Station: [11] The Swash Plate Engine

Josef Maier had saved a very special project until he reached his sixties: he was going to develop of a new type of engine.

So in 1982, he founded the firm of E.R.M., short for "Études – Recherches – Mécanique", in other words "Development – Research – Mechanics". That was where he started to tinker with his swashplate engine. After selling his first business near St. Claude to his business partner Chevassus in 1984, he devoted himself entirely to this new task.

His swash plate engine is a very compact combustion engine with no crankshaft, high output, a wobble-plate-like piston drive and rotary vane control.

That’s the description in the patent specification. The advantages of this type of engine were the halving of construction volume and manufacturing costs, and the reduction of weight by about 40 per cent. Fewer components equalled less maintenance; less friction meant lower fuel requirements, and the engine design was suitable for both a diesel and a petrol version.

The secret of the engine lay in the wobble plate, which converted the oscillating piston movement into a rotating motion that could be used for propulsion. What’s impressive about this engine is its simple design, with seven double piston cylinders in a rotationally symmetrical arrangement. That meant 14 combustion chambers and robust slotted-disc timing instead of camshafts and valves. Engine output is up to 370 horsepower, while the light-alloy version weighs only 85 kilograms – just over 185 pounds. Other advantages are low fuel consumption and virtually vibration-free running.

Josef Maier built a prototype for long-term testing and patented his invention in France. In search of business partners, he presented his engine to Daimler Benz in Untertürkheim in 1984.

The engineers were impressed, but considered the engine best suited for use in aviation – and so the swashplate engine was exhibited the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget in 1985 – with considerable success.

The concept also met with the approval of Heinz Nixdorf, the chairman of Nixdorf Computer AG. However, he died unexpectedly, so although there had been some discussions about an idea for an application, the plans could ultimately not be fleshed out.

The dream of series production didn’t come to pass. Josef Maier died on the 25th of October 1995 after a long illness.

All depictions: © Gemeinde Fricklingen