The Jet-Powered Shelby You've Never Heard Of
What you’re looking at is the ultimate automotive paradox. It is arguably the most ridiculously advanced Shelby ever made—an all wheel drive, jet-powered Indy Car—and it’s also the least successful Shelby, and that includes a run of odd and misunderstood Dodges in the 1980s. It’s simply known as the 1968 Shelby Turbine Indy Car, and it’s going up for auction this summer.
In the late 1960s, several racing teams experimented with using a turbine to power their cars, and a turbine car nearly won the Indy 500 in ‘67. The guy who designed that car approached Carroll Shelby on the premise that if they joined forces, they could be unstoppable. Ever the salesman, Shelby procured enough sponsorship to grab a couple GE T58 turbine engines—1,325 hp monsters that generally saw duty in large helicopters.
The turbine is so huge that the only place it properly fits is on the side of the car, next to the driver. It’s then mated to an innovative, all-wheel drive system that helps the car put all that power down without spinning off into a wall.
The car had such promise that they managed to sign reigning Formula One World Champion Denny Hulme and general badass Bruce McLaren to drive the cars, even though all that separated the driver from the wall at 200 mph was a thin strip of metal. This would have been McLaren’s car if it had ever raced in competition.
In the end, however, it didn’t race. The sanctioning body of the Indy 500 was concerned that turbine-powered cars would dominate those with traditional engines, so it introduced rules such as much smaller intakes to severely limit the turbines’ power.
The car’s designer decided to circumvent the rules with a variable air-intake at the nose of the car. Shelby’s chief engineer learned about the illegal nose and quit, so as to save his own reputation, and Carroll withdrew the cars immediately.