The advent of the jet age in the aftermath of the Second World War was also, unsurprisingly, a source of inspiration for automakers during that period. Apart from carmakers using these influences in design, American ones in particular like General Motors and Chrysler, developed turbine powered concepts to gauge buyer perception. A few European manufacturers also got in on the fad, the first being Rover with the JET1 from 1950. But a more interesting take on this concept was the Fiat Turbina from 1954. It also goes without saying that the Italians brought their signature flair for design and speed to this project as well.
The project took off in 1948 as the brainchild of Dante Giacosa, technical director of Fiat’s automobile arm at the time. He anticipated a run of innovation in the car world as fallout of the War and wanted to keep his firm prepared. The project was shrouded in secrecy to not garner unwanted attention or criticism. Giacosa got on board Vittorio Bellicardi, then in charge of technical calculations. They worked with a 3 man team to first extensively research this technology and garner enough capability to build everything in house. An automotive design only began by 1950, in an unused workshop at Fiat’s iconic Lingotto factory. Finally, by 1953, a working prototype of the turbine was made and the Fiat bosses agreed to fund the rest of the project.
Photo Credit: FCA
The Fiat Turbina’s poweplant was unique in that it was a three turbine set up. These were mid-mounted in the chassis and consisted of two small ones acting as a compressor and feeding air to the third larger one which then powered the wheels via a system of gears. The engine produced 295 hp at an almost unbelievable 22,000 rpm. This gave the Turbina a top speed of 250 kmph (155mph), pretty much in the territory of contemporary Ferraris. The chassis was a multi-tube steel spaceframe reminiscent of Cisitalia sports cars from the 1940s. The suspension was an independent parallel wishbone set up from the concurrently under development Fiat 8V sports car. The body design was assigned to Fabio Luigi Rapi who created a good looking two seater coupe. The design used influnences from his earlier works and some Ferraris, but the main aim was aerodynamic efficiency. The Fiat Turbina easily met this brief with a drag co-efficient of 0.14. A figure which wouldn’t be matched until 1984.
The Fiat Turbina was eventually unveiled at the Turin Motor Show in 1954, technically becoming the first turbine car to have been shown to the public in Europe. It made a few appearances at various racetracks over the next few years and was also tested on the iconic rooftop track at Lingotto, but was never entered for any record attempts as those were becoming increasingly risky endeavours.
The Turbina, like all its other turbine powered counterparts, never really made it to the mainstream. The tech was expensive and unreliable and the cars were horrendous with their fuel economy. All of this meant that the Fiat Turbina and its counterparts were soon relegated to the pages of automotive history. These cars were a unique showcase of the ingenuity of the engineering world at the time, but never really stood a chance against their more practical internal combustion engine counterparts. Image Sources: Fiat, AutoWP