Prototype Rover gas turbine motor car, JET 1, built by the Rover Company, Solihull, England, 1946-1950.
JET 1 was the world’s first gas-turbine-powered motor car. It was made by Rover, the car company which had been intended as the main producer of the new Whittle aircraft jet engine in the Second World War. Work on a small gas turbine suitable for powering a motor car began in 1946, and the finished vehicle was unveiled to the public in 1950. In 1952 JET 1 was fitted with an uprated engine and achieved a world record speed (for gas turbine cars) of 152 mph (244 km/h).
When JET 1 was launched, the gas turbine ‘jet’ engine was seen as a symbol of modernity and of British technical prowess. Many viewed it as the power source of the future, but test driving showed that its poor fuel consumption and slowness to respond to the throttle made it unsuitable for road transport. Rover continued to develop gas turbine car designs until 1965, and work was subsequently carried out on gas-turbine-powered trucks. Many other companies also started to explore gas-turbine-powered cars, trucks and railway locomotives.
For all these small-scale applications the gas turbine has proved, up to now, too costly to manufacture, and the problems of control and fuel economy still exist. However, higher-power gas turbines are very successful in aircraft, ships, and for generating electrical power.