That Time a Car with a Helicopter Engine Raced Le Mans: The Howmet TX

We don't often think of turbine-powered automobiles and for good reason. But during the 1960s, manufacturers were experimenting with them and even racing them with enthusiasm. Chrysler gave 50 turbine-powered cars to members of the general public for a trial run in 1963, BRM and Rover built one and raced it at Le Mans from 1963-65, and Lotus nearly won the Indy 500 with the Type 56 Turbine in 1968. The most successful turbine car, however, was the Howmet TX built in 1968 by the Howmet Corporation, a metallics company. Howmet had already sponsored driver Ray Heppenstall's Ford Falcons. He convinced the company that they could work together to build a turbine-powered sports car along similar lines of those being experimented with in Indy racing at the time. Howmet needed smaller turbines than those in the Indy cars. So they used compact units built by Continental Aviation and Engineering Corporation for a military contract that had subsequently been cancelled. The engine produced 330 horsepower at first, not overly high for a Le Mans prototype, but it made 650 lb-ft of torque, weighed only 170 pounds and required only one forward gear. The FIA did mandate a reverse gear, however, so a small electric motor was installed to allow the car to go backwards. RELATED: See More Pictures of the Incredible 1963 Chrysler Turbine A lag of three seconds from accelerator pedal to actual response was dangerous, so a wastegate was fitted and accounted for the third pipe visible from the rear. The engine was approved by the FIA as being the equivalent of 3.0 liters and was therefore allowed to race as a prototype, but Heppenstall later admitted that it was closer to 3.3 liters. Chassis were by Can-Am manufacturer McKee, and the body was aluminum with fiberglass fenders. The Howmet TX weighed in at just under 1,500 pounds, making it theoretically very competitive. Even before the car put a wheel to the track, it was getting a lot of attention in the press and many were eager to see it race. RELATED: See Pictures of the Turbine-Powered 1968 Lotus 56 Indy Car The turbine's debut was at the Daytona 24 Hours in 1968. It ran as high as 3rd, but it crashed after a problem with the wastegate made the car uncontrollable. It then tried again at Sebring and at two races in the UK before finally achieving victory at a race in Alabama. It then won again at the Marlboro 300 in Maryland and took a class win at Watkins Glen. At Le Mans, the world's most high-profile sports car event, neither of the two Howmets put on much of a show and both failed to finish. Soon after, Howmet pulled the plug on what was amounting to be a very expensive racing campaign, but still used the car to set a handful of world speed records for turbine-powered cars. In the end, only two original cars were completed, but they've certainly made an impression as some of the most distinctive cars to race at Le Mans or anywhere, and as one of the most successful turbine cars in motorsports. RELATED: Storied 1966 Le Mans Winning Ford GT40 to be Restored _____________________________________ Click Here to Read the Original Article on BoldRide

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