[Vwdiesel] turbine cars

Scott Kair scott3491 at insightbb.com
Wed Jun 4 19:33:20 EDT 2003

>>Years ago, I seem to recall that turbine cars were used at Indy or some
race event, and within a year or so they were banned.<<

    IIRC, Andy Granatelli of STP entered a pair in the 1967 Indianapolis
500, driven by Parnelli Jones and Joe Leonard.  The cars were turbine
powered and were all-wheel drive.  The cars were wedge shaped and had a
manually operated pop-up flap/ air dam brake that the driver activated to
help slow down for cornering, since there was no compression to work
    Parnelli qualified on the outside of the front row, Leonard farther
back.  Following orders from the team owner, both sandbagged their
qualifying runs.
    At the start of the race, Jones stomped on it, was in the lead by the
first corner, and was clearly pulling away by the time he came out of turn
2.  We were sitting high up in the third corner and the closest competitor
wasn't even halfway down the backstretch by the time he was out of turn 3.
He was lapping other cars by about the 4th lap- with the awd he could make
his own groove- and never relinquished the lead until a $6 bearing in the
transmission croaked with about 4 laps to go.  Leonard had been following
him, but had suffered a different non-engine failure.
    Granatelli entered the cars the next year, but similar cheap part
failures knocked them out again.  USAC didn't ban them, but the cars so
outclassed everything else that USAC reduced the allowable intake area
sufficiently to strangle the engines and render them non-competitive.
    They were not at all loud, but whistled.
    The engines were deemed impractical for mass production passenger car
use.  The engines were incredibly expensive due to the close manufacturing
tolerances, and the lack of compression deceleration raised concerns about
braking adequacy and longevity. Transmitting power via raw thrust was, of
course, impossible on the street without incinerating everything behind it,
so hooking them up to transmissions was necessary and the engines
overpowered and broke other powertrain components.  Unfortunately,
ultra-high revving turbines and acceleration off idle aren't an ideal match,
and fuel consumption in urban traffic, as well as fuel availability was an
issue.  Finally, servicing the engines would have exceeded the capabilities
of the dealers.  In short, after the Indy trials, they were judged to be
impractical. To my knowledge, that's become conventional wisdom; perhaps
it's time to challenge that.
    But seeing Parnelli Jones whistle by in that orange STP special was
    Scott Kair

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