Vintage Small Engines

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

vintage small engines
Picture courtesy Smithsonian Museum

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.


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.

Read: Vintage Briggs & Stratton Engine Identification

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.


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 Crank and Connecting Rod Inspection

Tecumseh Carburetor Replacement

Tecumseh Points Ignition Repair


Gas-Powered Scooters

A motor scooter is defined as having a step-thru frame, flat foot-board, and rear-mounted engine. Although step-through gas scooters have been around since the 1890's, their popularity didn't start until the 1930's.

vintage small engines

Read: Gas Scooter History


Today, vintage small engines that are complete and running are getting harder to find with each passing year. But the good news is, many of these rusty and discarded relics can 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


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