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Offenhauser Racing Engines
FounderFred H. Offenhauser and
ProductsRacing engines

The Offenhauser Racing Engine, or Offy, is a racing engine design that dominated American open wheel racing for more than 50 years and is still popular among vintage sprint and midget car racers.


An Offenhauser sprint "midget" racer
An Offenhauser sprint "midget" racer

The Offenhauser engine, familiarly known as the "Offy", was an overhead cam monoblock 4-stroke internal combustion engine developed by Fred Offenhauser and Harry Arminius Miller.[1] Originally, it was sold as a marine engine. In 1930 a four-cylinder 151 cu in (2.47 l) Miller engine installed in a race car set a new international land speed record of 144.895 mph (233.186 km/h). Miller developed this engine into a twin overhead cam, four-cylinder, four-valve-per-cylinder 220 cu in (3.6 l) racing engine. Variations of this design were used in midgets and sprints into the 1960s,[2] with a choice of carburetion or Hilborn fuel injection.[3] When both Miller and the company to whom he had sold much of the equipment and rights went bankrupt in 1933, Offenhauser opened a shop a block away and bought rights to engines, special tooling and drawings at the bankruptcy auction, and he and other former Miller employees took over production. They and former Miller employee, draftsman Leo Goossen, further developed the Miller engines into the Offenhauser engines.

In 1946, the name Offenhauser and engine designs were sold to Louis Meyer and Dale Drake. It was under Meyer and Drake that the engine dominated the Indianapolis 500 and midget racing in the United States.[4] In 1965, Meyer was bought out by Drake, his wife Eve and their son John. From then until Drake's son John sold the shop to Stewart Van Dyne, the Drake family designed and refined the engine until its final race days.

One of the keys to the Offenhauser engine's success and popularity was its power. A 251.92 cubic inch (4,128.29 cm³) DOHC naturally-aspirated four-cylinder racing „Offy“ with a 15:1 compression ratio and a 4.28125-by-4.375-inch (108.744 mm × 111.125 mm) bore and stroke, could produce 420 hp (310 kW) at 6,600 rpm (1.77 hp per cubic inch, 81 kW/L) making it incredibly power-dense. Other variants of the engine produced even higher outputs of 3 hp per cubic inch (137 kW/L) giving them unparalleled power outputs relative to their size and capacity as it offered enormous power to cubic/inch/cylinder count ratio. Another reason for the engine's success was its reliability. Its monobloc construction made it immune to head gasket or cylinder stud problems, and allowed for higher cylinder pressures.

From 1934 through the 1970s, the Offenhauser engine dominated American open wheel racing, winning the Indianapolis 500 27 times. From 1950 through 1960, Offenhauser-powered cars won the Indianapolis 500 and achieved all three podium positions, winning the pole position in 10 of the 11 years.

The Offenhauser shop began to do machine work for Lockheed in 1940, as the arms build-up for anticipated war began. The last prewar engine was shipped on July 17, 1941. After the Pearl Harbor attack, the plant worked overtime on hydraulic systems, getting Fred Offenhauser the money and the fatigue to retire. In 1944, Leo Goossen finally became a full-time Offenhauser employee.[4]

In 1959 Lime Rock Park held a famous Formula Libre race, where Rodger Ward shocked the expensive and exotic sports car contingent by beating them on the road course in an Offenhauser powered midget car, which was normally considered competitive on oval tracks only. On the strength of this performance, the car was entered in the Formula 1 1959 US Grand Prix at Sebring where it was totally uncompetitive, setting a qualifying time of 3:43.8 compared to the pole time of 3 minutes dead and the slowest Formula 1 starter at 3:33.4.

When Ford came onto the scene in 1963, with much increased competition and sanctioning body rule changes,[failed verification] the Offy began to lose its domination over Indy car racing, although it remained a competitive winner on the circuit including at the 500 through the mid-1970s even with the advent of turbocharging. Outputs over 1,000 bhp (750 kW) could be attained, using around 44.3 psi (3.05 bar) of boost pressure. The final 2.65-litre four-cylinder Offy, restricted to 24.6 psi (1.70 bar) boost, produced 770 bhp (570 kW) at 9,000 rpm. The Offy's final victory came at Trenton in 1978, in Gordon Johncock's Wildcat. The last time an Offy-powered car raced was at Pocono in 1982 for the Domino's Pizza Pocono 500, in an Eagle chassis driven by Jim McElreath, although two Vollstedt chassis with Offenhauser engines failed to qualify for the 1983 Indianapolis 500.

Common Offenhauser engines

An Offenhauser midget engine, polished for display
An Offenhauser midget engine, polished for display
Offenhauser midget car engine - front view
Offenhauser midget car engine - front view

Offenhauser produced engine blocks in several sizes. These blocks could be bored out or sleeved to vary the cylinder bore, and could be used with crankshafts of various strokes, resulting in a wide variety of engine displacements. Offenhauser (and Meyer-Drake, in later years) frequently made blocks, pistons, rods, and crankshafts to specific customer requests. However, certain engine sizes were common, and could be considered the "standard" Offenhauser engines:[4]

World Championship Indianapolis 500 summary

From 1950 to 1960, the Indianapolis 500 was a round of the World Drivers' Championship.

Season Cars entered Winning driver Second driver Third driver Pole sitter Race report
1950 31 Johnnie Parsons Bill Holland Mauri Rose Walt Faulkner Report
1951 32 Lee Wallard Mike Nazaruk Manny Ayulo Report
1952 30 Troy Ruttman Jim Rathmann Sam Hanks Fred Agabashian Report
1953 32 Bill Vukovich Art Cross Sam Hanks Bill Vukovich Report
1954 34 Bill Vukovich Jimmy Bryan Jack McGrath Jack McGrath Report
1955 35 Bob Sweikert Tony Bettenhausen Jimmy Davies Jerry Hoyt Report
1956 32 Pat Flaherty Sam Hanks Don Freeland Pat Flaherty Report
1957 31 Sam Hanks Jim Rathmann Jimmy Bryan Pat O'Connor Report
1958 31 Jimmy Bryan George Amick Johnny Boyd Dick Rathmann Report
1959 33 Rodger Ward Jim Rathmann Johnny Thomson Johnny Thomson Report
1960 33 Jim Rathmann Rodger Ward Paul Goldsmith Eddie Sachs Report

See Indianapolis Motor Speedway race results for a more complete list.

In the 11 World Championship years, the Meyer-Drake Offenhauser engine partnered for at least one race with the following 35 constructors:

Complete Formula One World Championship results

(excluding the 1950-1960 Indianapolis 500) (key)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine Tyres Drivers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Points WCC
1959 Leader Cards Inc. Kurtis Kraft Midget L4 ? MON 500 NED FRA GBR GER POR ITA USA 0 -
Rodger Ward Ret
1960 Reventlow Automobiles Inc Scarab F1 L4 D ARG MON 500 NED BEL FRA GBR POR ITA USA 0 -
Chuck Daigh DNA DNQ DNS Ret DNS 10
Lance Reventlow DNQ DNS Ret
Richie Ginther DNS


  1. ^ "Fred Offenhauser". National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame. 1999. Archived from the original on 2012-02-05. Retrieved 2008-09-06.
  2. ^ Circle Track, 9/84, pp.82-3.
  3. ^ Circle Track, 9/84, p.83.
  4. ^ a b c Offenhauser by Gordon Eliot White, ISBN 978-1-62654-041-5