Charlie Brown III
On September 24, 1950, Charles H. Brown, III was born to Charles “Chuck” and Mildred Brown in the bustling SW suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA. Eight days later the first Peanuts comic strip was published forever changing my moniker to Charlie Brown, III and bringing mostly joy to my life.
I enjoyed typical middle-class life growing up with Cowboys & Indians (can’t call it that anymore), cap guns, catching fireflies, Boy Scouts, and staying out until the streetlights came on, etc. ‘Was never a car junkie who bought his first jalopy at 10 years old, fixing it up to be ready when driver license was procured. But I did enjoy building plastic model cars & planes (& blowing up a few planes in-flight with firecrackers stuffed up their exhausts (never the cars!)), ill-fated fly-by-wire airplanes and such. I must have read enough magazine articles about early F1, Indy & SMASHCAR races as I can recite more of their names than current drivers. No TV coverage back then. Also started piano lessons and playing tuba in elementary school – glad we had music back then.
When driving time finally came around, I learned to drive in my Dad’s ’62 VW Beetle. But I think he tried to scuttle my driving test when he threw me the keys to the ’63 Chevy to take my test in (I passed anyway!). ‘Got to use the Bug occasionally during high school to go to band or school play practices. Strict rules said, “No more than four in the VW!” But the last stage band rehearsal we managed to stuff in seven – one in the luggage slot behind the back seat – but the hills of The Burgh were challenging!
My Dad, working at a small, specialty U.S. steel company – surprised that they let him drive the VW! – never had “the car affliction” but did add a few speed parts to the Beetle – low restriction air cleaner and exhaust plus a billet shifter knob made by the factory folks. He found that the Beetle was great off the line – for 10-20 feet. Got him into trouble once against a flat-black ’40 Ford!
I watched a few autocross events while attending The Pennsylvania State University, aka Penn State, where I earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, while also playing tuba/sousaphone in their marching, concert, and jazz bands; and organ before the gymnastics meets. I did take one auto related course – Internal Combustion Engine Design. I still have the textbook, but don’t ask me my grade.
Found out during one college break the Beetle’s limits. While driving from Pittsburgh to Dayton to visit a roommate during a summer break I wondered how fast it could go. The owner’s manual said top speed = 72mph. Cool! Long stretch of I-70 saw the Beetle reach 70, then slowly 71, … 72, and finally 73 – WOW! Followed shortly after by BOOM!!!! rattle, rattle, silence. Flat towed it home with a bull rope behind the ’63 Chevy. Sold it shortly thereafter to a local Bug Specialist as neither of us knew how to fix it and Dad didn’t have the time to mess with it. Wish I’d known a quarter then what I know now!
Working at an engineering & construction firm specializing in primary ore processing in downtown Pittsburgh, riding a streetcar (look those up) to work and living in a coworker’s attic apartment I managed to accumulate three cars: a new 1974 Audi Fox – one of the first in the U.S. I was told – a signal red 1964 Porsche 356C Coupe (with financial help from my girlfriend Joyce, garaged in her parent’s single car garage) and a bright orange 1968 Porsche 911L. Yes, the bug was biting me (mostly in the wallet). Reading the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette want ads, I came across an ad from Ford Motor Company, looking for Engine Design Engineers. I said to myself, “hmmm, I kind of like cars, so why not apply?” I did and the Monday after Thanksgiving 1976 I started my 40-year career in the Motor City!
Joyce & I got married in April 1977, dragging her, a former high school classmate, to The D’s suburbs. She claims the marriage contract had fine print saying we’d only be staying in town five years. I must have missed that as we just celebrated our 45th anniversary in April while still in Livonia, MI.
3½ years at Ford’s in Advanced Engine followed by 15 months at AMC – switched for the big-$$ right? – ended after a disagreement with the Renault overlords. All the while I was enjoying driving the Porsche 356C in Porsche club (PCA) driving schools at local tracks and autocrosses. Shortly after the parting with AMC I was registering folks for a local PCA event and I asked one of the guys, (fellow Viper HoF member) Pete Gladysz, if there were any job openings at Chrysler. He called back the next morning saying to get my sorry arse in within 24 hours with a handful of résumés. I asked what the big hurry was, and he said that Chrysler was running an ad that weekend and I could beat the rush.
It worked!! I had four interviews, was offered two of them and found out later I could have had either of the other two. Nice, having choices, but even nicer having a few years of experience under my belt.
I started at Chrysler September 1981, working for Bruce Raymond in Engine Design in Highland Park, MI — a “fun drive through the hood”! Bruce’s boss was Floyd Allen (VOA member) & Floyd’s boss was Willem “Bill” Weertman — you’ll hear more about him later, assuming you’re not asleep by then. I was the one-and-only engineer responsible for all rotating components for all existing and future Chrysler engines for a brief period of time! Staffing fortunately increased exponentially shortly thereafter. Primarily I worked on the 2.2L inline four-cylinder engine that was used in everything Chrysler built back then. After a few years I was able to move in the development side of the business, doing teardown analysis of the 2.2L turbochargers. To aid in accelerated endurance experience I also did teardowns/rebuilds of the 2.2L turbos for Team Shelby FWD Dodge Chargers, which meant frequent trips to Arrow Racing Engines to pick up or drop off parts. The Team Shelby 24-hour races were great quick turn-around feedback for internal bearings, lube system, etc. And, not knowing at the time, would introduce me to people who became the core of the OG Team Viper.
In 1987 Chrysler acquired AMC and I was one of the first half-dozen engine guys sent over to show them the Chrysler way of doing things. It was also a shorter commute (last time ever for that). I wound up in Jeep engine accessory drive design & release. It doesn’t sound exciting, but the Jeep guys I worked with were far ahead of us Chrysler guys in using magnesium in accessory drive brackets to save some weight. Another thing to remember for future use.
In June 1989 I got a phone call from Jim Royer saying I was recommended by someone for him to talk to, but not over the phone. THAT got my curiosity up and of course I said sure, let’s talk. After an hour or so talking about this beast of a car named Viper Jim asked if I was interested in joining his engine team. I answered I just saw the concept Viper at the Detroit Auto Show so HELL YES, I’m interested!! Who wouldn’t be? Just tell my boss I’m leaving NOW!!
Side note: Somehow, I missed the call to order for the gathering in the Styling Dome in March 1989 where the original Team Viper was hatched. Maybe because they were originally only recruiting vehicle team members? Therefore, I’ve told many people that I started with Viper on Day Two, in July 1989.
Tidbit: The Viper was part of the Small Car Platform, but the engine was part of the engine department within Jeep Truck Engineering. Since the engine was loosely based on the heavy-duty truck V10 all fasteners were SAE (U.S.) whilst the car was all metric. I.e., twice as many wrenches and sockets in the toolbox! Stayed that way until the Gen4 engine (2003). Technically the Viper project contracted JTE for one (1) engine assembly, complete; just like an outside supplier. That’s why there was only a dotted line from our manager, Jim Royer, to Roy Sjoberg, Viper Exec.
And while I’m dropping names, remember Pete Gladysz from a few pages earlier? He was the original Team Viper Chassis Systems Manager and later my Engine Team Manager. Bill Weertman was in our original Engine Design Team as a consultant a couple days per week. While our miniscule engine design engineering team used an 8” roller pumping out first-gen engine components Bill would pick a couple key pieces, disappear for a few days, and come back saying “maybe you should look at this component this way.” He saved our bacon more than once. Just two examples of how Viper skimmed the top layer of cream off the cream of the crop early on.
In 1989 we worked with Lamborghini’s engine team, turning their designs into production reality meeting Chrysler’s design standards. A few of their designs had to be modified – biggest example being increasing the depth of the original wet-cylinder liner water jacket to improve cooling – but Lambo’s “bones” remained. The biggest Lambo design feature carryover through all five Viper generations is the cast-in coolant “pipe” – better description is manifold – running along the outside of the cylinder block. This allowed independent coolant feed into each cylinder’s bore and into the head also. More details I could add, but those I’ll save for my book, working title Life in the Snake Pit.
I used the Jeep accessory drive mounting magnesium bracket technology and applied that to the Viper engine’s alternator and power steering brackets and valve covers, too. We were one of the leading magnesium users in the industry at the time. It saved a few pounds, too.
As Jim Royer’s health wavered, I took over more engine design leadership, ultimately taking interim managership in 2000. One of the first things I did was split the design team. Team Viper had moved into FREC (Featherstone Road Engineering Center) – across the street from CTC by then and I felt we needed more close contact. So, we worked with Herb Helbig to squeeze in a couple desks for us while keeping a few engineers at JTE to supervise the dyno development. That increased my travel miles but was best for the program.
Small backwards step: in 1996 The Viper Team was putting together the Viper GTS’ long-lead press preview. But not just any ol’ ride and drive, but a ride’n’drive through northwestern Europe!! Jim deferred and had me represent the engine program on the absolute best trip of my life, bar none! (don’t tell my wife!!) Five-star hotels, driving Vipers on Nürburgring, Spa in Belgium and Rheims, an old F1 track in France. Wound up in downtown Paris at noon on a Friday with a dozen Viper GTSs making passes up & down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and around the Arc de Triomphe more than once. Very impressed by the French drivers’ car control on the World’s largest traffic circle. Wrapped up with a formal dinner at the FIA Headquarters near the Place de la Concorde.
By 2003 I was getting pretty burned out from the engine design workload – the Plymouth Prowler was in our quiver by then. Fortunately, after a short conversation with then Viper Exec Dan Knott I was transferred to the Viper Vehicle & Engine Assembly Plant as Supplier Quality Assurance (SQA) supervisor for all incoming Viper vehicle and engine components. Thanks to a great team this old engine guy managed to learn more about paint quality, door gaps, glass & seat belt technology than I ever thought possible. It kind of spoiled me for looking at any production car’s paint jobs – especially metallic silver.
During a Viper build lull in 2007 I helped out with the Dodge Nitro launch at Jeep’s Toledo North Assembly Plant (JNAP). What an eye-opening experience after the intimacy of the Viper plant! Well over a million square feet and 70+ cars/hour. After a few months I was offered the SQA Manager’s job at JNAP. I initially said no but was basically “voluntold” that I must transfer. Twice the drive, on-call 24/7 and other mitigating circumstances made it very easy to accept an early-out retirement package. My last day of direct hire was June 30, 2007.
But wait, there’s more! After taking the summer off I returned to the workforce as a contract engineer. 5 weeks back at Ford; 5 months at General Dynamics (WAY WORST drive ever); then 3 years at FEV, a small proof of concept company near The Palace in Auburn Hills. Whilst at FEV – had some fun designs, including working on a BIG displacement GE locomotive diesel engine’s exhaust after treatment system – I received an offer to rejoin the Viper engine team as a contract engine design release engineer through Arrow Racing, our ever-present off-site engine sandbox. I immediately turned in my notice, but FEV dragged it out to four, long weeks! Pete Kinsler, one of our OG engine designers, also chose to rejoin to help finish up and launch the 5th generation Viper engine. Would I have gone back to Chrysler/FCA to help launch a “normal” engine program? Probably not.
Back in the saddle again! This time working for Neil Loughlin, a long-time coworker and friend who baby sat (with his wife) my son early on and even crewed for me on at least one of my race cars. Did I mention that I built/rebuilt and drove four different race cars in SCCA amateur racing program? That led to helping drive Viper at two different racetracks for “Accelerated Endurance Testing.” Another chapter of the book.
I helped Neil wrap up all the loose ends, get everything released and made many trips to Conner to help with initial Gen5 engine builds and through production launch. As Viper was winding down, I was asked if I could “spare a few hours a week” to help with the Hellcat Hemi® V8. Sure, I can help a little, became 95% full-time Hellcat getting pistons, rings, conn rods, crank and bearings wrapped up and into production. That transitioned to similar components for the Demon Hemi V8 until I left CTC for the last time the last day of December 2016. Final 🏁 with 31 cumulative years at Chrysler/FCA – 26 direct & 5½ contract. What a ride!!
Am I still involved in Vipers & other “toys” in general? Most certainly! Collection, so far: a 1997 Viper GTS, picked up new at Conner, custom painted with Moon wheel covers and Belanger cat-back exhaust; a 2007 Porsche Cayman S, just tracked for the 1st time; and a 1934 Dodge KCL “Humpback” sedan delivery street rod that has all modern suspension underneath, 4-wheel disc brakes, air ride, and a 2004 Viper/Ram SRT-10 engine plus 6-speed manual, just because I can! After all these years associated with Viper engines, both design & teardown/analysis of same, and even SQA responsibility, I am finally solo rebuilding my first Viper engine for installation this summer into the ‘34 Dodge, with a little help from one of our best Viper techs at CTC and my friends at Prefix. The engine’s going to be all stock – who needs more than 500 HP in an old truck? – but it should turn heads late this year/sometime 2023.
And music? I play tuba in two local community bands and an antique OTS (over the shoulder) bass saxhorn in a post-Civil War reenactment band.
That’s the truth, the whole truth … Well, at least to the best my fuzzy memory allows.