JET POWER AT LE MANS

As de­tailed in our Ki­wis at Le Mans fea­ture, ear­lier this month Porsche scored its 17th out­right Le Mans 24 Hours Race vic­tory with a 919 Hy­brid. Trevor Collins, now res­i­dent in New Zealand but once part of the in­no­va­tive Rover Gas Tur­bine group, re­mem­ber

New Zealand Classic Car - - Special Feature - Words: Allan Wal­ton Photos supplied by: Trevor Collins

Although most will have heard of JET 1 — the gas tur­bine–pow­ered ver­sion of Rover’s ven­er­a­ble P4 — few are aware that Rover’s in­volve­ment with the Whit­tle jet en­gine dates all the way back the early ’40s, when Mau­rice Wilks and his team at Rover first be­gan work on the W2B turbo-jet. Although the Bri­tish Min­istry of Air­craft Pro­duc­tion–spon­sored jet pro­ject was taken over by Rolls-royce in early 1943, Rover per­sisted with its de­vel­op­ment of the gas tur­bine en­gine, the even­tual aim be­ing a se­ries of road cars. Although that idea ul­ti­mately proved un­suc­cess­ful, un­der the aus­pices of the Rover Gas Tur­bine group (es­tab­lished in 1953), Rover con­tin­ued to pro­duce en­gines for many years — the group be­com­ing part of Bri­tish Ley­land in 1967, where Rover-de­vel­oped gas tur­bine en­gines would find a place in trucks and Bri­tish Rail’s APT-E, an ex­per­i­men­tal train that ran four Rover-built gas tur­bines and was first tested in 1972. The high-speed APT-E was able to reach speeds of around 250kph.

Mo­tor-sport fans, how­ever, will prob­a­bly best re­mem­ber the Rover-brm that ran at Le Mans in 1963 and 1965. Although he never got to watch the cars com­pet­ing at Le Mans, Rover Gas Tur­bine group mem­ber, Trevor Collins — now res­i­dent in New Zealand — re­mem­bers the se­quence of events very well.

Rover and Le Mans

A Rover gas tur­bine–pow­ered car first ap­peared at Le Mans in 1962, when the Rover T4 com­pleted a lap of hon­our prior to that year’s 24-hour race. Sev­eral months later, in Novem­ber 1962, Rover em­barked on a new pro­ject.

A spe­cial prize of 250,000 francs was be­ing of­fered by the or­ga­niz­ers of the Le Mans 24 Hours for any gas tur­bine–pow­ered car that could com­plete a min­i­mum of 3600km dur­ing the course of the race. As such, the plan was to join up with Ru­bery Owen, the com­pany that owned BRM, to pro­duce a gas tur­bine car for the 1963 Le Mans race.

With a chas­sis de­rived from the con­tem­po­rary BRM F1 car, the even­tual Rover-brm came to­gether very quickly. The gas tur­bine — which would run on paraf­fin, idle at 28,000rpm and spin up to 55,000rpm at load — was built at Soli­hull by a team headed up by Noel Penny and in­clud­ing Mark Barnard, Peter Candy, Fred Court and Ge­orge Perry.

A larger 218-litre (48-gallon) fuel tank was al­lowed for tur­bine-equipped cars rather than the 109-litre tanks re­quired for more con­ven­tional petrol-pow­ered cars. And, as the Rover-brm would not of­fi­cially be a com­peti­tor, it was al­lo­cated the num­ber ‘00’ for the race.

Sub­se­quent test-bed run­ning of the en­gine at Soli­hull sim­u­lated 24 hours run­ning at Le Mans, while wind­tun­nel test­ing of the car’s even­tual body was con­ducted at MIRA.

Dur­ing this time the two driv­ers con­tracted to race the Rover-brm at Le Mans — Graham Hill and Richie Ginther — were given the op­por­tu­nity to test the T3 and T4 Rover jet cars in or­der to bet­ter un­der­stand the unique char­ac­ter­is­tics of these tur­binepow­ered rac­ers. Re­port­edly, Hill was none too happy with the Rovers, no doubt pre­fer­ring to have been rac­ing a Fer­rari at Le Mans.

It’s in­ter­est­ing to note that at one MIRA test ses­sion the Rover-brm reached a top speed of 237kph (147mph), and lapped at a sim­i­lar time to the light­weight E-type that was be­ing tested on the same day by famed Jaguar test-driver Nor­man Dewis.

Le Mans 1963

Peter Candy kept a record of those days in late March and early April 1963, in the lead up to Le Mans.

Car run on the Soli­hill test track – en­gine ran roughly as the dif­fuser bolts has sheared. En­gine changed and we ran on the track late that night.

Car taken to MIRA, driven by my­self, Mark Barnard, Hill and Ginther.

Ar­gentina, while the Uruguayan Ameysa had glass-fi­bre bod­ies ini­tially to save on tool­ing costs, though con­ven­tional steel pan­els were used from 1981. The Con­dor ini­tially had the Chevette slope-back nose treat­ment with re­cessed head­lights.

4. The other ori­en­tal off­shoots of the Chevette not men­tioned in the ar­ti­cle are the Sae­han Gemini and Dae­woo Maepsy, which were the South Korean ver­sions of the first gen­er­a­tion GM T car and sold solely as a four-door saloon.

5. Another vari­ant not touched on in the ar­ti­cle is the Buick Opel, es­sen­tially an Isuzu Gemini im­ported to the US and sold through the Buick dealer net­work to re­place Ger­man­sourced Opels at a time when the Ger­man mark was rapidly ap­pre­ci­at­ing.

6. While the T-car pro­gramme spawned many body styles — two- and four-door sa­loons, a fast­back coupé, three- and five­door hatches, three-door win­dow and panel vans and even a T-top cabri­o­let, there was a lit­tle-known ute as well. This was sold in Korea as the Sae­han/ Dae­woo Max and in Uruguay as the Con­dor Ute that was later ex­ported to Ecuador as the Chevro­let Cargo (take that, Ford!).

7. The first Vaux­hall Chevettes used the same head­light units as the HB and HC Viva sans the park­ing-light globe, which was rel­e­gated to be­neath the front bumper next to the in­di­ca­tors. Although un­ver­i­fied, one rea­son for the flush-light look that came with the facelift was that the scoops in front of the head­lights tended to ac­cu­mu­late snow, ren­der­ing the lights use­less in win­ter. The other was for Vaux­hall to give the Chevette a look more akin to its larger sib­ling, the Cava­lier MKI, de­rived from the Opel As­cona B.

8. Although the Vaux­hall name was pulled from con­ti­nen­tal Europe in 1979, the Chevette hatch was im­ported to fill a void left when the front-wheel-drive Opel Kadett D was launched. It was sold through the Opel net­work as a price leader, and had the op­tion of au­to­matic trans­mis­sion too (a fea­ture that was de­layed on the Kadett D). These Chevettes were never branded Opels and lost all Vaux­hall iden­ti­fi­ca­tion on the out­side, be­ing badged merely as Chevette.

9. Another mar­ket that re­ceived the Chevette af­ter the Vaux­hall name was pulled out from GM’S in­ter­na­tional mar­ket­ing ef­forts was Mau­ri­tius, where the car was known as Chevette as in con­ti­nen­tal Europe.

10. The Chevette hatch body press­ings were ex­ported to Opel for their ver­sion called the Kadett City, which used Kadett pow­er­trains rather than the Vaux­hall mill.

11. The Chevette was res­ur­rected from 1992 to 1995 as the GMC Chevette in Ar­gentina! This was es­sen­tially to al­low Re­nault to sell a small pas­sen­ger car in that mar­ket, which GM had pulled out of in 1978 in ex­change for Re­nault Trafic vans built in Ar­gentina to be ex­ported to Brazil as Chevro­let Trafics.

Af­ter all the above, you must be glad for my fi­nal com­ment re­gard­ing the South African Ford Capri Per­ana. GM had an an­swer to this in the form of the Chevro­let Firenza Canam — a lim­ited run of 100 Firenza coupés (that started life as Vaux­hall Firen­zas) which had Chevy V8s stuffed into them. It would be in­ter­est­ing to see if there are any on NZ soil.

For 1964, a new closed coupé body was de­signed for the RoverBRM by Wil­liam Towns The Rover-brm’s gas tur­bine laid bare

In its fi­nal form, large pods were fit­ted to the car’s rear in­takes to im­prove air­flow

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