3 Popular Small Engine Brands (Vintage Edition)
Discover which companies made the best vintage small engines for use on outdoor power equipment. Learn about their history, too.
Wow, choosing just three vintage small engine makers from all the companies seems like a daunting task.
At the same time it’s not difficult at all, the following three companies have earned their position in history by producing quality small engines and adapting to changing consumer demands.
Here are our top 3 vintage small engine brand choices.
Briggs and Stratton Small Engines
Briggs and Stratton began producing small engines in 1908, and you can find one of their early models in the Smithsonian Museum, how’s that for a claim to fame?
The company has revolutionized the small engine industry several times, like in 1953 when they introduced the first lightweight aluminum engine.
Lightweight engines were cheaper to manufacture than their cast iron counterparts, which made the equipment they powered more affordable for consumers.
Briggs and Stratton also branched out into other industries with the introduction of the 5HP “Flathead” engine, a favorite among cart racing enthusiasts.
Briggs and Stratton, at one time the largest producer of small engines in the world, entered bankruptcy and their assets were purchased by KPS Capital Partners in Sept of 2020.
They now operate as an independent company with the long-term support of KPS, a leading global private equity investor.
Kohler Small Engines
In 1920 Kohler built the first modern-day small engine generators to power Kohler plumbing products and provide instant electricity to rural homes, boats and small businesses.
By 1929 they were powering lights and sound trucks for Hollywood movie sets.
In 1931 Kohler engines powered the construction lights of the Hoover Dam and in 1933 they accompanied explorer Richard Byrd on his trip to the South Pole.
From the start of WWII, in 1939, Kohler generators powered mobile hospitals and radio communications for the allies.
The year was 1948 when Kohler invented the now famous K series of stand-alone small engines to power almost everything that requires a motor.
K-series engines were unmatched in reliability, and many are still in good running condition today on old lawn mowers and some snowmobiles.
Kohler’s history is full of fascinating facts. Kohler sold its 1,000,000th small engine in 1966. The first lawn mower electronic fuel ignition(EFI) system ever was made by Kohler in 1998.
Kohler Command engines are a favorite among consumers today, however Kohler Courage models are not as warmly received, you can’t win them all!
Still, the positive impact Kohler small engines have made throughout their history is undeniable, earning Kohler a well-deserved spot on the top 3 vintage small engine brands list.
Tecumseh Small Engines
Tecumseh Small Engines officially opened for business in a 50,000 square foot production plant located in Tecumseh, Michigan in 1934.
It was formed by Raymond Herrick and his friend Charles Floyd Sage, who had previously operated a manufactured parts business prior to the great depression.
Initially, Tecumseh focused on refrigeration compressors, but in 1981 they agreed to a joint venture with Italian Fiat Settori Componenti to enter the small engine business.
The venture proved successful as Tecumseh engines gained market share globally on outdoor power equipment.
Tecumseh small engines powered many lawn mowers for 28 years, and many are still in good working condition today thanks to their durable design.
Unfortunately, much of Tecumseh’s gasoline engine business, including parts and intellectual rights, were sold to Platinum Equity LLC in order to satisfy debts.
In February 2009 Platinum LLC announced that Tecumseh’s small engine assets had been sold to Certified Parts Corporation and that Tecumseh products had closed their business doors permanently.
Still, having worked on many Tecumseh small engines, I can say that overall they were very reliable small engines, even if they were sometimes frustrating to work on.
The top 3 small engine brands were chosen in part by how long their respective companies dominated the outdoor power equipment market.
It takes many years of improvements and innovation to remain a leader in any industry, and these three companies rose to the challenge.
That being said, there have been many great small engine designs over the years, by many other companies, and this list does not in any way suggest they are inferior.
In fact, many of their small engines may be more valuable today because they are rarer, which is important to nostalgia buffs.
Still, to be considered a top brand it takes many years of satisfying customer demands, staying ahead of industry changes and earning a good reputation.
All 3 of the top small engine companies accomplished these goals over prolonged periods of time.