Filed under: History
I recently stumbled upon a turbo that my dad ran on his Corvette in the 1970s. The find got me thinking about the history of the turbo, so I inquisitively hit Google looking for answers. To my amazement, one of the first American production cars to run a turbo was the 1962 Oldsmobile Jetfire. The motor was based on the aluminum 215-inch V8 that Olds and Buick put in their “compact” cars of the time. To add a little excitement, the forward thinking engineers at Oldsmobile threw on a nifty little turbo charger. The result was 215 horsepower – one horsepower per cubic inch.
Even more amazing to me is that this little turbo motor was actually pretty advanced. The turbo unit itself was tuned to 5 pounds of boost and to ensure consistently and control heat, they used what was a huge technological feat at the time – a wastegate. Of course, turbo motors typically call for less compression as well. However, rather than lower the compression of the little V8, the fellas in the lab coats decided to cool and stabilize the fuel mixture by way of “fluid injection.” This fluid was actually a mixture of distilled water and methyl alcohol that was kept in a pressurized tank under the hood.
Essentially, the driver would hit the loud pedal which caused the tank to pressurize and a small amount of the fluid to be injected into the air-fuel mix. As the fluid evaporated, it absorbed heat from the intake air and held down combustion temps to avoid detonation. Depending on how aggressive the driver was, this tank of magical “fluid injection shit” would last anywhere from 200 to 2000 miles. Once low on fluid, a light on the dash would flash and a throttle body valve would close to prevent full-power acceleration.
And I guess it all worked pretty well… Car & Driver Magazine test drove an early production version and stated, “Not only the most radical design from an American factory in many years; it is an elegant and comfortable high-performance car of medium size.”