Thomas Judson Wilbee (pronounced “Willabee”), a skilled draftsman and machinist, of Buffalo, NY, designed and hand-built this quite unique V-8 engine in the early 1910’s. Initially a “prototype”, the engine was installed in a speedster for testing.
“Jud” Wilbee continued to improve the engine’s design, and incorporated many improvements and refinements develed during testing. In October, 1915, he submitted revised design drawings to the U.S. Patent Bureau, and was awarded a patent for the engine’s design in early 1919.
Work on the Wilbee V-8 was interrupted during WW-I, during which time Wilbee worked for the Curtiss Aircraft Company. In 1917, Jud married. He continued to re-design and improve the basic V-8, constructing many new components (e.g., pistons, timing gears) on his basement lathe. The engines design and machining is almost unparalleled in quality for the time.
Only after WW-II was the revised and improved Wilbee V-8 engine ready to run. The first-run post inspection revealed coolant was getting into the engine’s oil pan. The 30+ year project was temporarily put on “hold” in 1946, shortly after which the 55-year old Wilbee became seriously ill (rheumatic heart disease) and died within two months.
Jud’s eldest son James left Buffalo to establish a business in San Francisco, and second son Robert went off to college and medical school and a career of his own. James stored the engine in his San Francisco warehouse for decades until Robert arranged for Bill Ewing, a restoration professional in Tucson, AZ, to restore it. The brothers then donated this one-of-a-kind V-8 engine to the Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed in September 2013.
Some design highlights about this hand-built Wilbee V-8: