by John Wheaton*
after war was declared in 1939, Spencer Wilks was approached by the government
to assist with a top-secret new development - Frank Whittle's gas turbine.
He agreed, although Rover engineers knew nothing about the subject, the
project being referred to as a supercharger for security reasons.
Whittle's company, Power Jets Ltd, was short of production facilities so the plan was for Rover to develop the Whittle design to production state, then maybe manufacture for the RAF. (Amazingly, Rolls Royce had no interest in jets at this stage as they were too busy producing their V-12 Merlins for the Spitfires.)
Early in 1940 work was progressing well with development, but serious differences arose between Whittle and the Rover engineers. Whittle's company was supposed to do the inventing, so he was furious with Rover for 'altering' (actually improving) his design in detail and basic concept without his approval.
first Rover-built engines were to Whittle's W2 design (except with Rover-developed
accessory drives) but were badly underpowered and suffered from surging
and turbine failure. They then began development of the W2B version making
many design changes of their own (causing more conflict).
Rover then got the go-ahead from the ministry to begin their own design (code-named B26 and so secret that Whittle was not even informed). This was a totally new concept of a straight-through layout retaining some of the original compressor features but giving dramatically improved thrust and reliability. It formed the basis of the World's very first production jet engine, the Rolls Royce Welland
Not a bad show for a 'conservative' motor car manufacturer!
By 1942 Rover were the leading
jet engine developers (including de Havilland) when Rolls Royce, the top
aero engine manufacturers, decided to enter the field. As Rover were not
sure they wanted to stay in the aero engine business, they did a deal
-handing Rolls all their gas turbine work (first completing all existing
developments) in exchange for the 700hp RR Meteor engine project. This
was a modified version of the Spitfire V-l2 RR Merlin engine intended
for use in tanks. Rover developed and built the Meteor engine which powered
the Centurion and later Conqueror tanks. Their later V-8 version Meteorite
petrol and diesel engines were used in marine, heavy-duty and stationary
applications right up to 1964. Thus the seeds were sown for what was to
be Rover's most famous achievement - the World's first gas-turbine car.
The early problems were more
financial than technical (to this day JET 1 has a 2nd hand bicycle caliper
brake to stop the power turbine turning in neutral), not only were materials
horribly expensive but almost unobtainable. In spite of this, the first
prototype engine was running by February 1947.
sequence from a notebook -
1st test: satisfactory light-up, no oil pressure.
2nd test: no light-up.
3rd test: engine exploded.
The Jet 1
|However, the first engine (T5) producing 100bhp at 55,000 compressor rpm and weighing less than a standard Rover engine was announced in May 1948. The more powerful T8 was born later that year and successfully tested at the end of 1949 - in a boat!|
motor was the one finally installed in Rover's 'latest' product (a P4 75
Cyclops) - called JET 1, it made its first runs on March14 1950 and was
subsequently shown to the RAC and the Press.
Brief descriptions of the Gas Turbine cars and events follow.
The Rover T3
T3. First car specifically designed around gas turbine engine, by Spencer King with Gordon Bashford and Peter Wilks.
Inboard rear engine (2S100 - 2 shaft, lOOhp)
4-wheel drive, fixed diff. Sheet steel frame, glassfibre body (David Bache). DeDion rear suspension, back-angled front forks, 4-wheel inboard Dunlop disc brakes - Most of these innovations were to be used on the P6, seven years later!
Compressor turbine 52,000rpm, light-up 15,000rpm
Max bhp 110
Max mpg 13 (with heat exchanger).
The Rover T4
The Rover-BRM (00) had been driven at LeMans by Graham Hill and Richie Ginther at an average of 108mph (and 7mpg) which would have made it 8th overall, but it was not officially competing, hence the 00 number.
The Rover BRM
Rover-BRM, rebodied by David Bache and Bill Towns, was damaged in transit to LeMans, and did not compete that year.
Increased air-intakes and extra driving lamps, driven at LeMans by Graham Hill and newcomer Jackie Stewart, was 10th overall at 99mph (13.5mpg) in spite of engine damage.
did these cars behave? Graham Robson describes his first (and only) drive
"Starting drill is simple but drawn out - turning the key actuates the special Lucas starter motor which winds away for several seconds. A faint, distant whine rises in pitch and intensity before light-up occurs and the engine settles down to 'idle' at 35,000rpm. This is enough to cause the car to creep along the road if the brakes are not applied, as there is about 4bhp residual at idle. To get moving engage forward gear and depress 'loud pedal' - after a jet lag of about 3 seconds, the engine speed rises rapidly to 50,000rpm and the car whooshes off up the road leaving engine noise behind (although this is quite acceptable to passers-by). 60mph is reached in 8 secs (a la 3500S) with very civilized handling.
and T4 were the magnificent swan songs of Rover's gas-turbine cars - whatever
happens in the future, Rover were the first and most successful (T4's achievements
have never been matched). T3 and T4 happily survive in running condition
in the British Leyland Collection, while JET 1 is honorably retired in the
Kensington Science Museum.
|* This piece was taken from the RCCA archives. We believe the author to be as stated.|