Gas Turbine Technology


Whilst scouring the web for images of Americana, I came across these amazing pictures of Graham hill-driven Turbine Indy car from around 1968 in the Life Photo Archive.

In the race to produce an alternative to the internally combusted, piston-and-crankshaft model of car propulsion, there have been many interesting experiments. The gas turbine was one of most audacious and surely the least fuel-efficient.

Gas turbines use combustion like normal car engines, but instead of crankshafts and pistons, gases forced over blades of the turbine rotate, creating the drive.

Among the most high profile early turbine experimenters were Colin Chapman of Lotus fame. Chapman introduced the Lotus 56B F1 car in 1971, powered by a Pratt & Whitney gas turbine.

Turbine powered cars, with no gearbox and incredible power, had achieved some success in American Indy oval racing, where the turbines could be opened up at a constant rate for long periods, but apparently problems with two-way turbo lag in the more dynamic F1 context, which required staccatto braking and acceleration for hours on end, forced Chapman to abandon the project before the car had raced in anger.


I imagine that gas turbine’s one-dimensional power arc might even have an application on the razor-straight, grid like road system of contemporary America. Every vehicle I have driven in America, from taxi cab to bus to Hhotrod seems great at going forward, loudly, with as little effort as possible, but the bump and grind of a twisty road is another proposition entirely.


3 Responses to “Gas Turbine Technology”

  1. Paul Bristow

    The bottom picture is rather sad… Mike Spence was killed in that car at Indy in 1968… RIP

  2. D Gatewood

    Andy Granatelli created the SPT gas turbine car for the Indianapolis 500 race in 1967.
    It led for 167 of the the 200 laps only to end up finishing 16th due to a $6.00 gear box part failing.
    The following year Turbines were restricted.
    I wonder if the Colin Chapman car was a response to the Granatelli car a year earlier.

  3. Steve Boston

    Obviously the way to match up the gas turbine power delivery to road or race needs would be to use it as a generator. By generating for example hydraulic pressure or electricity you could then easily have flexible power to any or all wheels as required plus regen braking for better efficiency. The downside is that converting energy is inefficient anyway so – for example Jet A1 to tuboshaft power then to electricity probably loses more than is recouped by regen. Even so it always surprised me that Colin Chapman didn't try that way.