Over the years, with advancing technical insight, we are increasingly able to manage complex systems. Nevertheless, much modern technology finds its roots in the past, including the turbo engine. Fifty years ago he made his breakthrough, but it is certainly not a 1970s invention.
Turbo! Nowadays there is hardly any house, garden and kitchen car available that does not have one on it, usually quite anonymous too. It is almost inconceivable that in the last decades of the last century the five-letter word had an almost magical sound and stood for pure performance. Porsche and Renault, among others, know how to perform well in racing with turbo engines – Porsche in long-distance racing, Renault in Formula 1. These two brands were also able to make the transition in the 1970s to transfer the turbo from the circuit to to take to the street. The 911 Turbo is still a household name and the R5 Turbo has now achieved legendary status. Still, the turbo is not a 1970s invention.
‘Substitute for cubic inches’
Already in the early days of the car, people are working to improve the performance of the engine, better breathing is seen as a possible solution. As early as 1885, Gottlieb Daimler patented a mechanically driven pump to force air into an internal combustion engine. It was not until 1905 that a patent for an exhaust gas-driven turbo was granted to the Swiss engineer Alfred Büchi, who in those days headed the development department of the Sulzer brothers’ engine factory. Büchi mainly deals with diesel engines there. Over the years, the turbo has been used in planes, ships and trains, in the car the turbo is not really necessary in those days. The turbo technology is still quite fragile and there is still a lot to be gained in other areas, not least by building bigger engines.
Nevertheless, according to some sources, Alfa Romeo (then still ALFA) experimented with turbos for the 24 HP as early as 1910. However, we find nothing of this in official documents. Only when the Swiss truck manufacturer Saurer starts building trucks with turbo diesel engines in 1938 do we see the first turbochargers on the street. Although it will take almost a quarter of a century before we will also see it in passenger cars.
Oldsmobile and Chevrolet in 1962 with turbo
Only for model year 1962 do the GM daughters Oldsmobile and Chevrolet each come up with a turbo engine. Chevrolet is just two weeks earlier with the Corvair Spyder Turbo than Oldsmobile with the F-85 Jetfire Turbo. In the Corvair, a Thompson-derived turbo boosts the power of the rear-mounted 2.4-liter six-cylinder boxer engine from 102 to 150 hp, while a Garrett turbo boosts the power of the 3.5-liter V8 in the F-85 from 185 to 215 hp. The turbo technology is not a great success, most of the 9,607 F-85s Jetfire Turbo sold are later stripped of their turbo and fitted with larger carburettors. Only with the first oil crisis in 1973 did the development of cars with turbo engines gain momentum, when it substitute for cubic inches appears to be.
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