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The adventure of the Roll-Royce Merlin V12 supercharged aircraft agent is one of the best arresting engineering and accomplishment acceptance of the 20th century. Actuality was an abundantly circuitous allotment of machinery, conceived afore the clouds of World War II aggregate and continuously aesthetic in the burden cooker of combat, that would go on to adeptness some of the best acclaimed piston-driven warplanes anytime designed—the Supermarine Spitfire and the P-51 Mustang amid them.

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And at the centermost of its adventure are two abundant automotive marques, Rolls-Royce and Packard, which congenital Merlins by the tens of bags accompanying on both abandon of the Atlantic.

If you accept alike a casual absorption in automotive, aerodynamics or aggressive history, you’ve apparently heard some aberration of the Merlin tale. The accustomed wisdom, at atomic in America, usually runs forth the curve of: If Rolls-Royce birthed a amazing engine, Packard brought American mass-manufacturing adeptness to the equation, perfecting the architecture and mechanizing production. And so the Axis admiral were exhausted aback by this absolute across accord of British adeptness and American automated might.

There are abounding variations on this basal storyline, added than a few of which are contradictory. Best recently, I was told absolute artlessly (and by a Brit, if that makes any difference) that Rolls congenital a added absolutely fitted, cautiously acquainted agent that had hardly college achievement abeyant for a accustomed unit. Packard, by contrast, congenital one that was ultimately easier to accumulate consistently and check at defined intervals—and that one of the means Packard able this was by architecture Merlins with looser tolerances than its analogue on the added ancillary of the Atlantic.

There’s an ambrosial counterintuitiveness to the angle that a (marginally) sloppier agent makes for a added able fighter alike powerplant; it’s a bit like that chestnut about abacus armor to the genitalia of the bombers with no ammo holes. Blueprinted, handmade and expertly acquainted Merlins adeptness accept been nice to accept beneath ideal circumstances, but WWII accepted armament in about abysmal quantities. On the surface, it’s believable that two appealing acceptable Detroit-built Merlins were account one admirable Merlin handcrafted in Crewe.

On the added hand, I’ve additionally apprehend that Packard’s cutting-edge accomplishment methods fabricated for Merlins with tighter, added constant tolerances. Both of these cannot be true. Or can they?

Since Autoweek is talking altruism this week, it seemed like an appropriate time to dig a little added into the Merlin story—which, afterwards all, is a big point of pride for Packard car owners like myself. I can abandoned brainstorm Rolls-Royce owners attending aback this aeon of history with according admiration.

But abundant like Abraham Wald’s WWII-era assignment on aircraft survivability, it’s boxy to say absolutely how abundant of this neatly packaged adventure is annihilation added than adorable addition spun about aloof a few spindles of fact.

Rolls-Royce

From this avant-garde angle point, it adeptness assume assured that Rolls-Royce would accompany armament with Packard to aftermath Merlins. Rolls-Royce Bound was accustomed in 1904; the Packard Motor Car Co. was founded in Warren, Ohio, a few years earlier, in 1899, and set up boutique in Detroit in 1903. Both congenital their all-around reputations as top-level affluence automakers on the strengths of their engineering adeptness and aerial accumulation standards.

Merlin in Perspective: The Action Years (Historical Series)

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The aboriginal “production” adaptation of the agent was the Merlin I, which accustomed in 1936, but beneath than 200 examples were built. The Merlin II was developed about a year later, and from there it was off to the races: A boundless cardinal of variants would chase in quick succession.

Engineering refinements meant that by the end of the war, the Merlin 66, an intercooled alternative of the agent antic a two-stage, two-speed supercharger, was authoritative 2,050 hp (increased from 1,030 hp in the Merlin II)—and these bigger engines were acceptance aircraft to accomplish at decidedly college altitudes, as well. If you appetite to dive into the development of Merlin development, it’s account avaricious a archetype of The Merlin in Perspective—The Action Years, by Alec Harvey-Bailey; there’s artlessly too abundant advice to chronicle it all here.

Packard had advised the anticipation of architecture Merlins beneath authorization as aboriginal as 1938. Though these antecedent discussions went nowhere, the British acknowledgment of war on Germany in September 1939 meant that a new accomplishment accomplice was actively needed.

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The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War

Enter Packard. By mid-June 1940, Packard had taken control of the affairs and genitalia initially accustomed to Ford, and began an aggressive program—led by Packard engineering bang-up Col. Jesse Vincent—to apparatus Detroit up for Merlin production. This circuitous aggregate from the time-consuming assignment of redrawing affairs for the engines from British third-angle bump to the first-angle bump acclimated in American accomplishment to creating the applique and jigs bare to accumulate them. Packard additionally bare to amount out how to access (or create) accouterments that acclimated British cilia standards—some of which had been added adapted by Rolls-Royce to accommodated specific needs.

Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library

As Robert J. Neal writes in Master Motor Builders, a album documenting Packard’s non-automotive engines:

“This was but the alpha of a awe-inspiring assignment of redesigning an agent which was not originally advised for accumulation accumulation so that it could absolutely be fabricated by American accomplishment methods, and so that it could be adapted with American accessories and accessories as mentioned aloft [for example, carburetors, ammunition pumps, generators and so on] or British accessories and fittings, depending aloft which government the agent was advised for.”

Neal additionally addendum that “the British did not specify tolerances and fits, and Packard had to booty genitalia from an absolute agent and accomplish abstracts to actuate these blueprint as best as they could, application engineering judgement area necessary.”

This angle is additionally reflected in the March 1946 affair of Aerial magazine, which includes a attendant on the powerplant by Paul H. Becker blue-blooded “Mass Bearing the Merlin”:

“It took the war to prove that the aircraft agent is not that complicated micro-micro-inch architecture botheration peacetime allocution has made. It is larger, lighter-per-horsepower and has added genitalia than the auto engine. But it can be fabricated with the aforementioned ease, about cheaply, and on a agnate accumulation line.”

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Later: “The abstruse of the this low-cost, high-production accomplishment is the accumulation line. Rolls-Royce accessories a ‘fitter’s’ agent with genitalia actuality brought to the assemblage beneath architecture on a bench. If the allotment doesn’t fit, it is machined until it does accommodated appropriate specifications.

“An American accumulation band reverses this procedure. A agent belt brings the agent to the genitalia which consistently fit for by American methods all genitalia are fabricated so absolutely that they are consistently interchangeable.”

Packard’s accumulation band was acutely cutting-edge. It apparently helped that America was not at war aback arena was burst for it—and anyway, the blackmail of Axis bombers aerial to the Midwest to abrade it was somewhat beneath than the affairs of the Luftwaffe aqueous blaze on the accomplishment plants of the Midlands. See it in all its celebrity here:

All of this seems to aback up the affirmation that Packard went its own way aback architecture the Merlin, at atomic aback it came to tolerances. This is a little misleading: The Merlin II account manual, appear May 1938 (you can get a PDF archetype here), lists burdensome fits and tolerances for the agent and every subsystem on it.

Did Rolls-Royce artlessly balloon to accommodate this basic advice aback it handed Ford, and again Packard, endless of affidavit two years later? It beggars belief. Neal and others charge be apropos to the fit and tolerances of the genitalia produced, rather than as-installed—a acumen that will accomplish added faculty as we analyze Rolls-Royce’s prewar accomplishment methods.

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In any case, Packard’s adaptation of the Merlin XX, which the Detroit automaker dubbed the V-1650-1, was accessible to run by August 1941. It did affection a cardinal of improvements over the British-built Merlins, such as a two-piece butt block. Some of these improvements were developed by Packard engineers in an accomplishment to accomplish the circuitous agent easier and quicker to body in quantity. Others, however, like the two-piece block, were absolutely advised by Rolls-Royce and not yet implemented in production.

And to accord a faculty of how thoroughly this abundantly parallel, if somewhat staggered, across development accomplishment has atramentous the record, Neal states that Packard adapted the architecture two-piece block to bigger facilitate production; aback Rolls-Royce eventually implemented a hardly altered two-part block, Packard afterwards adopted the Rolls-Royce design. Simple!

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Following the advance on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and the United States’ acknowledgment of war on the Axis powers, noncombatant auto accumulation bound ceased; by aboriginal 1942, Packard was chargeless to focus all of its accomplishment on aggressive agent production.

Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library

If there’s a key to compassionate Rolls-Royce’s Merlin accomplishment tolerances, or the asserted abridgement thereof, it adeptness be Ford—Ford of Britain, that is. British Merlins were eventually congenital at a quartet of facilities: Rolls-Royce Derby, additional two Rolls-Royce “shadow factories” at Crewe (currently Bentley’s works) and Glasgow (twice the admeasurement of Crewe, its branch provided castings for the added operations), and a Ford branch in Manchester.

That aftermost branch began churning out engines in mid-1941, but not afore Ford, like Packard, overcame a few hurdles. Stanley Hooker’s autobiography, Not Abundant of an Engineer, deals mostly with his assignment on Rolls-Royce jet engines. But its area on Merlin development, the superchargers of which Hooker played a role in developing, is illuminating:

“In my enthusiasm, I advised that Rolls-Royce designs were the ne additional ultra, until the Ford Motor Co. in Britain was arrive to accomplish the Merlin in the aboriginal canicule of the War. A cardinal of Ford engineers accustomed in Derby, and spent some months analytical and familiarizing themselves with the assets and accomplishment methods. One day their Chief Engineer appeared in (Merlin development arch Cyril Lovesey’s) office, which I was again sharing, and said, ‘You know, we can’t accomplish the Merlin to these drawings.’

“I replied loftily, ‘I accept that is because the cartoon tolerances are too difficult for you, and you can’t accomplish the accuracy.’

“‘On the contrary,’ he replied, ‘the tolerances are far too advanced for us. We accomplish motor cars far added accurately than this. Every allotment on our car engines has to be changeable with the aforementioned allotment on any added engine, and appropriately all genitalia accept to be fabricated with acute accuracy, far afterpiece than you use. That is the abandoned way we can accomplish accumulation production.'”

A Rolls-Royce auto agent may able-bodied accept run bigger and smoother, and accept been accumulated with tighter tolerances, than a commensurable Ford motor. But that’s abandoned because the aggregation active tradesmen who could fit the parts. Rolls-Royce was crafting Swiss watches; Ford was cranking out Timexes. And sometimes, the break calls for a Timex.

This was abandoned acceptable because Rolls-Royce cars were fantastically expensive, and its accumulation was tiny. For some angle here, agenda that absolute Rolls-Royce auto accumulation from 1936-1939 totaled 6,244 (and that includes 3,824 units of 20/25 production, which spanned 1929-1937; acknowledgment to Mark Lizewskie of the Rolls-Royce Foundation for the information).

Packard awash 98,000 units in 1940 alone. It may accept been a affluence automaker, but it was acutely operating at a calibration that askew Rolls-Royce—and it accomplished those accumulation abstracts by all-embracing automatic production. Aback it came time to body the V-1650, Packard was in an about absolutely bigger abode to body it in abundance than Rolls-Royce was aback it began developing the Merlin in the aboriginal to mid-1930s. And a ample allotment of that was Packard’s adeptness to use avant-garde automated processes to actualize low-tolerance, awful changeable parts.

The aberration here, and the foundation of the file-to-fit Rolls-Royce Merlin idea, is acceptable in conflating aboriginal engines, which were congenital in about bound quantities throughout the aboriginal to mid-1930s, with the boss (and mightily improved) banal Merlins that emerged as the war progressed.

The antecedent Merlin engines may able-bodied accept had a ample cardinal of hand-fitted components; the aboriginal generations, afterwards all, were borderline-experimental. This is conceivably area historians like Neal acquired the angle that Rolls-Royce did not accumulation tolerances for Merlin basic production; baby batches of genitalia and pieces could have, conceivably, been fettled to accommodated defined tolerances by accomplished laborers on the bank afore assembly, at atomic in the aboriginal days.

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Imperial War Museum/IWM (D 12131)

Of the absolute of 168,068 Merlin variants built, Packard produced 55,523. Rolls-Royce did alike bigger at 82,117 (32,377 at Derby, 26,065 at Crewe and 23,675 at Glasgow), and Ford of Britain ultimately congenital 30,428 at its Manchester facility. (Note: These numbers alter hardly depending on the source.)

Rolls-Royce did not administer its absurd all-embracing accumulation numbers—again, greater than those accomplished by Packard, admitting at assorted plants—by adhering to its prewar accomplishment methods: It did so by mechanizing. Its factories may not accept looked absolutely like the clean, ultra-modern Merlin accumulation ability Packard complete at its East Grand Boulevard plant, as aeon footage shows:

But the acclaimed marque, or at atomic the aircraft engine-building allocation of it, acquired to accommodated the demands of wartime. And that meant demography the artisan out of the blueprint to whatever admeasurement possible—or in added words, all-embracing accumulation production.

As Harvey-Bailey writes in The Merlin in Perspective: “Prior to the War the majority of operations in aero manufacture, body and analysis had been accomplished in both a Trade Union and absolute sense. In Derby, afterwards about a division of a aeon of the business growing up with the workforce, the accurate abilities had become built-in and abounding basic $.25 of ability were about allotment of the atmosphere in which bodies assignment and generally not formally documented.

“With the development of the new factories, men and women had to be accomplished to accomplish and adjustment aero engines in areas area the abilities were not endemic. Union rules and demarcations had to be eased by concoction agreements, and such were the aptitudes of the British that all over the country the so alleged butchers, bakers and candlestick makers and their wives and babe accompany added the crawl of engines to a river of power.”

Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library

So area does that leave us? Like so abounding actual yarns, the abstraction that American adeptness was able to body a bigger Merlin (either through greater attention or some amount of calculated, mass-producible impression, depending on whom you ask) than Rolls-Royce is adamantine to allay out of hand. But it’s alike tougher to prove conclusively, abnormally (as Neal notes, regretfully, in Master Motor Builders) accustomed that so abounding Packard annal were destroyed aback the aggregation folded.

If there’s any accuracy basal the mythos, it’s acceptable to be in the somewhat alien allegory of the aboriginal Rolls-Royce Merlins and afterwards banal American Merlins—and it would still authority accurate if you ample the beforehand engines up adjoin those Rolls-Royce itself would accumulate in abundant quantities already it began employing unskilled activity and avant-garde accumulation methods. Remember, Packard, and for that matter, Ford of Britain, were able to jump added or beneath into accumulation accumulation of the Merlin, while Rolls-Royce took the agent from a bare area of cardboard to closing accumulation accumulation at its three facilities.

Owing to variations in development programs, the assorted aircraft they powered and the altered mission profiles they fulfilled, it is difficult to analyze Packard and British-built Merlins anon to actuate if one was in actuality “better.” Harvey-Bailey’s appraisal seems to reflect the consensus:

“At Squadron akin there were times aback there were accidental variations in believability either way but aback ambidextrous with ample numbers of engines at Group or Command akin there was acceptable bendability in after-effects amid British and Packard engines. The 60,000 engines produced by Packard for the RAF and USAAF were of costive value.”

Ultimately, workers on both abandon of the Atlantic were able to body an agent for the ages, aureate to achievement in all of the above theaters of combat. In the fable of the Merlin, any theorized aberration in fit and tolerances cannot be added than a absolute tiny footnote.

I am acutely not the aboriginal being to analyze British and American-built Rolls-Royce Merlin engines; over the advance of autograph this survey, I begin several added accessories that covered agnate area and add added insight. The Packard Merlin: How Detroit Mass-Produced Britain’s Hand-Built Powerhouse at tested.com additionally includes a altercation of the Allison V-1710 V12 aircraft engine, for example.

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