Analyzing Failures in Pistons of Racing Car Engines
To determine the effect of severe service on cast 357 aluminum pistons, a metallurgical evaluation was made of four pistons removed from the engine of the Hawk-Offenhauser car which had been driven by Rich Muther in the first Ontario, California 500 race. The pistons were studied by visual inspection, hardness traverses, radiography, dye penetrant inspection, chemical analysis, macrometallography, optical microscopy, and electron microscopy. The crown of one piston had a rough, crumbly deposit, which was detachable with a knife. Two pistons had remains of carbonaceous deposits. The fourth was severely hammered. It was concluded that the high temperatures developed in this engine created an environment too severe for 357 aluminum. Surfaces were so hot that the low-melting constituent melted. Then, the alloy oxidized rapidly to form Al2O3, an abrasive which further aggravated problems. The temperature in much of the piston was high enough to cause softening by overaging, lowering strength.