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Turbine-powered Rover – The experimental JET T.3 gas turbine car

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Brochure illustrations courtesy of Bruno Vijverman and Lov2XLR8.no.

Long before Chrysler fitted a turbine engine to an automobile and shortly after World War II concluded, Rover began experimenting with smooth-spinning turbines as an alternative automotive power source. Although it never made it to production, it’s certainly an interesting and significant part of automotive history; they even printed this brochure.

It stated: “Since experimental work on ‘JET 1,’ the world’s first gas turbine car began in 1946, there has been intense activity at Solihull, headquarters of The Rover Company. In 1955 a second prototype was produced which had a rear mounted gas turbine in a normal saloon body. But now comes ‘T.3,’ Rover’s first practical, specially designed gas turbine-powered motor car.

“One of the most important results achieved during the years of research has been the development of a gas turbine engine, less than half the size of the original. Thus ‘T.3’ represents tremendous technical progress and puts Britain well ahead with its advanced specification. With its heat exchanger, fuel consumption approaches reasonable figures and further research in this direction is expected to result in considerable improvement.

“This model is in no way a final design, representing only another stage in Rover Gas Turbine development. There are still several problems to be solved, both in respect of body style and engine arrangement, before a truly operational car can be produced.”

At the M.I.R.A test rack, situated in the heart of the U.K., when Rover put their T.3 through its paces, it achieved a 0-60 mph time of 10.5 seconds, with 18 seconds recorded to reach 80 mph. At 60 mph fuel consumption reached 14.3 mpg, dropping down to a mere 12.8 mpg at 80 mph. These fuel mileage figures are much poorer than they actually seem simply because Britain’s imperial gallon equates to 4.5 liters of liquid vs the smaller U.S. gallon size of 3.7 liters. Nonetheless, experimenting with turbine power back in mid-to-late 1940s is clearly an exceptional engineering achievement, one that the great Rover company should be proud of.

The brochure that Rover had published about the T.3 also stated this about the car itself: “With the engine mounted at the rear it has been possible to design a body having a low bonnet line which, together with a deep wrap-around windscreen and large rear window, gives exceptionally safe visibility. Bodywork is of glass-reinforced plastic, while four-wheel drive and a De-Dion rear axle are included in the technical specification. Four-wheel drive is considered a desirable safety factor on a car that has such a high torque to weight ratio.

“The engine is a development of the well-known 1S/60 industrial gas turbine, and consists of a single stage centrifugal compressor with a maximum speed of 52,000 r.p.m. driven by a single stage axial turbine re-designed so that it takes only sufficient power from the gas stream to drive the compressor and fuel and oil pumps. A second single stage power turbine has been added which takes the remaining power from the gas stream and drives the front and rear differential units. This reduction gear also incorporates a reverse gear which can be selected by a central control lever.”

Had Rover continued development of their turbine-powered automobiles, can you imagine just how much fun and exciting it would be to drive a 3500S or one of their beautiful P5B coupes with a turbine?