By Drew Hardin
Photo by Eric Rickman, Petersen Publishing Company Archives
Supercharging Can Be Practical
It’s August 1958, and Hot Rod Technical Editor Ray Brock (center) is being shown the finer points of supercharger design by Paxton Chief Engineer John Thompson (left) and Andy Granatelli. Brock’s visit and comprehensive research led to an in-depth story with the “…Can Be Practical” headline in the magazine’s October 1958 issue.
Robert Paxton McCulloch founded the McCulloch Engineering Co. in the ’30s and would make some 5,000 automotive superchargers for aftermarket flathead Ford applications as well as OE equipment for Graham, Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg. The company discontinued automotive supercharger manufacturing for a number of years but returned to the business with the introduction of the VS (for variable speed) centrifugal supercharger in 1953.
“Detroit was so impressed with the VS blower that…Kaiser and later Studebaker-Packard used the blower as original equipment to boost horsepower on certain prestige models,” Brock wrote.
A new division named Paxton Products was created “to handle the marketing, servicing and experimental work on the superchargers,” Brock continued. “By late 1956, the horsepower war was running full tilt between some of the Detroit manufacturers, and it wasn’t long before Ford Motor Company contacted Paxton to make a blower that could be listed as optional equipment for Ford cars.”
Paxton engineers had been working on a new variable-ratio blower design, “and it turned out to be just what Ford needed,” said Brock. The 300hp engine used in some ’57 Ford models dominated NASCAR and USAC but soon fell victim to the Automobile Manufacturers Association ban on factory participation in racing. Undeterred, Paxton offered an improved version of the supercharger, called the VR, to the aftermarket.
At the same time Paxton was also working to fix the issues with the VS supercharger, and it was helped by a Midwest distributor of the supercharger called Grancor Automotive Specialists, “owned by three brothers named Granatelli—Anthony, Vincent and Joseph.” The brothers “had been in the thick of the battle trying to solve some of the troubles encountered with the blower when used on high-rpm competition engines,” Brock wrote. They were “so enthusiastic over the possibilities of the modifications that they sold their Grancor business in March 1957 and moved to California,” where they worked for more than a year with Thompson to sort out the blower.
By June 1958, the brothers and Thompson purchased Paxton Products from McCulloch. The Granatellis and Thompson addressed parts-quality issues as well as lubrication and overheating problems with the VS blower, and the result was the DO VS-59 supercharger, “which stands for direct oil, variable speed, ’59 model,” explained Brock. They were so confident in the blower’s quality that they offered a “100% guarantee for 90 days or 4,000 miles,” and even extended the warranty to “50% to one year and 12,000 miles,” he said.
The Paxton team also shared with Brock some of the products in development, including a “fuel injector adaptors to fit either of their blowers.” He predicted, “We truthfully expect to see some pretty interesting things in the supercharging business for some time to come.”