Drake Harley Davidson Water Cooled V-Twin Engine

Drake Harley Davidson V-Twin racer

Around 1937, Dale Drake, who was later to become instrumental in developments to the Offenhauser racing engine, began working on a 2 cylinder engine for midget racers. He began with an air cooled opposed twin but eventually took a Harley Davidson Knucklehead engine and installed water cooled cylinders. The result was an 89 cubic inch V-twin that was 10 percent smaller than the Offy midget engines then used but it was lighter at 185 pounds and had more torque and seemed to get better traction on slick dirt than the Offenhauser.

I had never heard of this particular variant of the Harley Davidson engine until I saw this midget racer listed for sale. It was driven by Bill Vukovich Sr. who went on to become very famous in Indy Car racing.

Just last week I pointed to the Model T with a Sportster engine which was no period piece, just a current custom, but this car indicates the Harley V-twin was actually used for automotive uses even back in the 1930s. Pretty neat.

More photos below:

Link: listing no longer available
Related: HotRodHawg

Reference book for Offenhauser engines contains a brief mention of this engine.

Drake Harley Davidson V-Twin racer

Drake Harley Davidson V-Twin racer

Drake Harley Davidson V-Twin racer

Drake Harley Davidson V-Twin racer


  1. todd says

    Cool… It looks like the heads are modified for water as well, that’s the water pipe coming out from in between the rocker covers. I wonder if this had a water pump too. It takes a real good welder to add water jackets to an engine and not distort everything. Pretty dang neat.


  2. Loomis says

    I’ve never heard of this done to a harley motor. Back in the days of the indian 4, they used to add a copper water jacket to that motor to prevent overheating. It was made of thin copper sheets and leaded joints, if I remember correctly. It’s hard to tell if this is what the harley motor has, but the pipe coming out from between the rocker arms appears to be copper sweat fittings. So My guess is that this jacket is also made of copper.

  3. todd says

    Loomis, follow the link I provided. It shows how they (HD and private ventures) cast up special water cooled cylinders and heads for this application. It may have started with copper sheet but judging by the investment in the tooling, the idea was to make these on a larger scale. There is also a picture of a water-cooled harley motor out of a boat. Too bad they relied on thermo-syphon, it would have done better with a water pump.


  4. gary says

    My grandfather built and raced against Bill Vuckovich with his yellow Drake midget. Jerry Piper drove my grandfathers car (Joe Petruzzi Sr.) they won the championship 3 years in a row (40′, 41, 42′) I have a great scrap book of all the newspaper articles. The car pictured above has my grandfathers carb’s, they are stamped with the petruzzi name. He also made the radiator cover. There was a machine shop in Fresno that worked with my grandfather that effectively would rebuild the Drake engines, they made the cylinders removable, new fly-wheels, push-rods, as well as my grandfather would cast his own pistons. If there are anyone still interested in this area feel free to contact me. My grandfather is 99 yrs old and still around. petruzzi2000@yahoo.com

  5. Ken Berg says

    HI: as member of Dale Drake family, am interested in seeing any of the Drake/midgets. Does anyone know where they’re located and how to contact the owners?
    Ken Berg (949) 830 6888

  6. Darren says

    My name is Darren Condy and I am a Harley Technician from Melbourne Australia. I am always interested in preformance mods and out of the ordinary configurations such as this little beauty. Please if anyone out there has anything along the lines of the Drake ….please please email the info to kingcondy@bigpond.com. Thank you

  7. william krumholz says

    My Idol Billy Vukovich , saw him race many times in Balboa Stadium San Diego in this little red car when I was just a kid, he was the greatest ever, what a thrill to watch him .