Ralph Sarich

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Ralph Sarich
BornRalph Tony Sarich
(1938-12-10) 10 December 1938 (age 79)
Baskerville, Western Australia
OccupationAutomotive engineer; businessman
Known forDeveloped the orbital engine and the orbital combustion process engine[1]
Net worth
Spouse(s)Patricia (m. 1962)
ChildrenPeter and Jennifer

Ralph Tony Sarich AO[6] (born 10 December 1938 in Baskerville, Western Australia[1]) is an Australian automotive engineer, inventor, and businessman who developed the orbital engine and the orbital combustion process engine.[1] Sarich founded the Orbital Engine Company, which developed the orbital combustion process (OCP) engine, based on the two-stroke concept.

Early life[edit]

Sarich was born on 10 December 1938, in Baskerville, Western Australia of Austrian/Croatian family. His parents arrived in Australia before the Great Depression of the 1930s. Sarich began an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner, studying high school years 11 and 12 subjects part-time at Midland Technical School. He qualified with top achievement at the completion of his apprenticeship, during and after which he did engineering units one day per week, night classes, and by correspondence.


His working career encompassed being a fitter and turner and trainee engineer with the Western Australian Railways between 1954 and 1963. He was plant engineer with Thiess Brothers between 1963 and 1965, in charge on the standard gauge project before running his own business,[1] an engineering and service station operator. Sarich was sales engineer as well as investor in the area of earth moving and industrial machinery before being regional general manager and an investor. As he developed the orbital engine, he became managing director of Orbital Engine Company Pty Ltd, and chief executive officer and chairman of Orbital Engine Corporation. Following his retirement from Orbital, he became Executive Chairman of Cape Bouvard Investments, a private family investment company.[1]

Orbital engine[edit]

Sarich concentrated on research and development of new technologies, in particular the orbital engine. The engine was first fired in 1972 and Sarich appeared on ABC TV program The Inventors in 1972 claiming that the engine's compact design promised more power, fewer emissions and significant fuel economy.[7] The technology was endorsed by the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia in 1974:[8]

"We believe this exciting and unique engine has the potential to revolutionize transport and allied technologies including automotive, aeronautical, marine and all forms of industrial and agricultural applications. "The revolution could not possibly occur in the short term, as a great deal of research and development must yet be undertaken, (but) ultimate development should see the first lightweight, reliable diesel engine and a near pollution* free petrol (gasoline) version suitable for a wide range of applications and contributing significantly to atmospheric control standards."

— Ian Miller of the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia, 1974

The "staged combustion" process was later named as the orbital combustion process (OCP). There were two distinct orbital concepts; the OCP technology and the orbital engine hardware that converted the resultant combustion energy to mechanical output to drive vehicles. Under simulated urban and highway driving cycles it produced fuel and emission results superior to the best selected engines of the era. This was due to the OCP, often wrongly referred to as the fuel injection system because of its vital role in this technology. As the OCP technology was used on conventional engines to improve their performance this then led to inaccurate reporting claiming that the Orbital Engine Technology had failed. However, this combination was deemed to be the most cost-effective direction because it eliminated production re-tooling costs, which were inhibiting factors for mass production using orbital engine hardware.

Despite being offered A$12 million in 1973 for his stake in Orbital, Sarich refused to sell.[9] BHP Company Limited was an early investor in Sarich's Orbital Engine Company, taking a stake in the early 1970s that by 1989 represented 35% of the total company equity.[10]

The OCP component of the engine was described in the 1980s by the Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) for NASA, as the "cutting edge of world engine technology".[citation needed] International emission testing laboratories confirmed the Australian results.[citation needed] Fuel economy advantages of 50% were demonstrated against the best outboard marine engines and 20–25% under typical automobile operating conditions.[citation needed] Additional savings of 5–10% were considered readily achievable with further development.[citation needed] The savings were accompanied by a massive reduction in the "direct engine out" of several key emissions gases.[citation needed]

The OCP technology was sold as intellectual property (IP) to automobile, marine and motorcycle manufacturers and was incorporated in production engines to varying degrees; namely from complete systems to the improvement of their own technology, via knowledge gained from their IP purchases.[citation needed] All licensing payments were conditional upon the delivery of engines meeting numerous high emissions standards, fuel economies and other technical criteria. All deliveries met these criteria prior to Sarich's retirement in 1992, resulting in no dependent monetary penalties ever being incurred to that point in time.

However, key components of Sarich's engine could not be cooled and others could not be readily lubricated. The engine was susceptible to overheating, and the invention was eventually deemed too impractical.[7]

In the United States[edit]

Sarich sought A$100 million in investment from the Australian Government in order to commence manufacture of the engine in Australia.[11] In 1989, the government offered an industry support package of A$15–16.5 million, which Sarich declined,[10][12] and he proceeded to make arrangements to establish operations in the United States. He floated Orbital Engine Corporation in the US via an initial public offering that raised A$113.8 million in 1992[13] and the company began trading on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1998, Sarich reported that Orbital Engine Corporation had entered into a non–exclusive licensing agreement with the Ford Motor Company to develop and test a pilot for the manufacture of the orbital engine.[14] In January 1992, General Motors displayed its newest concept car called the "Ultralite", incorporating OCP technology, as its centrepiece at the Detroit International Auto Show. In April 1992, another of the world's largest automotive manufacturers signed an agreement to take a licence for OCP technology.[citation needed]

In other countries[edit]

In 1991 it was reported that Orbital Engine Corporation entered into a licensing agreement with Fiat, an Italian car manufacturer.[15] Despite initial interest, Czechoslovakian manufacturer, Škoda, withdrew from licensing negotiations in 1989, citing poor economic conditions in the country.[16] Volkswagen AG terminated their agreement with Orbital in 1993, citing a softer European sales market.[17]

Other inventions[edit]

In addition to the orbital engine, Sarich is credited with the following additional inventions:[citation needed]

  • Earth moving scraper/scoop
  • Initial Australian Water Watcher
  • Special orchard cultivator
  • Non-geared transmission for cars
  • High pressure orchard spray pump
  • Security Cable Gate – sold Australia wide
  • Linear Wind Generator
  • World's first two-speed reel for Marlin fishing

Value and retirement[edit]

As Orbital Engine Corporation sold its IP to manufacturers and the company did not manufacture engines, the success of Orbital was doubted.[18][19][20] However, the company's financial success is reflected in the fiscal years 1989,[citation needed] 1990 (A$23.5m[21]), 1991[22] and 1992 (A$22.75m[17]).

Orbital's capitalised value upon Sarich's retirement as CEO in 1992 was in excess of A$1 billion.[22] Over A$200 million at the time in cash, receivables, and research value convertible to cash, were scheduled for commercial investment as insurance against excessive dependence on the auto industry.[citation needed] Sarich converted a component of the risk element into relatively secure investments in synergetic corporations as patents expired and related IP income ceased. Since his retirement, Orbital's new management invested retained earnings on further research. Sarich sold his equity for a reputed A$100 million.[13][20]

Following his retirement from Orbital, Cape Bouvard Investments Pty Ltd (CBI) became the main focus for Sarich in his capacity as Executive Chairman of the private family investment company; while his son Peter is responsible for operations. CBI invests in numerous fields such as property investment, property development, technology and equities.[23][24] In 2015, Sarich's net worth was estimated to be A$1.05 billion, listed on the BRW Rich 200[2] and US$0.66 million, listed on Forbes list of Australia's 50 Richest people.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Sarich met Patricia in 1957 and they married in September 1962. Her parents also migrated to Australia as little children from Britain after World War I. Patricia was born in Kellerberrin, Western Australia. They have two children, Peter and Jennifer.

Sarich donated a considerable amount of the profits from the Orbital Corporation into the community, including commitments of approximately A$65 million to various charitable organisations,[citation needed] including a A$20 million gift in 2008 towards neuroscience medical research facilities in Perth.[25]


Sarich has been the recipient of many prestigious engineering, commercial and civil awards including:

Published work[edit]

  • Sarich, Ralph; Patent, Trade Marks and Designs Office (1970). Improved rotary engines. Patent Office, Australia.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Sarich, Ralph Tony (1938 - )". Encyclopedia of Australian Science. 2011. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  2. ^ a b "2015 BRW Rich 200: #46 Ralph Sarich". Business Review Weekly. Sydney. May 2015. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Australia's 50 Richest People: #44 Ralph Sarich". Forbes Asia. Singapore. 30 January 2015. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Honorary Degree Recipients". Handbook. Murdoch University. 2013. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  5. ^ a b "Sarich wins Churchill Medal". The Canberra Times. 27 October 1988. p. 2. Retrieved 29 June 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  6. ^ a b "Search Australian honours: SARICH, Ralph Tony". It's an Honour. Australian Government. 26 January 1988. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  7. ^ a b Williams, Robyn; Ryle, Gerard (30 August 2009). "Fuel saving follies". Ockham's Razor. Australia. ABC. Radio National. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  8. ^ "New Sarich engine: Simplicity its beauty". The Pocono Record. The Stroudsburgs, Pennsylvania. 29 November 1974. p. 13. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  9. ^ "Sarich rejects $12m". The Canberra Times. 30 April 1973. p. 9. Retrieved 29 June 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  10. ^ a b c Fitzgerald, Sally (12 August 1989). "Sarich Reveals Why He Abandoned Australia". The Sun-Herald. Australian Motor Cycles. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  11. ^ "Sarich bid 'ploy for corporate welfare'". The Canberra Times. 20 June 1988. p. 8. Retrieved 29 June 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ "Sarich goes on attack over Govt 'propaganda'". The Canberra Times. 20 October 1989. p. 19. Retrieved 29 June 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  13. ^ a b "BRW Rich 200 list 2014: 38. Ralph Sarich". BRW. Sydney. 27 June 2014. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  14. ^ "Sarich signs licensing agreement with Ford". The Canberra Times. 28 June 1988. p. 1. Retrieved 29 June 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  15. ^ "Fiat strikes deal for Sarich orbital engine". The Canberra Times. 17 January 1991. p. 23. Retrieved 29 June 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  16. ^ "Czechoslovakia loses interest in Sarich engine". The Canberra Times. 22 December 1989. p. 13. Retrieved 29 June 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  17. ^ a b "Orbital shares fall, profit downgraded". The Canberra Times. 16 June 1993. p. 27. Retrieved 29 June 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  18. ^ "Sarich silences critics with plans for mass-production". The Canberra Times. 4 August 1989. p. 13. Retrieved 29 June 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  19. ^ "Sarich dismisses the doubters". The Canberra Times. 12 August 1989. p. 29. Retrieved 29 June 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  20. ^ a b "Sarich family sells bulk of Orbital stake". The Canberra Times. 13 November 1993. p. 13 Section: Saturday MAGAZINE. Retrieved 29 June 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  21. ^ "Sarich profit up 130pc". The Canberra Times. 1 September 1990. p. 15. Retrieved 29 June 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  22. ^ a b "Record profits as Sarich motors power". The Canberra Times. 1 March 1991. p. 12. Retrieved 29 June 2014 – via National Library of Australia.
  23. ^ O'Brien, Amanda; Chong, Florence (3 January 2007). "Sarich in $500m property deal". The Sunday Times. Perth. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  24. ^ O'Brien, Amanda (13 January 2007). "Sarich's $500m green dream". The Australian. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  25. ^ O'Brien, Amanda (31 July 2008). "Magnate Ralph Sarich's $20m medical gift". The Australian. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  26. ^ "Honorary Fellows". IET history. Institution of Engineering and Technology. 1988. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  27. ^ "1991 Clunies Ross Award Recipients". Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. 1991. Retrieved 29 June 2014.

Further reading[edit]

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