New Idea Vari-Speed engine

Posted by Chris Graham on 21st December 2021

Mark Tewkesbury throws a light on the rare, New Idea ‘Vari-Speed’ engine that he spotted recently at an event in Sussex.

New Idea Vari-Speed engine

New Idea Vari-Speed engine: Not something you see every day on the rally field, the New Idea Vari-Speed engine would hardly win any beauty contest, but exhibits a ruggedness necessary in tough conditions.

This somewhat unusual, enclosed American engine, owned by Andrew Richardson, was spotted at a recent Wattlehurst Farm event.

Manufactured by the New Idea Spreader Co. of Coldwater, in Ohio and called the ‘Vari-Speed’ engine, it was made in the old Sandwich Manufacturing Co works in Sandwich, Illinois. Dating from the 1930s, the engine features an enclosed crank design, better suited to the rough and tumble life expected of an engine in agricultural use.

New Idea Vari-Speed engine

Bearing the serial number AH1627, this engine probably dates to the mid-1930s.

It could, if specified, be fitted with an attachment to allow Kerosene fuel to be used. These engines were produced into World War Two, when production halted. It was never put back into production after the war.

New Idea Vari-Speed engine

The crankcase breather looks like a collection of pipe fittings with a pepper-pot top. You can see the lines of a Sandwich engine here, even though this was said to be a complete redesign.


New Idea Vari-Speed engine

This engine is fitted with a most unusual magneto, made by American Bosch and often referred to as the ‘Lunchbox’; it’s not hard to see why.


A peep inside reveals the points-set driven from a gear train and with the coil separate.


In wonderfully original condition, the orange star picked out on the flywheel has faded to a more muted colour.


An advert for the New Idea engine, dated 1931.


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