The History of the Supercharger

Though Originally Intended for Something Different, the Supercharger Would Eventually Make Hot Rod History

If you want to squeeze ever ounce of power out of whatever cubic inch engine is under your hood, one of the best ways to accomplish this feat is with a supercharger. That’s because the amount of power that an engine produces is based on the air/fuel mix that courses through it at a given time. In order to increase your engines power output, you either have to increase the engine’s displacement, increase the RPMs, or make it more volumetric efficient, which is precisely what a supercharger does by mechanically increasing the air that enters the engine. So what is the history of this speed boosting mechanism?

From its most humble beginnings to its domination on the race track to now being installed in many different stock vehicles, the supercharger has led a rather fascinating life. What is interesting to note is the fact that the supercharger was invented for a totally different purpose than it is used for today and actually underwent a couple of changes before gear heads began bolting these speed producing components onto their engines.

art5The most early roots of the supercharger can actually be traced to two brothers with the last name Roots. Francis Marion and Philander Roots of Connersville, Indiana patented a device that would move air through blast engines and other industrial machinery way back in 1860. In the latest part of the century the design of the Roots brothers made its way to Germany were a man named Krigar invented a new air pump that used twin rotating shafts to compress air.

From the two original designs came a third and in 1885 Gottlieb Daimler obtained a German patent for supercharging an internal combustion engine. Soon after that in 1902, Louis Renault of France patented his version of the centrifugal supercharger.

Through the early part of the 20th Century there are numerous examples of automotive thinkers and pioneers who utilized superchargers to set many speed records. There are also a number of examples of races that were won as a result of using the early technology of superchargers. But the early technology came with a hefty price tag and a lot of noise so in the beginning it was held mostly in reserve for the racing community or the more elite vehicles of the day such as Cord, Auburn, Duesenberg, Mercedes-Benz, Stutz, and Packard.

During World War I the supercharger took on an entirely different role as an aid to aviation. This began with the British using superchargers with their airplane engines so that they could gain a higher altitude without any power loss which was typical of an airplane in those days flying at extreme heights. They used this advantage to counter the German Zeppelins which had previously been able to stay out of harm’s way by floating to altitudes that the British planes could not reach. Once the British mastered the use of the supercharger with the airplane engines, the Zeppelins began to fall.

It wasn’t until 1938 that the supercharger would receive its next big boost when General Motors Detroit Diesel Division developed the now world famous GMC 6-71 supercharger. It wasn’t long after that the hot rodders of the world began to discover how these bolt-on blowers could make a difference in their speed. Before you knew it, superchargers were being bolted onto nearly every flathead Ford that sat under the hood of a hot rod. It wasn’t long before the GMC 6-71 supercharger was conquering all rivals on both the street and the strip. After that, as the old saying goes, ‘The rest is history.’

These days you can find a number of aftermarket superchargers made from such companies as BBK Performance, Vortech, Roush, HKS, Blitz, Neuspeed, and Alpine Developments. These manufactures make superchargers that will add a boost to an engine no matter what the size may be. There are also automobile makers such as GMC and Dodge that still use superchargers as part of their stock equipment as the cars of today are shadowing the hot rods of the past and cars like the Chevy Camaro and the Dodge Challenger feature these quickness making attachments right off the line.

While the supercharger may not have been intended for the automobile, that is where it did in fact land and over the years it has changed the way speed is thought of and produced. From the hot rods of yesteryear to today’s high end vehicles, the supercharger’s life has made history time and time again.

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