This Jet-Powered Race Car Nearly Won the Indy 500

While electric race cars and superbikes are all the rage these days, these wheeled power plants are hardly the first revolutionary engine technology. Why, back in 1967, one racing team blew more than a few minds when they dropped a genuine jet engine into their car and nearly drove it to victory at the Indianapolis 500.

The STP-Paxton Turbocar was designed by Ken Wallis and implemented by famed automotive engineer Andy Granatelli, a man who set more than 400 land speed records as chief tester for Studebaker and had already rattled the Indy racing league by introducing Ferguson four-wheel drive a few years prior. In 1966, Granatelli married this 4WD system with a 550 HP Pratt & Whitney gas turbine—adapted by Wallis for use on land— to create an entirely new kind of racecar.

The Turbocar looked, drove, and worked like nothing else on the track. It utilized an incredibly light aluminum box frame that sat the driver next to the engine, rather than behind it. The car weighed in just 400 pounds over the minimum limit allowed by the USAC at the time.

The STP team tried again in 1968 with driver Joe Leonard but again the car failed just before the finish—this time from a faulty fuel pump. That spelled the end of the Turbocar, though many of its design features would be incorporated by the rest of the field over the next decade. STP originally donated the Turbocar to the Smithsonian but you can find it today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.

Posted by Michael Mastin 1/25/15

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