Most auto enthusiasts are aware of Chrysler and General Motors experiments with jet turbine powered cars during the mid-20th Century period. Both companies did extensive development work on the unconventional powerplant, with Chrysler going so far as to put a small number of turbine powered coupes in the hands of consumers for a trial run. Less well known perhaps, are some fascinating European experiments with this unconventional powerplant.
1950 Rover Jet-1
Europeans didn’t lag behind Americans in developing then new jet turbine powerplants for automotive use. In fact, Rover of England actually beat GM to the punch with the first turbine powered car, the 1950 Rover Jet-1. Rover had been an early developer of jet aircraft engines during WWII and decided to test the turbine’s potential as a motorcar powerplant immediately after the war. The Jet-1 was successfully tested at the turn of the decade, making it the first working turbine car. While never seriously considered for production, Rover continued development of turbine powered autos up through 1965 when racing legend Graham Hill drove a streamlined prototype to a tenth place finish at the grueling twenty-four hours of LeMans.
Socema was an aircraft company, Jean Albert Gregoire was a brillant automotive engineer/designer. Together, they developed the stunning Socema-Gregoire experimental coupe. Debuted at the 1952 Paris Auto Show, the sleek little coupe developed 100 H.P. at 25,000 RPM and was projected to be capable of 120 M.P.H., a blistering speed for its time. Top speed would no doubt have been aided by its lightweight aluminum construction and streamlined body boasting a drag coeffient of .19. Though it failed to equal the Turbina’s slippery shape, its aerodynamics represent an astonishing figure to this day. The Socema-Gregoire made a single test run and was immediately retired as not ready for prime time due to its high cost of production, scary gas consumption, and extremely high temperature operation.
1954 Fiat Turbina
Fiat came third in the jet car sweepstakes with its sleek, space-age styled Turbina of 1954. A serious attempt at not just utilizing an aircraft type jet engine, but wrapping that powerplant in a wind tunnel tested body, so sleek, it’s drag coefficient of .14 held the world’s aerodynamic record for thirty years. Introduced at the 1954 Turin auto show, the Turbina had a midship engine layout and was projected to be capable of reaching 160 M.P.H. with a radical three turbine engine producing 295 horsepower at 22,000 revolutions per minute. Extremely high operating temperatures combined with extremely low mileage figures to doom the project.