Much of the experimental engine is missing. Only ten were built, to win a government contract, so replacement parts are on intergalactic backorder

Throughout the past century of automotive progress, the turbine engine was perceived as a possible alternative to the internal combustion engine.
The two most famous American turbine programs are the Chrysler Turbine and the Andy Granatelli Paxton-STP Indy racers. Yet, the most successful and only race-winning turbine cars ever built were neither of these two, but rather the lesser known, but significantly more important, 1968 Howmet Turbine racing coupes.
The moving force behind the Howmet TX was racing driver and engineer Ray Heppenstall and his racing buddy Tom Fleming, vice president of marketing at Howmet. While running at Daytona in 1967, the two decided to build a turbine-powered race car.
Heppenstall discovered that Continental Aviation had designed a small turbine engine when they bid on a U.S. military helicopter engine contract. The contract had failed to materialize; so ten engines were left over. The unique powerplant weighed a mere 170 pounds, yet produced 330 hp. The only real modification required to convert the helicopter turbine engine for race car use was to design a turbine wastegate.
The original Howmet, bearing chassis number one and the very car offered here, was built based on a 1967 McKee Group 7/Can-Am car known as the Crosal Special. It featured a multi-tubular space frame construction with a fully independent, coil-spring suspension. The resulting 37-inch high Howmet TX was clothed in sleek, light aluminum and fiberglass bodywork and fitted with Halibrand cast-alloy wheels.
Apart from being repainted once in its original livery, the first Howmet TX race car remains in timewarp condition and still retains its original interior. No changes in specifications have been made and the Continental TS325-1 engine remains. Included in the sale are spare engine parts that were also purchased and saved by Jim Brucker. While not in running condition, it is thought the 1968 Howmet Turbine is missing only its combustion chamber and compressor; otherwise it is complete.

SCM Analysis


Years Produced:1968
Number Produced:(2 original, 1 replica by original builder)
Original List Price:Never produced for sale
Chassis Number Location:Tag on frame tube
Engine Number Location:Unknown
Club Info:Start your own?
Alternatives:Lola T 70, Porsche 910
Investment Grade:A

This 1968 Howmet Turbine sold for $264,000 at the RM Brucker Collection Auction, May 13, 2006.
For most of its history, the internal combustion piston engine has been thought of as a necessary but not very elegant intermediate step between animal power and whatever comes next.
Face it-piston engines are complex and messy mechanisms, with lots of complicated parts going up, stopping, and coming back down literally thousands of times a minute, fires being lit and going out at the same rate, with cylinders and valve seats needing to seal against high pressures while this is all happening. If you think about it, it’s amazing the things work at all.
It’s easy to see why, as soon as turbines arrived on the scene after WWII, visionaries grabbed them to power cars. They’re light, simple, and self-cooling. The parts spin rather than reciprocate, they’re balanced, and even in hard use will run a thousand hours before rebuilds. Transmissions are a breeze. On paper, at least, turbines were the next great solution. But it didn’t work out that way.
The basic problem is that turbine engines make not much torque at extremely high rpm and run best at a constant speed. This is fine for an airplane propeller or an Indianapolis racer, but for a road racer who’s always slowing down and speeding up, it presents quite a challenge.
The first part of the solution is to use a “free turbine” design, which is the jet engine equivalent of an automatic transmission. Rather than have the power-generating turbine connected directly to an output shaft, the exhaust gasses are routed to drive a second “free” output turbine, sort of a gaseous torque converter. Depending on pressure and quantity of gas going to it, it spins anywhere between zero and 44,000 rpm. This is geared way down and connected directly to the wheels with no clutch.
The trick is to control how much exhaust gets to the output turbine. There are two ways to do it: control the fuel to the power turbine or run that turbine at constant speed and dump the excess gasses out of a wastegate. With the Howmet Turbine, they chose to use the wastegate approach, which gave great throttle response but terrible fuel mileage.
There was an additional technical problem in building a wastegate that would open and close dependably (while red hot) in road racing time frames. Most of the crashes with the car (and there were plenty) were attributed to the waste-gate getting stuck.
This is by far the most original and correct of the Howmet Turbine cars, which is a blessing and a challenge, because it’s not complete. Much of the engine is missing, and whether the pieces can ever be found is open to question. This was an experimental engine of which only ten were built to win a government contract. The contract went to Allison instead, so these engines were truly orphaned (actually, stillborn is a better analogy) and replacement parts are on intergalactic backorder. The good news is that the Allison engine that got the contract was to the same specification, so it fits in the car and is easily available, if not original.
This Howmet Turbine retired from Le Mans with “mechanical problems” in 1968 and apparently never ran again, which leads to speculation about why much of the engine is missing. Le Mans regulations require that the engine be shut down during refueling due to safety concerns, and if you know turbines, you know that one thing they do not do is start hot. Whether by reasoned decision or panic, the Howmet team solved this problem by throwing buckets of cold water on the red-hot power section so they could get going again. Is it chance that the “hot section” is what’s missing?
I asked Chuck Haines what they’re like to drive. He has owned the other two cars (still has one) and is the only guy I know with any experience. With very little in the way of engine or transmission weight, the car is very light (1,550 lbs), nimble, and well balanced. All the heat and noise is behind you and there’s no real vibration, so it’s comfortable inside, if a little eerie feeling. Initial acceleration isn’t great (for a race car), but it just keeps pulling like you are tied to a bungee cord until you either get out of the throttle or hit top speed (something like 185 mph). The brakes are huge for such a light car, four-pot Girling calipers on GT-40 rotors, which is good because the engine isn’t going to help slow you down. Aside from fuel consumption, it was an excellent long-distance racing car.
It proved not to be the wave of the future, however, and the few turbine cars still around are museum pieces. Restoring this 1968 Howmet Turbine to running condition will be a daunting task, particularly if the original Continental engine is to be kept, but I’m told the guy who bought it is a specialist in these things, so he might be successful. My inquiries tell me that this kind of car sells in the $400,000-$450,000 range if running and done right, so there is money available to do the work, have fun doing it, and end up with a very cool car. I’d say fairly bought.

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