This fall while planning the Lincoln Highway Centennial Event in Indianapolis, I stopped by at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. One of the first cars I noticed was the Premier Special. Suddenly, I noticed that this car featured a single overhead camshaft (SOHC), hemi-head, four-cylinder engine. I wondered if this was an automotive first.
I was aware of some European engines featuring overhead camshaft designs that postdate the Premier Special. Upon further research, I found that the Premier Special possesses the world’s first engine with an overhead camshaft, inclined valves, and magneto ignition.
Carl Fisher with 1904 Premier Comet
Photo courtesy of FirstSuperSpeedway.com
On October 1, 1904, Hoosier entrepreneur Carl G. Fisher won the five-mile Diamond Cup race in Chicago, Illinois, driving the factory-entered Premier Comet. After his success driving the Comet, Fisher commissioned George Weidely of the Premier Motor Corporation of Indianapolis to build him a car to compete in the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup Race.
1905 Premier Special
Copyright © 2012 Dennis E. Horvath
For the Premier Special, Weidely designed an engine with a 7 inch bore and a 6 inch stroke, displacing 923.4 cu. in. The shaft-and-bevel SOHC operated the rocker arms for the overhead valves having an included angle of 45 degree. Thus, he created a hemispherical cylinder head design some 107 years ago. This predates the successful 1913 Peugeot engine designs. The Special reportedly cost Fisher $15,000.
However, the innovative machine exceeded the Vanderbilt maximum weight limit of 2,200 pounds by 300 pounds. After drilling over 420 holes in the car, it was still 120 pounds overweight, and therefore, ineligible for the race.
Fisher’s Premier Special was untested in competition until he entered it in a five-mile handicap event at the Indiana State Fairgrounds one-mile dirt track on October 21, 1905. He took the lead on the last lap and finished with an average speed of 59.21 miles an hour.
The Special raced no more. George Weidely is overlooked for his automotive first of innovating the single overhead camshaft, hemispherical cylinder head, four-cylinder engine in 1905.