The Staff of Motorsport Marketing
The Staff of Motorsport Marketing Writer
12/5/17 12:04 p.m.

Story by Bill Cuttitta • Photos courtesy the manufacturers

These days, turbocharged cars are quite common. As manufacturers strive to meet increasingly stringent government requirements for new vehicles regarding fuel economy and emissions, they’re replacing large-displacement, normally aspirated engines with smaller, more efficient turbo gasoline and diesel engines.

This is not a new idea, however. Very early in the development of the internal combustion engine, engineers realized that pumping in more air and fuel increased power output. Mechanical supercharging was developed in the 1920s as a solution aimed at road and race cars; an air pump driven off the engine’s crankshaft delivered a compressed intake charge.

On a parallel track, turbo-supercharging—as it was called then—was developed for diesel engines that operated for long periods in a limited rpm range, including those found in ships and trains. This setup used a centrifugal supercharger spun by an exhaust-driven turbine. Further developments, such as improved throttle control, led to the turbodiesel road trucks first appearing in Europe at the start of World War II.

During the runup to the war, military aircraft engineers sought to make up for the power losses experienced by internal combustion engines at higher altitudes. Mechanical supercharging was a common solution, but for some very high-performance applications, engineers adapted turbos to gasoline aircraft engines.

These engineers were drawn by the efficiency found in turbocharging; instead of wasting power to drive the compressor—an issue with mechanical supercharging—they’d use exhaust energy that would have been wasted otherwise. Classic warbirds such as the P-38, B-17 and P-47 used turbocharged engines.

After the war, experience with turbocharger technology led engineers to experiment with automobile applications during the 1950s and ’60s. Home-built hotrods and race cars sporting turbos began appearing at dry-lake speed events and even NHRA drag races. Before long, manufacturers were considering them for various race and production car applications—and soon enough, they did. While turbochargers have become quite common today—Ford predicts that soon a sizable portion of their fleet will be powered by their new EcoBoost engine—that trail was blazed by some pioneering milestone products.

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fearlesfil New Reader
12/5/17 11:17 p.m.

In '79 and '80 Ford produced Cobra Mustangs with draw through carbureted turbo 2.3L engines. They had forged internals and ran 5 PSI of boost for 132 HP. Ford Motorsports sold an adjustable wastegate that would allow 9 PSI, but much octane booster was required with the poor gas of the time. Ford suffered a lot of turbo failures as even their dealership service departments didn't know that oil had to be changed at 3,000 miles, that the cars should be driven lightly until the oil was warm, and that the turbo should be allowed to spin down before shutting off the engine (fine print in the owner's manual that few read). The Cobras enjoyed Michelin TRX suspension and Recaro seats. 

The turbo was back in 1984 on the new SVO fuel injected 2.3L, producing as much as 205 HP in 1986. These cars enjoyed intercooling, Koni shocks, and four wheel disc brakes. 

jimbbski Dork
12/6/17 9:59 a.m.

The use of "turbo supercharging" goes back to before WW II.  General Electric developed units to be added to aircraft engines to allow sea level power levels to be maintained as the aircraft climbed. They worked well enough that such aircraft as the B-17 &  B-24 had them. Also fighter aircraft engines used in the P-38 &  P -47 had them as well.


It's funny but while the British developed an effective jet engine for the allies during the war it was the Americans that developed the high temp. alloys while developing the turbo supercharger that allowed them to do it. The Germans had a better jet engine but engine life was short and failures common since they didn't have access to these high temp alloys.  

aircooled MegaDork
12/6/17 11:25 a.m.

Minor correction / clarification:

"The Corvair’s turbo engine option was discontinued after the 1966 model year in favor of a larger-displacement, normally aspirated engine that lasted until the model’s termination in 1969."

The Corvair was effectively being phased out after 66 (some say very slowly to show that Nader had nothing to do with it).  The elimination of the turbo is likely mostly because of that (it of course could not make the smog requirements that started rolling in).  There was not larger-displacement engine that replaced it.  The standard engine size (same displacement across all Corvair engines) did jump a bit in 1965, but the turbo was still in production at that point. 

12/6/17 10:49 p.m.

Dear Staff:  That was a freaking FANTASTIC article!  Thank you!

12/7/17 5:52 a.m.

Surprised that SAAB wasn’t mentioned that a large portion of their offering was turbocharged with good success 


airwerks Reader
12/7/17 4:36 p.m.

Good read.

sealy New Reader
12/17/17 2:46 p.m.

 I'm a bit behind on my reading as I often am. A wonderful informative article and I especially like the first pic of the F-85 with the ghost hood!

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