If you are like most of us, when you think of the Rover Corporation you probably think of a venerable British automobile manufacturer best known for their Land Rover and Range Rover vehicles. What you probably don’t associate Rover with is cutting edge racing technology. In this article, we will look at one of the wilder things developed by Rover: a gas-turbine engine built for both general transportation and the racing community.
Back almost 100 years ago, Rover was a British carmaker known for making fine saloon cars. Since the mid-1950s, though, the brand was bought and sold several times. In the 1940s, Rover became part of the British Leyland empire, who eventually passed into the hands of British Aerospace, and then to BMW. In fact, the folks at Land Rover North Dade explained to us that anyone who wonders why the BMW 1-series has such unusual styling cues, you are looking at the vestiges of an early Rover design that never made it into production.
The JET prototype
One of Rover’s contributions to war production during WWII had been gas turbine engines installed in the first generation of British jet aircraft. After the war, as part of their transition to peacetime production, they began to look into non-military applications for their technology. The result was the first-ever gas turbine car which was released in 1950. The JET1 was nothing special to look at, just an ordinary sedan. However, people took notice in 1952 when the JET1 became the first holder of the world speed record for a gas turbine-powered car with a speed of 152.691 MPH.
Followed by Others
The JET1 was soon followed by a series of other jet-powered prototypes culminating in 1956’s T3 sports coupe, and 1961’s T4 executive saloon car. There was also an experimental BMC truck that was fitted with the jet engine. However, it was not only prototypes for production cars with gas turbines that came from Rover for in 1963 they put their gas turbine into a BRM racing chassis and entered it into the Le Mans 24 hour endurance race. It raced in the 1964 and 1965 seasons.
The Program was Abandoned
Unfortunately, the technical difficulties of the JET1 engine were never fully overcome. The increasing cost of fuel made gas turbine cars uneconomic to run, and meanwhile, by the 1960s, the piston engine had improved so much that it continued to be used. The bottom line? The civilian Rover vehicles never received their gas turbines, and the entire program was abandoned.
Now Appearing at Car Shows
Today all the surviving JET1 cars are in museums, the JET1 prototype in the Science Museum in London, and the T3, T4, and Rover-BRM racing car at the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon. The truck survives in private hands, having been restored, and is a regular sight at summertime shows.