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1964 Ford Turbine Truck Concept

While turbine engines are standard in military tanks, helicopters, and jet airliners, their use in production automobiles has been quite limited. However, Ford dedicated approximately two decades of research in the 1950s to making that possible. The most prominent example of the company’s efforts was “Big Red,” a 600-horsepower super transport prototype built in 1964 that was recently located more than 30 years after its last sighting. The experimental truck made several cross-country trips to demonstrate the comparable cost of operation to a traditional diesel engine. The 13-foot-tall truck was built due to a pact with the U.S. Department of Defense. A subsequent version explicitly intended for commercial applications was created in 1966. Other Ford-built turbine engines were tested in a bus used for cross-country routes and in a fleet used to move Ford parts between Michigan and Ohio.

The Ford-built turbine engines and vehicles offered the advantage of making less noise – Big Red was described as “scarcely audible to the motorist” in a promotional brochure – and less vibration produced fewer emissions, less oil, and high torque and lower speeds. Company researchers had narrowed their focus to turbine use in large trucks.

The turbines’ high operating speed and temperature would ultimately make the engines unfeasible for automotive use, though. So after nearly 20 years of research, Ford began producing turbine-powered machines for heavy trucks, buses, and industrial and marine use in 1970. Still, supplier and technical issues ultimately killed Ford’s hopes for a turbine-producing venture in 1973. The company’s research on materials such as ceramics and high-temperature coatings did, however, help control emissions in the decades since.

Source & Images: Ford