There was a wonderful period in the late-middle part of the last century where every man and his dog was trying to find an advantage in motorsport by trialling an alternative to the petrol-powered internal combustion engine.
Video: This ridiculous machine has the engine from a helicopter
For some that meant just fiddling with the layout of the motor – Porsche trialled flat layouts all the way up to its abandoned Flat-16 in the Porsche 917/10 and BRM famously tried an H-pattern layout, which is so complicated it takes entire wikipedia pages just to vaguely see how it works (it's essentially two flat-eight engines joined together with some gears).
But some engineers wanted to go even further, ditching pistons completely and trying an even more radical approach. Welcome into the picture the Howmet TX. It's a pretty amazing looking thing from the outside, and in 1968 it must have looked practically space-age (and yes, those are Cortina brake lights). But it's only when you peel back the skin that you find the real treasure – the Howmet was powered by a Continental Aviation TS325-1 gas turbine and the figures are astounding. This 77kg lump (the equivalent of around 3.0-litres) produced 354PS (350bhp) and a stagering 880Nm (650lb ft) of torque and would reach a frankly staggering 57,000rpm. The turbine had to have three massive exhausts (two for the turbine, one for the wastegate) which poked up out of the car's rear deck – helping to give the Howmet those incredible looks. Oh, and due to the way it was geared, it had no reverse...
Sadly the racing history of the TX is less exciting than the car itself. Entered into the Daytona 24 and Sebring 12 in 1968 the Howmet had exceptional qualifying pace (managing third at Sebring) but was brittle; retiring from both races either due to sheer car fatigue or wastegate faliures – the latter pitching the driver into the wall with little warning. The Howmets (as there were two) were withdrawn from the Championship of Makes to take part in some US-based SCCA events, during which they claimed their first wins, but on returning to the international scene the cars again found themselves unable to complete the endurance events – retiring from the Watkins Glen six hours and the Le Mans 24. And that was the end of the Howmet's brief racing life. A few speed record attempts later and the car found itself on the scrapheap.
Thankfully the Howmet TX has found a place in historic racing (one has even appeard at the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard) and you can hear the incredible sound of a gas turbine-engined sportscar as it races round Imola right here. Just imagine where motorsport could have gone had those early pioneers been more succssful.
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