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Piper Comanche 400: A Muscle Car On Wings

Boasting the biggest engine in light GA, Piper’s hot-rodded PA-24 didn’t get much love in the day. Today, they are prized by their owners.

Piper Commanche 400. Photo By Andrew Compolo
Piper Commanche 400. Photo By Andrew Compolo
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It was early 1964, and Howard “Pug” Piper, one of three sons of founder William T. Piper and the driving force behind so many of Piper’s new-product development efforts, was looking to develop a new single-engine airplane. It would climb into the flight levels without turbocharging and transit the distance between Lock Haven and the new production facility in Vero Beach at great speed. An improved variant of the Piper Comanche, which had debuted under his guidance in 1958, seemed the perfect candidate. Piper Aircraft, famous for Cubs, Tri Pacers and, more recently, the all-metal Cherokee, had a real success with this handsome retractable-gear, four-place beauty. However, with only 180 or 250 horsepower currently on hand, more ponies were needed under the hood to turn up the wick on the speedometer. 

The year 1964 was also memorable for the birth of the American muscle car. The Big Three automakers were shoehorning the biggest V8 engine they could find into their plain-vanilla midsize sedans. The iconic Pontiac GTO came first, but soon the Ford 427, Chevy 396 and the unbeatable 426 Hemi, bolted into sedate family sedans, were setting records at the drag strip. While it might just be coincidence, the idea of taking the biggest and most powerful eight-cylinder engine available and pairing it with the family-friendly Piper Comanche airframe apparently made sense. Thus, the Piper Comanche 400 was born. 

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