This is the only one of its kind that we’ve ever seen, it’s the distributor cap from a Liberty L-12 WWI-era V12 aircraft engine that’s been turned into a cigar ashtray.

The Liberty L-12 was a 27 liter water-cooled V12 designed by engineers Jesse G. Vincent and Elbert J. Hall whom the American Aircraft Production Board had hired shortly after the US joined WWI in 1917.

Major Henry H. Arnold with first Liberty V12 engine completed

Image DescriptionHere we see Major Henry H. Arnold with first Liberty V12 engine completed.

The two men were essentially stuck together at the Willard Hotel in Washington until they had produced a set of draft drawings for a new aero engine that could rival the best being produced in Great Britain, France, and Germany.

Incredibly, it took the men just five days to complete the initial design of the engine. A little over three months later in August the first prototype of the engine was built and running, and it received approval for production.

The Liberty L-12 was given a modular design which would allow either four or six cylinders to be used in either one or two banks. Potentially offering inline four, inline six, V8, and V12 aero engines all from the same basic design package.

The L-12 had a two-part cast aluminium crankcase, individual cylinders, and a single overhead cam per bank operating two valves per cylinder. The engine was capable of 400 bhp, a prodigious figure for the time, and marinized versions were later developed that were more powerful still.

A DDe Havilland DH-4 with a Liberty L-12 engine

Image DescriptionThis photograph was taken in France in 1918, the aircraft is a De Havilland DH-4 that’s been fitted with a Liberty L-12 engine. The original caption written on the back of the photograph reads “De Haviland – Liberty Motor, Dear Mum: Put this away for me. Maybe Adam helped make this engine. Ted.”

Between 1917 and 1919 20,478 Liberty engines were built, most were used in aircraft however some saw use in tanks, experimental hydrofoil watercraft, racing boats, and in a small number of racing cars.

The Liberty L-12 distributor cap you see here has been significantly modified from how it would have looked new. It’s been inverted and a glass Rolls-Royce ashtray has been fitted internally, a pair of cigar cradle has been added at either side, and it has a nickeled stirrup support base.

It measures in at 16cm high, or approximately 6.3 inches, and it’s due to be auctioned by Bonhams as part of their Summer Automobilia Online Auction with a price guide of £150 – £250 or $185 – $308 USD.

If you’d like to read more or register to bid you can visit the listing here.

White Triplex land speed record car, showing the three engines in 1929

Image DescriptionThis is the White Triplex land speed record car, showing its three Liberty V12 engines in 1929.

Images courtesy of Bonhams, the U.S. Air Force, the State Archives of Florida, and the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.

Published by Ben Branch -