Cars, Technical, Treasures, Videos

Baffled by your V8? Troubled by your Torqueflite? Mystified by that misfire? – The Chrysler Master Technician Conference

As a hardcore 2 Litre owner I must confess whenever I open the bonnet of a V8 my heart sinks. Just slightly. No polished aluminium components or gleaming rocker boxes greet one’s eye. A mass of random pipeage, and a monstrous bucket sized carburettor replace the 2 Litre’s  finely sculpted, Filton/Bavarian designed row of tuneable triple Solex or SUs. A large lump of cast iron crouches in the engine bay. And contemplating the gearbox’s industrial structure is little better.

Clearly a very different engineering culture has been imported from across the Atlantic, admittedly saving Bristol Cars’ bacon. And it is no accident that this technology is functional rather than elegant – Chrysler’s visionary President K T Kellner, (who started out  with Chrysler as a machinist and  had built the dual purpose Detroit Arsenal Tank Factory) had defined “Function over Form” as the principle of his engineering approach. Those American state of the art thin wall castings made the engine surprisingly lightweight. Gone is Filton’s hand engineered finish and  elegant componentry; replaced by smooth power from Chrysler’s longlife, almost unburstable and highly tuneable power unit. It has been said (yes, rumours abound!) that this unit was chosen by Bristol Cars because when contemplating replacing their BW/CR5 gearbox, perhaps with a Smiths, Cotal or other unit, they asked to try out a Chrysler Torqueflite gearbox, which arrived from the States with a V8 attached for testing purposes.

These engines and gearboxes were produced by Chrysler in the millions and powered everything from ice cream vans to Highway Patrol Pursuit vehicles. What was done to Bristol’s V8s is not entirely clear, as accounts from those present at the time vary. It has also been said that the V8 variant supplied to Bristol Cars  off the shelf was originally called the “Police Chief Special” version.

On driving one, “ample power” (actual horsepower outputs never defined back in the day) is certainly evident but what is to be done if it misfires, slurs gear changes, won’t start or go properly? What can you do if there is no power above 120 mph? How does an innocent owner comprehend what happens within?

When Syd Lovesy died, having worked at the Bristol car factory from 1946 to its sad demise in 2011, his family kindly presented us with his paperwork. This included a collection of fascinating, vade mecum style, technician’s handbooks called the Chrysler Master Technician Conference.

When I looked inside one for the first time I found to my surprise a very user-friendly troubleshooting guide to common faults in these engines and gearboxes, with coloured  Disney style cartoons and  flow diagrams, quite unlike the formal prose of a workshop manual. 

How had this come about?

Post-World War II America was booming. American industry  was transitioning from supplying the military to meeting the growing demand for consumer goods.

New styles, new powertrain technologies were emerging every year – it was Chrysler’s policy to introduce annual model changes to stimulate demand and it was becoming a challenge for car companies to keep their servicing workforce up to date. Chrysler service centres employed almost 60,000 technicians in the USA. And to keep them informed on these frequent developments, Chrysler developed the “Master Technician Service Conference”. Every month they sent out a filmstrip and vinyl records to train their technicians on basic automotive engineering principles and specific technical issues.

When launched in 1946 this was the largest corporate training initiative ever undertaken. Chrysler’s Master Tech was likened to a post-graduate curriculum for automotive service students on a scale that rivalled many universities.

In this way mechanics learned rapidly about pushbutton Torqueflites, Hemi engines, fuel injection, torsion-bar suspension, and the industry’s first cruise control (AutoPilot). User friendly diagrams and cartoons showed exactly what happened inside your 4 barrel carburettor or torque converter. An animated wooden puppet interjected earnest, homespun wisdom to two overalled mechanics.

By the 1970s, emission controls and demand for higher MPG brought a range of complex new topics for mechanics. DVDs and Web-based training continue to this day. Numerous MasterTech filmstrips and brochures have been digitized.

We are including links listed below to as many  filmstrips relevant to owners of  Bristol V8s as possible. And our range of Master Technicians’ Conference handbooks has been deposited in the City of Bristol Archives, where they can be viewed free by all.

Thanks to Marc Rozman and Steve Shugg for extracts of the Wiki article.

Stefan Cembrowicz

List of videos in the Master Technician series

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