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THESE DAYS, we associate the word Rover with the word Land, as in the British SUV. But back in the early 1950s, the term Jet 1 would have also been appropriate. In June 1953, RandT (the & was yet to come) heralded “The First Complete Road Test of a Gas Turbine Car!”
Contributor Alan Clark writes, “I should start by saying that this was not a full road test in the sense that I did not take the car away for several nights extended touring. However, I did drive it in varied conditions…, starting from stone cold, fast main road driving, country lanes, narrow village streets, and the crowded thoroughfares of suburban Birmingham.”
The Rover Jet 1 was unveiled in March 1950, the first car powered by a gas turbine. In 1952, aerodynamic refinements helped it achieve 152.691 mph on Belgium’s Jabbeke highway. Rover was awarded the Dewar Trophy that year, the first time the trophy had been awarded since 1929.
Based on a Rover sedan, the Jet 1 roadster housed its turbine, rated at the equivalent of 240 hp, behind its seats. Once spooled up (to 45,000 rpm!), the turbine propelled the car from a standstill to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds. A year later, R&T (note the &) reported that Phil Hill’s Ferrari 250 Mille Miglia did it in 5.1, but such performance was exceedingly rare in those days.
What’s more, the Rover Jet 1’s propulsion just kept delivering: Its quarter mile came in 11.9 seconds; the Ferrari took 14.4.
Clark says, “It is possible to reach 90 mph between one block and another in a surge of power such as I have never experienced before, and the shattering roar of the jet engine forms an intoxicating accompaniment.”
“The jet aspect has no dangers for pedestrians or following cars as all the gases go straight up in the air. All one can say is that in the unlikely event of a garage attendant putting his hand over the exhaust orifices while you were revving the engine, it would annoy him enough to stop him doing it a second time.”
Clark writes, “The question ‘When will we see one at Le Mans’ occurred to us, as I have no doubt it occurs to you on reading this.”
Chief engineer Maurice C. Wilks, brother of Rover’s managing director Spencer Wilks, advised Clark that “prestige earned would be wasted until the turbine can be marketed commercially.”
Indeed, the company turned out to be rather more optimistic: In 1963, a Rover-BRM ran at Le Mans, albeit only as a demonstration.
Then, in 1965, a Rover-BRM coupe actually competed at Le Mans. It finished 11th overall, driven by Grand Prix champion Graham Hill and a rising Scots F1 star, Jackie Stewart.
From 1962 to 1964, Chrysler built a Turbine Car: five prototypes and a limited run of 50 for customer evaluation. In 1967, the STP-Paxton Turbocar ran the Indianapolis 500. Parnelli Jones dominated the race until a transmission bearing failed—eight miles from the checkered flag.
And, in the early 1990s, I got to drive the Volvo EEC, as in Environmental Concept Car, a gas turbine/electric hybrid.
On the other hand, Alan Clark beat me driving a turbine by 40 years. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017