Forget all about autonomous driving for a second or two, that’s about controlling the car of the future, and for a moment, let’s not be thinking of Hybrid power, PHEV, EV (and what other acronyms that we can associate with electric powered vehicles).
You see, there is another form of power, rather than the regular old Otto cycle engine (the typical 4-stroke internal combustion engine that we take for granted), because they are just so inefficient.
How do we all feel about gas turbine power?
Could this be the power unit of tomorrow?
The answer is yes.
As soon as Karl Benz invented the first car, you can guarantee that someone else was looking at how to make it better, or in today’s terms; modding it. Surely it could be lighter, faster, better handling, more fuel efficient … ?
Of course, there is a little silliness in that answer, but it’s grounded in reality; it’s a natural progression to improve on things, that’s why the engines from the late 60’s could be a massive 7.8 liter and make just 230 BHP, whereas today, you could get 230 BHP from a 1.5 liter engine and still quadruple its gas mileage – progress.
Indy 500 and 24-Heures du Mans – Race Proven
Gas turbine cars are nothing new, they have been around for decades; Parnelli Jones came within three laps of victory at the 1967 Indy 500 race with the STP-Paxton Turbocar (it was only a gearbox bearing failure that lost the race), Graham Hill and Richie Ginther raced the Rover-BRM at the 1963 24-Hour Le Mans in France and there have been numerous other race cars built with a turbine that have had a degree of success. But they’ve never really taken the world by storm.
When we look at road cars, perhaps the most famous or well-known is the Chrysler Turbine Car from 1963. Fifty of these prototypes were built, all styled to capture the future of rocket power and spaceships, in other words; The Future.
A Designer’s Dream
Truth be told, the design wasn’t that radical, not like the Firebird XP-21, which looked like a modern jet fighter with wheels attached.
It seems that fitting this new type of power unit captured the minds of the designers; this was their dream ticket – being able to design a futuristic concept vehicle purely on the grounds that it had an engine similar to an aircraft engine gave them the opportunity to let their minds (and creative juices) run wild.
A little like when a child is asked to draw a picture of a futuristic car; all flying, space age, enclosed cockpit super car (remember The Jetsons?).
So what happened?
The gas turbine engine is great under certain conditions, it can make awesome power, be relatively fuel efficient and is super smoooooooth, but for everything else, it finds itself lacking!
Throttle response is dreadful, as is low-speed acceleration and let’s not talk about noise. Or deceleration, or the complexity involved with running a turbine engine (we’re talking about turbine power being converted to mechanical power and driving wheels rather than using thrust).
However, the power source of the future?
The Future Revisited
Well, thanks to technology now available, the turbine motor is getting smaller; no longer does it have to have an acre of metal surrounding it, for the turbine has been miniaturized. Still not the power plant of the future though is it?
But thanks to this miniaturizing, turbine engines are being used as a regenerative system fitted to hybrid power units. This means that what was once a 70 or 80 mile range can be transformed in to hundreds of miles; the little turbine is super-efficient at creating energy to recharge the hybrid unit and is a ‘bolt-on’ addition to an engine rather than being used as a power source itself.
We’re talking about something the size of a conventional super charger rather than the size of a car; it can be easily fitted (space wise), is about 70% efficient and makes little noise – it really is part of the car of the future!