The low-cost lifters that “won’t work”
This drawing accompanied Leach’s low-cost method to manufacture the Pontiac V-8 block.
At another of Pontiac’s engine meetings, a parts supplier came to us with a low-cost lifter, which they wanted Pontiac to buy. As I recall, Malcolm McKellar ran the meetings, and when the supplier was finished with the pitch, Malcolm asked Mark what he thought. Mark sat in the corner with his hands together like a church steeple, and then answered the question with three words: “It won’t work.” Despite Mark’s answer, cost was still king at Pontiac, so the supplier’s proposal had to be fully evaluated. After about six months of testing, Pontiac determined the low-cost lifters should not be put into production.
The Pontiac experimental X4 two-cycle 150ci engine
My next run-in with Mark was 1968, when I was working on the X4-2 cycle engine, which I designed while assigned to Pontiac Advanced Engineering. Mark visited the shop on a daily basis for an inspection. After many of his visits with no comments, he finally made eye contact with me and said, “It won’t work.”
Just like Pontiac didn’t listen about the low-cost lifters, I tried to explain how the X4 was simpler and lighter, better balanced, and had a lower manufacturing cost than an equivalent four-cylinder engine, but Mark was not impressed. He told me Charles “Boss” Kettering had done a similar engine back in the ’30s, and if I didn’t believe him, I could go to the Henry Ford Museum to see it hanging on the wall. I did and he was right.
That event broke the ice between Mark and me. On his future visits to the shop, he started telling me stories about how the Pontiac V-8 engine was engineered.
Kenneth B. Valentine
Accomplishment: Pontiac’s V-8 cast-iron cranks and connecting rods
Ken was the head metallurgist for Pontiac’s V-8’s cast reciprocating-assembly components, including the “N” and Armasteel steel cranks, the iron connecting rods, and the aluminum pistons. His duty was to make sure they met Pontiac’s standard engine-components durability test—again, that was 4,500 rpm for 100 hours at wide-open throttle. I asked him once why Pontiac didn’t use forged components inside of the engine. “The cast components pass the test and they cost considerably less,” he answered. “That’s all the Division cares about.”
A worker at the Pontiac foundry demonstrates his task to a group of sightseers on a factor
High-performance enthusiasts hate the concept, but cast components worked on millions of production engines by limiting the durability tests to 4,500 rpm.
Another of Ken’s innovations at Pontiac that I recall was induction- hardening the valveseats instead of installing separate seats. This was a great cost savings when unleaded fuel was introduced to Pontiacs in 1971.
Ken Valentine reminded me of my grandfather. He had a gentle nature, but a very sharp mind and great confidence in his own ability. He retired from General Motors before I left Pontiac in 1973.
Title: Assistant Experimental Engineer/Vehicle Test Engineer
Accomplishment: Engineer in charge of stock-car racing
In April 1, 1965, Mark Frank (center) was promoted to advanced power-plant engineer, Malco
In the summer of 1956, Russ was a young engineer working at the Proving Grounds testing the new Pontiac V-8 engine for durability and reliability. Pontiac’s leadership changed that summer when Bunkie Knudsen was made Division general manager and Pete Estes was made chief engineer. It turns out these guys were two of the most capable executives ever to be in the automobile business, and to Pontiac’s benefit, they were both car people. Their job was to bring Pontiac out of the doldrums and start selling cars that people would want.
As he tells it, Russ was doing his job one Saturday when Knudsen and Estes showed up and wanted to drive the prototype ’57 Pontiacs with the new 347ci V-8. Russ said they spent a couple hours racing each other on the Proving Ground roads. When they came back to the Pontiac garage, they told him that Pontiac was going stock-car racing, and Russ just became the engineer in charge of the program.