This week in 1965 – the Rover-BRM gas turbine car

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Back in 1950, the Rover Company unveiled JET1, the world’s first gas-turbine powered car: a strange-looking vehicle that can now be found in the making of the modern world gallery at London’s Science museum.

But though the jet-powered car remains something of a museum curiosity it’s an idea that manufacturers have revisited numerous times over the intervening years.

This article from April 1965 reports on the progress of JET1’s immediate descendent, the Rover BRM Gas Turbine car, which was poised to become the first gas-turbine powered vehicle to officially compete in the le Mans 24 hours race.  

The vehicle actually ran in the 1963 race and would have come eighth but as an experimental car was unplaced.  In 1965 however, it was officially classified as a 2-litre vehicle and driven by Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill, who on driving it for the first time reportedly said, ‘it sounds as if you’ve got a 707 just behind you, about to suck you up and devour you like an enormous monster.’

Reporting on the specifications of this unusual automotive power-train The Engineer wrote: ‘The engine powering the 1965 Rover BRM is designated 2S/150/R and represents a stage in the evolution of a small simple gas turbine engine of good fuel economy. The nominal power of the engine is 145shp at 150°C.’

The engine had three main sections: a gas generator which includes the compressor, compressor-driving turbine and drives for the auxiliaries, a work-turbine section and finally a main casing which houses ducting, the combustion chamber and two regenerative heat exchanger disks.

According to the report these regenerative heat exchangers were the most novel feature of this version of the car. ‘These discs consist of a very large number of thin-walled parallel holes and are driven from the gas generator shaft at about 20rpm. As they rotate they extract heat from the power turbine exhaust gas passing most of it onto the compressor deliver air before it enters the combustion chamber.’

‘Few actual details of the regenerators are available,’ wrote The Engineer, ‘but it is understood that gases leave the power turbine at about 700°C before entering the heat exchanger matrix, whilst on the “cold” side, air from the compressor delivery ducting enters the matrix at 200°C. It has been predicted that in due course after further development, it will be possible to achieve a thermal ratio of 0.9, although, of course, even higher values than this would be desirable’

The car finished tenth overall at Le Mans in 1965, where it averaged 98.8mph. It was finally retired in 1974 and can now be found at the Heritage motor Centre in Gaydon.

But the concept of gas-turbine powered cars remains an area of interest for the automotive industry. Most recently, at the 2010 Paris motor show , Jaguar Land Rover unveiled The C-X75 hybrid-electric concept car which  instead of a conventional four-stroke engine used two diesel-fed micro gas turbines developed by UK engineering firm Bladon jets.

To learn more about this technology why not register to attend The Engineer conference, where Bladon Jets founder, Chris Bladon, will be talking about his firm’s groundbreaking work with micro gas turbines.