Cars

The Jet-Powered Race Car You Never Knew Existed Is For Sale

Let's cut straight to the chase: the Howmet TX is one of the coolest, most futuristic, and downright scary race cars ever conceived. In lieu of a traditional engine, it features an experimental turbine developed by a defense contractor for military helicopters. The car was built to go toe to toe with the likes of GT40s and Porsche 907s, and it actually took multiple wins and pole positions in 1968— the only year in which it competed—before setting several landspeed records.

Only two were ever built as part of a publicity campaign by jet engine manufacturer Howmet (hence the name: Howmet Turbine eXperimental), and the one you're looking at is for sale.

The late 1960s produced some of the most futuristic looking race cars ever to hit a race track (the Lola T70 famously featured in the sci fi classic THX 1138, for example), and the Howmet TX is certainly among the finest in the looks department. Those gullwing doors more closely resemble the canopy of a fighter jet than a car, though that probably should be expected from a race car built by a defense contractor.

Inside, it really does look more like a helicopter cockpit than a race car, with enough different switches and gauges to confuse even a modern Formula One driver.

The turbine it uses can spin up to 57,000 rpm, which is eight to nine times faster than your car. Odd as it may sound, it produces just 350 hp, because the real advantage to the turbine is how compact it is: a normal internal combustion engine is downright clunky and heavy by comparison. As a result, the whole car only weighs 1650 lbs.

Get this, though: it doesn't use jet fuel. Or gasoline. Or some byproduct made from ground-up kittens. It's powered by the same kerosene you use for camping.

It also doesn't really have a normal transmission, per se. With 57,000 rpm to play with, a single gear is good enough for almost all of the car's acceleration needs. The result is an absolutely terrifyingly awesome car to experience if you're lucky enough to drive it. It's like racing around some of the best tracks on Earth in a jet aircraft.

Sadly, the car was relegated to the history books after just a single year of competition. It was undeniably quick, and to date remains the only turbine powered car to win a major race, but it suffered from the same teething issues that most prototype cars face at first. A series of minor mechanical gremlins ended a few races prematurely, while the single gear limited the car's top speed to just under 200 mph—a major disadvantage at some of the longer European tracks.

The team was working on several engineering solutions with an eye toward a seriously successful 1969 when Howmet's marketing team pulled the plug, putting an end to one of the coolest experiments in racing history.


Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor, and can be found on Twitter. He's had a long distance love affair with this car for years.