Fiat Turbina – A forgotten concept with a jet engine of the 1950s

Born nearly 70 years ago, the Fiat Turbina is a very unique concept car when equipped with a fully functioning jet engine.

While other manufacturers began experimenting with turbochargers in the early 1950s, Fiat took it a step further and developed an attractive two-door Berlinetta using a mid-mounted gas turbine engine.

Although the technology is not new, combustion turbines started to become more advanced and popular after World War II, mainly thanks to the aircraft industry, and they also earned the nickname “jet engine”. ” from that. They were a major breakthrough that changed the way people moved, and every engineer of the time seemed to be fascinated by them.

This was also the case with Fiat’s chief technical officer, Dante Giacosa, who thought the technology could drastically change the automotive industry. Together with Vittorio Bellicardi, responsible for technical calculations, and a talented team of engineers, they began an in-depth study of the feasibility of such a vehicle in 1948.

At that time, one of Fiat’s aerospace divisions was responsible for building the Ghost jet engine under a copyright license from the UK’s de Havilland Engine Company, but contrary to popular belief, it was not. part of the study. In fact, this entire project is extremely secret and only a handful of employees know of its existence. In the early stages, even the top management was not informed for fear that they would cancel the program.

After researching the latest innovations of that period for more than 2 years, Giacosa and Bellicardi were ready to start building the car. They were determined to develop an all-new, compact engine and did not want to waste time modifying an existing aircraft engine. Thus, in September 1950, the design of the Tipo 8001 turbine engine began to be drawn up and about 7 months later it was ready to be built.

The test prototype was built in November 1951, and after a year of comprehensive testing of all its components, it was fully assembled and launched for the first time. Codenamed Tipo 8001, the turbine consists of a two-stage centrifugal compressor, three combustion units, a two-stage axial turbine that drives the compressor, and a single-stage electric turbine connected to the rear wheel axle. According to Fiat, it can produce horsepower at 22,000 rpm, with power output controlled by a variable fuel gauge valve. The engine does not use a transmission or clutch, so the driver will only need to use two pedals.

By this time, Rover had revealed its gas turbine-equipped vehicle, the JET1 prototype, and it was rumored that General Motors was also developing one on the other side of the ocean. This gave Giacosa and Bellicardi’s project more credibility, so they eventually revealed their plans to the company’s top management. Luckily for them, the project received a positive response and the funding needed to complete the concept car that would later be named the Fiat Turbina.

While the engineering team carried out the final tests of the engine, work on chassis and body design began. After analyzing several proposals, they decided that a sporty rear mid-engine layout would be the basis of the car.
Giacosa has built a tubular steel chassis with a wheelbase of 2,400 mm. The Turbina used a completely independent double wishbone suspension and hydraulic drum brakes borrowed from the newly developed 8V sports car of the time. In addition, kerosene tanks are installed on each side, while a 6-volt battery pack is installed on the front part.

With the engine and chassis completed, Luigi Rapi was commissioned to design the bodywork. Using the aerodynamics test room at the Politecnico di Torino, he developed a beautiful smooth 2-seater Berlinetta featuring a pair of rear stabilizing fins. The bodywork was so aerodynamically efficient that it achieved a drag coefficient of just 0.14, a record-setting number that would not be beaten 30 years later.

Finished in a two-tone white and red, the one-of-a-kind vehicle also features fixed side windows, no headlights or taillights, and rides on 16-inch Borrani wheels wrapped in Pirelli tyres. The interior of the car has black seats and a white dashboard with dozens of gauges. A simple visor separates the cabin from the engine, and since there’s no soundproofing, long-distance driving in the Turbina would be a painful experience.

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