Automotive pioneer and industry legend, Billy “Bill” Haegen Howell, passed away on July 22, 2021 after a battle with ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease. Recognized as a leader in the development of Chevrolet performance engines and electronic fuel injection, Howell’s career with Chevrolet spanned from 1961-1987. While at Chevrolet, he became one of the core team members in the development of the new big block Chevy motor that replaced the 409 while working as a test engineer in high-performance engine development for the Chevrolet Product Performance Group. During his career there he also served as the company’s representative for many racing sanctions throughout the country including the ASA series where they promoted first Pontiac, and then Chevy body styles.
Upon retirement from Chevrolet in 1987 and always a trendsetter, Howell focused his attention on developing electronic fuel injection. At the time, only Corvette had port fuel injection and people were beginning to put Corvette engines into other classics. In 1988, Billy and his son Matt Howell formed Howell Engine Developments, Inc. and began to build EFI wiring harnesses for Corvette/Camaro TPI engines and TBI V6/V8 fuel injected truck engines. Hot Rod Magazine was quick to take notice and helped spread the word among race and performance enthusiasts in an article in May 1988. The business that started in the basement of their home was off and running with the phone ringing off the hook.
Soon thereafter, Chevrolet proposed to ASA that they switch to the new Corvette LS-1 engine in basically stock configuration – sealed engines with only a dry sump scavenge pump, cam change, and valve springs. ASA had been looking for an option to leave the V-6 engines, as they were getting more expensive. Matt shares that Howell was able to get the contract to build the wiring harnesses and service the systems at the racetrack. GM ran a test program throughout the 1999 season to develop the package and bulletproof it. They switched the series to the LS-1’s in 2000, and they proved to be easy to tech and bulletproof. We maintained the harnesses and provided tech support for the series until ASA sold it.
The Indy Lights program started in 1993 and the Indy Racing League program started in 1995.“Of the 33 starters in the Indianapolis 500 in 1998,1999 and 2000, 30 used engine wiring harnesses manufactured by Howell Engine Developments,” says Matt Howell.
Howell Engine Development, aka Howell EFI today is a leading supplier of wiring harnesses for direct injection swaps for classic muscle cars, Corvettes, Jeep and trucks for both automatic and manual transmissions with unlimited applications for Street Rod, Pro-Touring, Off-Road, Sand Rails, Street Machines and more. Howell EFI is now in the company’s 34th year of operations from their headquarters in Marine City, MI with Matt Howell serving as president/co-founder.
Billy spent most of his life in Detroit, MI and then for many years in Lake St. Clair near Algonac, MI. He retired in October of 2003, to Punta Gorda, FL. During his retirement, Howell continued to travel and to demonstrate his innovation genius. Here is one story from his long illustrious life that gives insight into the man who loved speed and performance and was responsible for the development of many iconic engines and engine components.
In 1989, TV personality Don Johnson had an ocean-racing catamaran with 4 large MK IV supercharged engines that was having durability problems related to fuel starvation. They developed 1100 BHP each, with 2×4-barrel carburetors on each engine, and any loss of fuel pressure would cause detonation and a head gasket failure. They were built and maintained in Harold Grady’s shop in Ft. Lauderdale. Convention in those boats was to use two electric fuel pumps per engine. Holley carbs can stand only about 7 or 8 PSI fuel pressure at idle, or they will flood the engine with fuel. At speed, this fuel pressure goes down slightly with more fuel demand. This would give an occasional lean out if there was any problem in the system, or a pump malfunction. As a fix, he recommended they change to belt driven fuel pumps which would provide more fuel delivery as speed increased. This cured the problem. During this program Bill went to races at Marathon Key and Key West, Florida, and got to ride in the boat at a test on Lake X in Kissimmee, Florida at over 100 MPH.
Billy Howell is survived by his son and the co-owner of Howell Engine Developments Inc. Matthew Howell (Gina), and his daughters Deborah Bradford (Jerry) and Molly Reeves (Tracy), a sister, Barbara “Bobbie” (Pete) Petersen, and his loved grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his mother, father and beloved wife, Barbara Ann Caudle Howell. The family is thankful for all the kind words of support and shared experiences during their time of grief and has asked that memorial donations be made to either St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Doctors Without Borders or to the Wounded Warriorwebsite. To read Billy Haegen Howell’s full obituary, visit here.
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