Vintage Small Engines

Back in the day, quality and pride of manufacture were commonplace, and a small gas engine would last 30 or 40 years or more. There were many different brands, but they were distinct from one another--and you could tell one brand from the other with a casual glance.

Briggs 5S flathead

Small Engine History

Small engines can be traced back to the earliest days of the internal combustion engine. They have been part of American culture since at least the 1930s, when they were called upon to cut wood, lift weight, and other useful chores. These gas-powered labor-savers found their way onto many homemade farming devices, such as pumping water and shucking corn.

Gas-powered small engines were once utilized to power home washing machines in rural houses that did not yet have electricity. Motors such as the Briggs WM (and others) featured a foot-starter to make it easier for women to start.

Old Small Engine Brands

Many small engine manufacturers have come and gone, such as Clinton, Wisconsin, and others. Lauson started producing small engines around 1930, and has been a subsidiary of Tecumseh Products since the late fifties.


Briggs & Stratton Flathead Engines

Few can argue that the best-known small engine manufacturer is Briggs & Stratton, who began production in 1908 and are still making small motors today.

small antique engines

Read: Briggs & Stratton 5S Engine

In 1953, they revolutionized the small engine industry by developing the first lightweight aluminum engine. Being lighter and less expensive than their cast-iron counterparts, these engines made gas-powered lawn equipment more affordable to post-WW2 consumers moving to America's new suburbs.

small engine history

Above is a 1950's Briggs and Stratton powered 'Pennsylvania' lawn mower, on display at the Smithsonian Museum.

Produced from the 1950's through the 1990's, five-horsepower Briggs flatheads are so popular that there are racing classes based on this engine.

vintage Briggs engine

Read: Briggs 5HP Flathead Engine

Read: Briggs 3.5 HP Flathead Engine

Briggs PulsaJet carburetor

Read: Briggs Tank-Mounted Carb Cleaning And Repair

Points vs Electronic Ignition

Early model Briggs flatheads had a points-style system, where the flywheel magnets rotate past the legs of the ignition armature. On this type of system, the ignition is always on.

Somewhere in the 1980s, all Briggs & Stratton motors were converted to electronic ignition. Early engines can be retro-fitted if desired.

Read: Vintage Briggs & Stratton Engine Identification

As far as repair, Briggs small engines are generally considered the easiest to work on. And regardless of the vintage, nearly every part is still available. In fact, there are many aftermarket replacements for hard-to-find Briggs items.


Tecumseh Small Engines

Tecumseh began producing small engines back in 1934. In 1956, they purchased the Lauson Manufacturing Company, who at the time, were also a popular small engine brand. Today, Tecumseh is jointly owned by Certified Parts Corporation (CPC) and Liquid Combustion Technology (LCT).

vintage small engines
Vintage Tecumseh Engine Identification
Vintage Tecumseh Engine Build
Tecumseh Flathead Valve Seat Repair
Tecumseh Crank and Connecting Rod Inspection
Tecumseh Carburetor Replacement
Tecumseh Points Ignition Repair


Kohler Small Engines

Kohler began producing the single cylinder, cast-iron, K90 in 1951. A year later, the K160 engine was offered. In 1965, they began production of their Automatic Compression Release (ACR) system that offered an easier recoil start.

The Kohler Twin Cylinder Series II engine began in the 1980's. The Command series began in 1987, and featured hydraulic valve lifters and OHV design.

Kohler small engines can be found in lawn tractors, lawn mowers, outdoor power equipment, welders, pressure washers, and other products. They power Toro's, Poulan's, Craftsman's, John Deere's, and other lawn care equipment.


Vintage Lawn Mowers

vintage lawn mower ad

For Baby Boomers like me who grew up in Suburban America, old lawn mowers bring back fond memories. In today's collector market, complete, running examples are very desirable.

wind to start lawn mowers

Read: Wind To Start Lawn Mowers


Gas-Powered Scooters

A motor scooter is defined as having a step-through frame, flat foot-board, and rear-mounted engine. Originally invented to fill a need for inexpensive transport, step-through gas scooters have been around since the 1890's, but their popularity didn't start until the 1930's.

gas powered scooters

Read: Gas Scooter History

Today, vintage small engines that are complete and running get harder to find with each passing year. But the good news is, if you find one of these discarded relics they can often be restored without too much difficulty. I've found rebuilding and displaying these old motors to be a very rewarding pastime.

vintage small engine collecting


Investing in a quality heavy-duty workbench with drawers may be worth it if you plan to do repairs in your home garage.


Related Articles:

Lauson Small Engines
Wind To Start Lawn Mowers
How To Repair a Rusty Gas Tank
How To Restore Engine Tin
Integral Valve Seat Repair
Tools Needed For Small Engine Repair