Skip to comments.VIDEO: The Demented Rocket-Propelled Genius Of Turbonique (Rocket powered VW, Ford Galaxy)
Posted on 03/08/2010 12:39:58 PM PST by Reaganesque
Get old-time hot-rodders together and utter the name "Turbonique." The entire conversation will shift to legends and half-truths of the '60s company supposedly created by NASA subcontractors to create a consumer market for rocket technology. Now there's video.
Turbonique Inc. was established in Orlando in 1962 as a mail-order speed parts company producing some of the most amazingly insane automotive upgrades ever to see the light of day. Iowahawk called the company "The Real Acme," and he's probably right. He says
...mere mention of the name "Turbonique" still inspires a shudder of awe among drag racing enthusiast, the company's principle target market. Even in the Wild West atmosphere of 1960s drag racing, Its products represented the zenith of no-compromise, crazyass crazy. Recall Acme, that enigmatic mail order purveyor of catapults and jet skates to cartoon coyotes? Pikers, compared to Turbonique.
The company's product line consisted of merely three items: "AP superchargers," "rocket drag axles," and "microturbo thrust engines." All three employed the same basic rocket technology, each just one rung up the ladder of insanity from the other. The key difference? Thermolene monopropellant fuel. Hot Rod magazine explains:
The term monopropellant describes a fuel that will ignite and burn without the presence of atmospheric oxygen. As a point of comparison, the nitromethane used in Top Fuel dragsters is a semi-monopropellant. It requires a little outside oxygen for complete combustion, but only a small fraction of what is required to burn gasoline, alcohol, or kerosene. Most gas turbines run on petroleum-based fuels that require plenty of air to support combustion. They take in atmospheric air at the front and compress it to a high temperature and pressure. Fuel is then sprayed into this hot air, which ignites, creating the high-pressure gases that drive the turbine wheel and make torque. The problem is that a typical air-breathing gas turbine uses over half of its total turbine power to drive the compressor. Turbonique engineers sidestepped the problem and simply replaced the weighty, expensive, and inefficient compressor with a high-pressure storage bottle containing Normal Propyl Nitrate (Thermolene), a stable, milk-white liquid fuel that brings its own oxygen to the party and that moves the engine into the category of a rocket because it can run without the benefit of atmospheric oxygen. When the Thermolene is introduced to the combustion chamber at 600 psi and ignited by a glorified spark plug connected to an on/off switch, the immediate result is an intense release of hot gases to spin the turbine blades. Anti-swirl turbine wheel vanes prevented flames from exiting the tailpipe, but a special wheel was optional for "spectacular flaming night runs."
"This is so ridiculously awesome," were the words delivered in a quiet whisper when we first saw these videos procured by the boys at Bangshift. We've seen Turbonique products before on cars like the lustworthy Rocket Drag Axle equipped 1964 Ford Galaxie 500, but we never thought there was actual video of these things in action. Naturally we assumed anyone involved in racing or filming this stuff would've been consumed in a tremendous conflagration of Thermolene, but such is not the case.
These two videos contain an explanation of the Turbonique system and silent footage of probably one of the most legendary drag races associated with Turbonique: "The Black Widow," a VW Beetle equipped with a Rocket Drag Axle, up against "Showboat," Tommy Ivo's unbelievable quadruple Buick-engined dragster.
But that's not all!
How about a rocket-powered, propeller driven go-kart or a quick-change rocket-powered supercharger sucking fuel through a giant carb and dumping it into an otherwise stock Barracuda? No? How about a tiny rocket powered boat? Rocket powered hovering platform? All were a possibility thanks to the same space-age know-how that gave us astronaut ice cream.
So what happened to Turbonique? Hot Rod continues:
But as many users quickly discovered, there was too much power [in Thermolene-fueled dragsters]. Extreme tire spin (even on the best slicks of the day) made Drag Axle-equipped cars difficult to control. Full-quarter-mile smoke shows with impressive trap speeds, but mediocre elapsed times were the rule, not the exception.
Regardless of whether Turbonique was onto something big or not, it all came to an end in the early '70s. Though efforts to contact company founder Gene Middlebrooks for comment were fruitless, persistent, but unconfirmed, rumblings about allegations of mail fraud and prison terms keep surfacing as a sad postscript to the Turbonique saga.
These men were truly giants, and the world is a colder place without them.
Honestly, I had never heard of Turbonique until I read this story. Too cool by half! For the life of me though, I cannot imagine anyone stupid enough to sit down in a go-kart and taking it to 253mph. LOL! Very, very cool stuff!
Here's a picture of the Rocket Drag Axle equipped 1964 Ford Galaxie 500:
I saw a match race with a car equipped with one of these at the old Lyons Dragstrip back in the early 70’s.
As the article said, too much wheel spin to be practical for the time.
Impressive as hell to watch however.
That looks more like a Chevy Nova or Malibu than a Galaxie.
Now all we need is a bunch of gummint subsidies to make “Bio-Thermolene” out of recycled cellphone batteries or something...
Something tells me tork had sumptin to do with this.
I think the photo is a 65 Chevelle. The Galaxy is the car that is for sale.
This came along after my time on the strip but I question the wisdom of doing a 1,500 HP burnout with the front wheels turned hard left...
Awwww c’mon. No guts...no glory. LOl
Actually I was racing my 1965 Tri-Power GTO in 65 66 and 67. There were four of them on eBay over the weekend and I don’t think any met the minimum bid. One was up to $34,500
I got a buddy with a basement full of old goat parts. He says it’s his retirement package.
Getten sie uber hier.
That is sweeeet.
Lyons Drag Strip? Was that the one in Long Beach, just off Wardlow I think it was ? Grew up real close to there.
The one and only !
I don’t think you’re supposed to turn left in drag racing or that’s what a friend told me after he put is Firebird into the concrete wall.
Thanks for the ping, Marty. I was SO excited to see the Turbonique story on Jalop the other day!
I have been following this since Iowahawk wrote a couple of pieces on the company and his quest to find surviving equipment. Totally bad ass!
Thanks for posting this, too, Reaganesque! I would have posted it, but I was under the weather on Monday.
I agree with you—that is a GM body, not a Ford Galaxie.
The flat dual headlight grille in the front and the square rear taillights make the 1965 Chevelle the best candidate.
The Galaxie 500 had a severe roof angle in the rear and large round tailights, and a rear with rounded edges.
Aside from that, the article was news to me as well. I remember the Chrysler Turbo cars from 1962 or so that were going to revolutionize automobiles.
So, I was really excited to see this story on Jalopnik the other day!