but you can think of a few: Older ones like the Compound, newer ones like the Saab and GEO. There are all kinds of examples of four cylinder cars… and at least one person in the club has a five cylinder Mercedes. The inline six cylinder car has probably been the world’s best… think “cast iron wonder”. And then there are seven cylinders, which we will skip for the moment. Eights are everywhere, inline and “V”… and then there is the nine… or is there? Ford has the ten, BMW and all the oldies have the twelve, and there has been the occasional sixteen. But what about the 7, 9 and 11? Apart from radial engines, which you are probably thinking of right now, you probably can’t identify a car with that number of cylinders.

Today’s Motoring Moment will change that because there was a car using one of those “odd-numbered” engines. The place was Maywood, Illinois and it was 1927. The guy was Durward E. Willis and the vision was a nine cylinder engine. This unusual creation was cast in blocks of three and was timed somewhat independently with a firing order much like a radial engine. In February of 1927 a Chicago laboratory bench tested this departure from the usual and rated it highly. Durward then acquired a Gardner sedan, changed the radiator shell and had a new Willis. He incorporated the Willis Motors Corporation and a full line of Willis cars (all nine cylinder models) were projected… up to $5400 in price. Willis also had plans for three and five cylinder cars ready for future use.

Research in the Standard Catalog of American Cars mentions Willis, his cars and their fate. The Catalog tells us that in 1963 Mr. Willis returned to the market with a three-cylinder car under the corporate name of Cougar Motors. The new sporty car would be the “Cub”. As the Catalog suggests: “production was doubtful”. So, there was a nine cylinder car… sort of a Willis / Gardner. VAE Member Bob Jones had a Gardner that you might remember – a “Radio Special” but it wasn’t a “9”. Now – what about the seven and the eleven? Keep us posted.

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