Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Howmet Turbine race car

I was looking for stuff to load onto the Classic Car Racers Forum, thats run by people from the WPMC here in Cape Town.

I then remembered a trip to Oulton Park, a very (really) nice race car circuit in Cheshire, England in 1968, the same year I emigrated to South Africa. Seems I made the right choice that day, the Howmet Turbine was new and to me very exciting, it was fast, the engine turned at 57,500 rpm but weighed just 170 pounds, thats about  70kgs only, to give you an idea what that means, the Hillman Imps alloy engine and transaxle weighs 76 kgs!

Now what would a V6 or V8 pushing out around 360bhp weigh?

I wonder how many viewers of this blog ever saw or heard this car?

Try this and you will soon know

You knew when it was about to arrive by the sound of its motor as it can be heard from at least three corners away! It is now 46 years since I saw it racing, looks rather good I think.

More on this car can be found here

What a car, I am so pleased that it still exists after all these years.


Click on the picture to enlarge it. My thanks to Wikipedia for the pictures and the information below.

Interest in the use of gas turbines as an alternative to the piston engine had been gaining support in the automobile industry during the 1960s. Chrysler had begun testing in the 1950s and began leasing their Turbine Car to the public in 1963,[3] while British manufacturer Rover and racing team BRM combined to build a racing car for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1963 and 1965.[4] Both cars showed reliability but were unable to win over the public or to win at Le Mans respectively.[5] By 1967, team owner and car developer Andy Granatelli had created the STP-Paxton Turbocar for the Indianapolis 500. The car nearly won the race driven by Parnelli Jones, but suffered a mechanical failure after leading over two-thirds of the event.[6] A similar attempt with a Lotus 56 in 1968 also led to retirement after showing winning potential.[5]

The Howmet TX was built on the McKee Mk.9 chassis. This is the first example of two built in period.
At the same time as Granatelli's turbine debut at Indy, racer Ray Heppenstall began to conceive a design for his own sports car to make use of a gas turbine, improving in some areas where the Rover-BRM had failed several years before. Heppenstall felt that a more simplified design for the chassis could make a turbine-powered car more competitive. Heppenstall originally proposed the car to Allison Engine Company and later to Williams Research.[7] He eventually turned to fellow racer Tom Fleming for aid. Fleming was at the time vice-president of Howmet Corporation, which provided castings for turbines in the aerospace industry. Heppenstall and Fleming were able to convince Howmet that their backing of a competitive and unique sports car could promote public awareness of the company. Howmet agreed to fund the project, lending their name to the car.[1]


Heppenstall began the project by purchasing a Cooper Monaco sports car, but later decided it was not the best choice for a turbine and the car was sold off.[7] Bob McKee, owner of McKee Engineering, was then contracted by Heppenstall to build two cars brand new. The first space frame chassis was actually built from an older McKee car initially built for the Can Am series in 1966, but adapted to house the turbine engine.[5][8] The second car #GTP2 was built from scratch, allowing it to be purposely designed around the use of a turbine engine, including a chassis 2.25 inches (57 mm) longer.[1] The chassis were known as the Mk.9 to McKee, but only ever raced as turbines under the Howmet TX guise.[8]

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