Jay Leno: ‘The Engine That Won World War II’ Is The Packard Built Merlin Rolls-Royce Engine [Opinion]

Jay Leno displays and explains the ultimate multi purpose engine of World War II in Leno’s Garage. From automobiles to air planes, and even PT boats, the Packard built Rolls-Royce Merlin Engine was a real life, universal soldier.

Not Everything in Jay Leno’s Garage is a car. Jay Leno will take a Rolls Royce anywhere he can find it. Jay is very proud of his World War II era, made in the USA Packard built, Merlin Rolls-Royce aircraft engine. Rolls-Royce makes aircraft engines even today, but it was those first Rolls Royce engines, like Jay Leno’s Merlin aircraft engine, made by Packard and Ford that are credited with saving the free world.

World War II turned the lovely work of art, known as the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, into a mass produced war machine. Since early in the history of autos, Rolls-Royce had hand-built one of a kind engines that were not a product of an assembly line. Jay Leno, as a Rolls Royce owner, appreciates this. Each car was just a little bit different, and parts were not generally interchangeable. Rolls-Royce just didn’t believe in the assembly line concept according to US Auto Industry.

Jay Leno certainly appreciates the artistry involved in a Rolls-Royce original engine, since Leno owns a 1932 Rolls-Royce which is the perfect example of fine craftsmanship. However, during World War II and generally thereafter, interchangeable parts have become the practical mainstay of the automotive industry.

Packard received the 1939 U.S. contract to build the Rolls-Royce Merlin Engine after Ford turned down the offer. Ford of Britain accepted however and built the Merlin for England. Packard and Ford faced many challenges in adapting the Merlin which sported 14,000 individual parts in the V-12 1649 cubic inch engine.

Jay Leno proudly displays The Rolls-Royce Packard Merlin, which is often called “a watchmaker’s nightmare according to Tested. Rolls-Royce engineer Stanley Hooker is quoted in Tested, discussing the relationship between Rolls-Royce and Ford in Britain.

“One day their Chief Engineer appeared in Lovesey’s office, which I was then sharing, and said, ‘You know, we can’t make the Merlin to these drawings.’ I replied loftily, ‘I suppose that is because the drawing tolerances are too difficult for you, and you can’t achieve the accuracy.’

Ford of Manchester’s reply was a bit of a sting to the proud engineers of Rolls-Royce but it had to be said. Stanley Hooker explained what was said about the Merlin design.

“‘On the contrary’ he replied, ‘the tolerances are far too wide for us.’ We make motor cars far more accurately than this. Every part on our car engines has to be interchangeable with the same part on any other engine, and hence all parts have to be made with extreme accuracy, far closer than you use. That is the only way we can achieve mass-production.'”

Both Packard and Ford had to redraw the Merlin blueprints, but even so, this had to be approved by Rolls-Royce. During World War II many of those implemented changes were considered top secret. It is hard to imagine now, that the cutting edge of technology involved plating crankshaft bearings with indium, but these were the sorts of secrets only Ford, Packard, and Rolls-Royce were privy to.

Jay Leno explains in the video below just how amazing the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine was. Jay has two cars that have a Rolls-Royce Merlin Engine. A 32 Rolls-Royce and a Big Bentley.

“The Merlin Engine, I think is the greatest piston aircraft engine ever built.”

The Merlin Rolls-Royce engine was mass produced in Detroit during World War II. Sometimes called the Liberty Engine, the famous airplane engine was just one of the applications the U.S. Military found for militarizing the Rolls-Royce work of art known as the Merlin.

The Canadian Lancaster Bomber had a Rolls Royce Merlin engine

Jay Leno’s favorite piston aircraft engine, the Rolls-Royce Merlin was used in the P-40, P-51, Lancaster, Mosquito, Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft. The Merlin was also used in American and British PT boats and rescue boats as well as other U.S. Army and U.S. Navy boats. On land sea and air the Rolls-Royce Merlin built by Packard and Ford was the World War II fighting engine.

The Packard Merlin was a 1,649-cu.in. or 27-liter engine according to Hemmings Motor News. Packard’s re-engineered Rolls-Royce weighed 1,690. The aircraft had a takeoff power of 1,380hp at 3,000 RPM. The blower added another 220 horsepower.

Jay Leno purchased a Packard Merlin aircraft engine, which has been adapted for demonstration purposes only. Jay Leno completed the restoration of the engine which was discovered in the early 1980s by Graham White.

Graham White, who originally found and Restored Jay Leno’s Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engine, authored a book called the Allied Aircraft Piston Engines of World War II: History and Development of Frontline Aircraft Piston Engines Produced by Great Britain And The United States.

1936 Rolls-Royce once owned by Edward Stanley

Jay Leno explained that Canada also used the Detroit built Merlin Rolls-Royce engine in their Lancaster Bomber. Tested perhaps said it best in their article about the Packard Merlin.

“Few engines throughout history have achieved a near mythical status among its admirers. Fewer still can share credit for the rescue of an entire nation. Perhaps only the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine can claim both distinctions.”

Jay Leno’s demonstration of the World War II era Packard Merlin adaptation of the Rolls-Royce V-12 engine is a tribute to a true mechanical war hero. Most experts agree that without the Packard Merlin Rolls-Royce engine, The Battle of Britain would have been lost. Britain would have likely fallen, and perhaps the entire war would have taken a different turn.

Rolls-Royce automobiles are works of art and the highest craftsmanship, but this beauty was turned into the practical war beast that saved Britain and perhaps the world in World War II.


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Jay Leno’s 1932 Rolls-Royce and his Packard Merlin V-12 airplane engine share a common design, but a vastly different history, spirit, and purpose.

[Featured Image by Lukassek Shutterstock]