A Technical and Operational History of the Liberty Engine


Serious students of engine technology are always eager to examine unfamiliar engines to see how the other guys do things. Most often these enthusiasts (enginologists if you will) are seeking tidbits of knowledge for their own applications with relatively current power plants. Or they’re just naturally curious about engines and how our forefathers approached engine design and application. Liberty Aircraft Engine book coverBut in many cases, amazing secrets lurk within the pages of surprisingly detailed books about historical engines of note. Offys, Millers, Cosworths, Mercedes, and Ferrari come to mind, but other noteworthy engines also emerge when you examine the history of early Grand Prix racing and particularly land speed record racing. In the early days of the twentieth-century aircraft engines were regularly employed in racing cars and speed record attempts, both on land and sea. One such engine is the focus of Robert J. Neal’s extraordinary 615-page treatise on the widely regarded Liberty aircraft engine, an aviation workhorse that also excels as a multiple land speed record holder and a marine racing powerhouse of considerable note.

As a military and civilian aircraft engine, the Liberty is approaching a century of continuous service. The Liberty was originally designed with the intent to standardize aircraft engine design. It was meant to be built in several sizes and configurations to accommodate a broad range of aircraft requirements from trainers to fighters to bombers and beyond with industrial and commercial service and of course the unanticipated application in land speed record attempts.  The difference in size was accomplished with multiple cylinders of the same design configured from 1 to 24 cylinders with both inline and V-type engines. All together with initial test engines, the Liberty was manufactured in one-, two-, four-,  six-,  eight-, twelve-, and twenty-four-cylinder versions some of which were supercharged. All engines were designed to incorporate common parts to reduce design and manufacturing costs.  Neal describes each version in exacting detail along with revisions and modifications for various applications. Hundreds of detailed photos, line drawings and charts illustrate how this versatile engine evolved to one of the most noteworthy engines in history. Over twenty different nations have employed Liberty engines in their own aircraft designs.

Gar Wood Libert engineBabs Liberty engine


Racers will also appreciate the sections on marine racing and land speed record racing where the exploits of Gar Wood in marine Gold Cup competition with Miss Detroit II and III and Tinker Toy were accomplished with modified Liberty engines from 1919 through1927. Multiple land speed records were also established with Liberty V12 engines. In 1926 engineer Parry Thomas took his Liberty powered “Babs” to the beach at Pendine Sands in South Wales, Great Britain and established a new land speed record of 169.298 mph, raising it to 170.624 mph the next day. Thomas was later killed trying to regain the record after Malcolm Campbell had raised it to 174.200 mph. America briefly reclaimed the record with the ill-fated White Triplex which used three Liberty V12s to push the record up to 207.552 in April 1928.

Neal’s account details these daring deeds and many more, all accomplished with Liberty power both in war and peace. The depth of detail provided about each Liberty engine does not disappoint and there are details to be absorbed that may cause you to reexamine some current practices. As engine books go Neal’s work is a tour-de-force with all cylinders firing.

  • Hardcover: 628 pages
  • Publisher: Specialty Press
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158007149X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580071499



Specialty Press

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