"Once upon a time"... any
story with the mystery, the romance, the individual achievements that are so intricately a
part of the history of the development of these odd creatures of automotive genius, the 12
port heads, certainly must start with those words that we all remember form the fairy
tales of our younger days. The history of the 12 port heads is, in its own way, a
story much like those of our childhood, one in which new frontiers are crossed and legends
In the late 1930's, the hot motor of the day
was the V8 Ford flathead. The "flatties" were the thing to run if you
wanted to be competitive on the dry lakes of Southern California and on the oval tracks.
Not everyone, however, was interested in the then current rage. Some looked
back to the old four cylinder Ford, and some became interested in what they saw as the
future. That future, for them was the Chevrolet six cylinder. Chevrolet made
major changes in their six cylinder in 1937. The bore was larger, the stroke was
shorter an additional main bearing support was added to make four, and the block was
shortened two inches. They used dome pistons still cast, but now of the slipper
skirt design, with the extra below the pin holes cut off, so they were lighter.
Also, the camshaft got a fourth bearing support, and the cam bearings were the replaceable
Just before the decade changed, Wayne F.
Horning started taking a long look at the Chevy six. As with many innovators, he was
"put down", by many of the V8 crowd and the Ford fans. But Wayne Horning
saw something in the Chevy six that the others didn't, and that was its potential.
One of the main features of the Chevy six cylinder was the fact that the engine had
overhead valves. Wayne Horning liked that, but he didn't like the three small intake
ports and the four exhaust ports. He knew the engine needed individual intake and
exhaust ports for each cylinder, not the factory siamese port setup. That was
alright for mom and pop, but not for going fast. He also knew that individual intake
and exhaust ports meant a new head.
In 1939, Wayne Horning was working as a
mechanical engineer for Lockheed Aircraft. It was then that he drew up the designs
for this new head. However, other things interrupted his plans, as is so often
the case with all rodders. This time it was World War II. It wasn't until
after he finished his time in the Navy and returned to So. Calif., in 1946 that he was able to
make that first trip to the foundry. At that time, Wayne teamed up with an old
friend, Jim Borger who had been of all things, a machinist at Lockheed Aircraft.
Together, they started "Western Mechanical Development Company." One of
the first products they produced, was a cast iron 12 port head for Chevrolet. In the
concept for the head, Wayne Horning drew on the example of the Winfield rocker arm head
used on Ford four cylinders, as well as the trial by action days of racing with his old
friend Johnny Hartman. He and Johnny had become close as they were nearly the only
"nuts" running those Chevy sixes, in the days before the war.
The first 12 port head had six huge exhaust
ports and six oval shaped intake ports. The intakes were on the left side and
exhaust ports on the right side, unlike the stock head versions, where all ports were on
the same side. The heads featured an oval shaped combustion chamber, flattened some
like the Winfield head, and used 14mm spark plugs set between the valves, just below the
intake ports. That first head used cut-down '47 Cadillac valves, Buick rocker arms
and stock Chevy outer springs and keepers. There were newly designed parts in the
valve train, tubular pushrods with hardened steel ends, newly designed inner springs and
newly designed retainers. The bottom end got new parts also. Wayne Horning
designed and Frank Venolia assisted in the development of, brand new pistons, named after
Frank Venolia. These pistons were made of 142 TS, cast aluminum, and it was the
piston that Wayne Horning used to control the compression ratio. He used GMC truck
rods and a stock Chevy crank, drilled for full oil pressure. All in all, it was
quite a thing to behold. Not just a new head, but also new pistons. As with so
many builders and rodders one thing leads to another and Wayne Horning was no exception.
What started as new head led to other parts, new pushrods, retainers, inner
springs and finally new pistons.
That first engine went into, of all things,
a boat, which was an instant success. Soon, more 12 port heads were produced and
Wayne's old friend Johnny Hartman was soon using one to "go after them" on the
California Racing Association Tracks. Johnny Hartman, running as a member of the
"Pasadena Roadster Club" also ran in the SCTA (So. Calif. Timing Association)
meet, up on the dry lakes. In 1948, Johnny's lake/track roadster turned 147.24 mph,
then a Class B Lakester, to set the dry lakes record for that class. What were the
Ford flathead fans saying then? Well, I'm certain you can think of a close guess.
After a time, Jim Borger moved on to his own
shop and Wayne Horning asked another old friend from those Lockheed Aircraft days, Harry
Warner to come back to So. Calif. from the east coast to join him in the business.
Harry Warner had worked with Wayne Horning, helping out with racecars before the war, and
had also kept up on the progress of "Western Mechanical Development Co." and the
12 port head. Harry's trip to Burbank, Calif., was done in his '34 Ford roadster,
powered by a 12 port Chevy. When Harry arrived, he and Wayne Horning renamed the
company "Wayne Manufacturing Company." This process took place in late
1947 and early 1948.
Things went well, "Wayne Manufacturing
Co.", advertised in "Hot Rod" magazine, and the exploits of Marvin Lee's
Class B Streamliner during those very first years of racing on the salt flats of
Bonneville, Utah, brought business aplenty. That streamliner of Marvin Lee's the
first version of the "City of Pasadena", went over 160 mph, running 248 cu. in.,
12 port Wayne Chevrolet. "Wayne Manufacturing Co.", soon became well known
for both racing and street use. However, as often happens in partnerships, growth
takes place in the partners as well as the business. So, in early 1950, Wayne
Horning and Harry Warner split up. This separation was to cause confusion for much
of the performance crowd for many years to come. Wayne Horning remained at the old
address of 3206 Fletcher in Los Angeles. Horning's advertisements offered both Chevy
and GMC racing engines, under the company name, "Wayne F. Horning." At
that time Horning didn't offer any 12 port heads.
Meantime, Harry Warner, who had bought out
all the patterns, the jigs, and the fixtures for the 12 port head for Chevy, as well as
the company name "Wayne Manufacturing Company," began advertising as "Wayne
Manufacturing Co.", formerly located at 3206 Fletcher Dr., Los Angeles, Calif.,
announces the removal of offices services, parts and facilities to 7153 Encinal Ave., La
Cresenta, California. At first, Harry didn't advertise 12 port heads either.
It took him time to build up an inventory due to the large amount of post-casting
machining that was necessary on each head.
So, the confusion over the "Wayne F.
Horning" company, and the "Wayne Manufacturing Co.", began. The fact
that "Wayne F. Horning" was still at 3206 Fletcher, and that Harry Warner
mentioned that address in his new ads for "Wayne Manufacturing Co." and the fact
that many racers and rodders had come to identify the "Wayne" in "Wayne
Manufacturing Co.", with the man, Wayne F. Horning, well, you can see how confusing
it was, it's confusing to try to explain it.
However, the development of the 12 port
heads was not dead, by no means, as we'll see in our next installment of this tale, when
we take a look at Horning's new company, and his new product, the 12 port head for GMC