Scheduled for auction in only a few days, at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, is the 1978 Chevrolet Corvette once owned by (father and son) Andy and Vince Granatelli. To the untrained eye, this car looks like a stock ‘Vette of the anti-pollution era but press the starter buttons on the console and an 880-horsepower Pratt & Whitney turbine is ignited.
Once the turbine reaches 30,000 RPMs the igniters are disengaged and it seems as though you are standing next to a jet aircraft. This car is so skillfully and artfully retrofitted to accommodate the jet propulsion system that it almost appears to be a factory creation. Thanks to the Granatelli’s and their tenacity in developing this bit of turbine technology.
As chairman of STP Products during the 1950s and 1960s, the elder Granatelli suffered from a lifelong desire to race in the Indy 500. By 1967 he had built his first turbine car (called the “woosh-mobile”) and come within a few laps of winning first place. When a $6 roller bearing failed just short of the checkered flag, organizers of the event restructured rules in an effort to render the turbine cars less competitive. Much to Indy 500 officials’ dismay, Granatelli returned in 1968 with another set of Lotus cars, called the Lotus 56-3, broke the record qualifying lap time at 171-mph, and nearly lapped the field. The 1968 Indy 500 saw a total of three entries from the Granatelli team. The first entry, driven by Graham Hill, lost a wheel on lap 110, and the remaining two cars suffered driveshaft failure during lap 191. Turbine powered cars were forever more banned from the Indy 500 and the Lotus’ were towed back to Vince Granatelli’s Pit Stop Service Shop in sunny California.
By 1978 Vince Granatelli had become a proficient car builder in his own right. When a wealthy customer asked him for something unique, Vince seized the opportunity to use the turbine from one of his father’s Lotus racecars in the only stock car with a long enough front end to handle one of the Pratt & Whitney turbines. As you can see, the car is a 1978 Chevrolet Corvette, with the exception of a restructured front air intake and exhaust system. The huge turbine uses a specially engineered reduction gear mated with a turbo-hydramatic 400 automatic transmission to manage 67,000 RPMs and 1,100 lb-ft of torque. It is equipped with NASCAR grade four-wheel disc brakes and the exhaust exits the vehicle via a custom diffuser that encompasses the entire belly of the car. Despite a turbine lag, zero to sixty can be achieved in only 3-seconds. A realistic top-speed for the Jet-Vette is yet to be realized and, while it is supposed to be street legal, a spotter car would be a good idea when attempting any street driving whatsoever.
In addition to the Jet Vette, the only turbine Lotus in private hands — the Lotus 56-3 — will cross the block on January 17, 2015, in Scottsdale, Arizona at WestWorld of Scottsdale. Even among a field of more than 1,400 automobiles, these two turbine powered cars should steal the show.