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
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.