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Pistons are one of those engine components that you think you know: they’re round, they’re made of metal and they go up and down in engine cylinders, right? Well, sort of.
In the early days of the internal combustion engine, pistons were made of cast iron and were indeed round. They were also heavy which had all types of negative side effects for engine performance. At 26 years of age, Hermann Mahle started working for Hellmuth Hirth on December 1, 1920, as the company’s seventh employee at the small workshop in Stuttgart, Germany. The workshop was then called “Versuchsbau Hellmuth Hirth.”
The workshop intended to make money by conducting engine tests and selling the research, but this proved to be a non-viable business plan. What was needed was product manufacturing to finance engine testing.
At that time, Versuchsbau Hellmuth Hirth decided to attempt to build light-alloy pistons for combustion engines, seeing the many advantages of light weight pistons. On November 1, 1922 Hermann Mahle’s brother, Dr. Ernst Mahle, joined the factory as Head of Engineering. This lead to the workshop, in 1927, developing the first controlled-expansion piston in Germany and in 1931, the world’s first aluminum ring carrier piston for diesel engines.
Since those humble beginnings, Mahle has grown into one of the largest automotive parts suppliers in the world with 100 production plants and 49,000 employees world wide. Just in their piston business, they make pistons for everything from gas powered lawn care tools to giant, ocean going cargo freighter engines. Mahle provides more of the current Formula1 teams with pistons then any other manufacturer. And if you know anything about Formula1 then you know that this series is the absolute pinnacle of automotive motorsports. We’re talking tiny 2.4L V8 engines revving to nearly 20,000 RPM and producing nearly 740 horsepower. Yeah, insane, and insane demands on pistons.