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.