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Sleeve Valve Indian. Cannon Ball Baker?

March 9, 2015

Geert sent in these photos of an old c1912 watercooled Indian single cylinder motor that his father bought in Florida in the 1990s. The seller claimed that the motor came from Cannon Ball Baker. It has horizontal rotary sleeve valves atop the head, à la the Cross layout, but with two spinning valves instead of the more common single valve layout. The history of the motor is not known to Geert other than what the seller had mentioned. 

Ed Youngblood wrote of Baker’s work here. But it seems that he started in 1929. Is there any chance that this old Indian could be tied to Baker? If you have any info, please post in the comments below.


The valves were driven by chains on the timing side of the motor. The chains are gone, but the sprockets can be seen in the first photo. The sleeves are still in the head (shown in the middle pics with two drive dogs each and their rectangular ports). And the drives with their two engagement slots can be seen in the last pics.


Rotary sleeve valves were promising in the 1920s as they are today. But they have always been hindered by the difficulties in sealing the valves during operation, due to thermal expansion. There may also be some issues with valve timing, but likely the issues could be solved with some modern numerical modeling, analysis and materials. Ceramic seals are an option that Baker could only have dreamt of.  We’ll see what the future holds.


indian 001


indian 002

   indian 004 

indian 007 

indian 005 

indian 006


7 Comments leave one →
  1. Benjamin Binns permalink
    March 9, 2015 8:50 pm

    Hi Pete,
    Interesting engine. I believe that now days the hydraulically actuated, electronically controlled variable valve timing would solve the timing issue. Sealing is the real issue, but they have made great advances in this area as well (as can be seen with Mazdas persistence with rotary engines despite the sealing reliability issues these engines experience).

    Certainly the advantages of rotating versus reciprocating valve train gives numerous advantages, one being the theoretical maximum RPM being higher without utilising extra high spring pressures to reduce valve bounce (as would be the case in a conventional valve train). The power required to overcome spring pressure would also be significantly higher than that required to overcome the friction of the sealing system of a rotary valve.

    It certainly would be fun to experiment with this design with modern materials. The IC engine is not dead yet!
    Cheers Ben

    • March 9, 2015 8:56 pm

      Agreed on all points Ben! Fuel injection could also simplify things a bit on the intake side. I always think of the ceramic seals in kitchen faucets when I see rotary sleeve valves, and wonder if that material would work…

  2. eric smith permalink
    March 10, 2015 5:48 am

    I believe a sleeve valve engine has timed, gear driven cylinder sleeves with properly placed valve ports. The sleeve valve design was licensed by Knight, but many companies tried it. Stearns, and Willys being the most famous. It was said that sleeve valve engines got better with time. I have seen a picture of Erwin Baker posed with a modern vertical single motor with the rotary valve design. I think Jerry Hatfield wrote about it.

  3. Jim Abbott, Tucson, AZ permalink
    March 10, 2015 9:41 am

    Pete: This has nothing to do with your quest for knowledge but I have a couple of model airplane engines with rotary sleeve valves in which the entire sleeve rotates around a vertical axis with a single port which passes by the intake and exhaust openings. This is driven by a single crown gear off of the rear or the main shaft. It does indeed have all the virtues mentioned above, most importantly, higher max rpm and smooth running. One is a 0.21 cu in and the other a 0.49 cu in. If it were possible to harness 16 of the 0.49’s you could have a really high revving smooth running Velocette! Jim A.
    p.s. any luck on parts for your VM?

  4. Paul Thomas permalink
    February 17, 2016 1:36 pm

    Hi Pete. Not criticising in any way. Love your site, and have just ordered a load of books from Aldo after seeing them on here!
    Eric and Jim are correct. The engine shown is a rotary valve engine, (I’m sure you’ve read about Velocette’s “Aspin” experiments!). Sleeve valve engines have liners which rise and fall and reciprocate about their axis. When I was an apprentice at Rolls Royce, we had, in the heritage museum, a cutaway Rolls Royce Hercules rotary sleeve valve engine. (Plenty of Google images, you must take a look) The timing gear drives a ring of six sleeves, slightly offset from another five sleeves. and the whole lot has to rise and fall and twist at half time, with all eleven con-rods slaved from the crankpin. Totally mind boggling. I used to look at it, transfixed, convinced that the designer must have ended up in some mental institution!
    In the same museum was a 250cc sleeve valve motorcycle engine made by “Barr and Stroud” It was driven very slowly by an electric motor, and had a mirror fixed so that one could look up the exhaust port to see the sleeve opening and closing the port. I could watch it for hours. It was hard to see how it could be made to seal properly, I don’t think the systems is very happy revving hard, and was better suited to large aircraft engines.
    (According to Wikipedia, “Grindlay Peerless” fitted a 999cc V-twin Barr and Stroud engine to one of their bikes in 1923. Don’t recall ever seeing a picture though!)
    Regards, Paul.

    • February 18, 2016 9:45 am

      Correct Paul. I should have just written “rotary valve” instead of “rotary sleeve valve”. There is a big car in a local collection with a big sleeve valve motor. Straight 8 if I recall correctly. The keeper told me that it takes him 20 minutes to prep the motor before running, doing various lubrications, etc. But kudos to him for actually running it occasionally! 🙂

  5. Paul Thomas permalink
    February 17, 2016 1:57 pm

    Ooops, memory’s gone. Apparently it’s two banks of seven.
    This You-tube animation shows it though.

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