The Turbine "Slingshot"

"WHATEVER YOU DO...DON'T LET GO OF THE BUTTON"

As you may recall from our various posts regarding the quest to mass produce cars powered by turbine engines, these new power plants were the "hot ticket", They were capturing the public's attention and fueling their imagination. And even though they were problematic, got terrible fuel economy and never reached full production status, it is doubtful that any automotive enthusiast would ever walk away from the opportunity to drive one of the remaining examples.

OUT OF OBSCURITY

One of these cars, the 1950 turbine powered Rover, is nowhere near as well known as the ones produced by GM and Chrysler, yet there are other examples even more obscure. In our quest of Preserving Automotive History...One Car at a Time®, we present the "US Turbine-1"

17,000 RPM IN 7 TENTHS of a SECOND

The characteristics of turbine engines installed in concept and production prototypes operated in a very "jet-like" way. Similar to pulling back on the throttle, stepping on the accelerator pedal caused the engine to rev higher thereby propelling the car. It was a very predictable process. But unlike jet aircraft or rocket propelled cars, the turbine's power was not used to push the car forward. The power of the spinning engine was fed to a transmission to move the car forward or backward. 

One of the early issues with turbine cars was the amount of time it took for the engine to rev high enough to operate the drive train. It was noted as a totally unacceptable condition. Fine for planes, not for cars, especially those used in drag racing. 

The US Turbine-1 was built by Frank Huszar and Doug Kruse. (We found some references to Busby Racing, but were unable to clarify if that is what the above team later became or if they were employees of Busby.) Its design was bold and clean. Custom painted red, white and blue by master artist Bill Carter. Power came from a compact 85 lb turbine engine. Unlike the production turbines that ran almost any type of combustible fuel, US Turbine-1 ran on a mixture of oxygen, propel nitrate and nitrogen.  
Many people believe the car was rocket powered, meaning the wheels were not engaged with a drivetrain. That is not accurate.

NO GUTS, NO GLORY

One of the issues with this car was its insane level of power to the wheels and acceleration. Unlike a conventional slingshot, there was no staging or burnouts. The car was pushed to the line, the lights counted down, and green meant "push in the button and do not let go". When that happened, the turbine ignited and spun up to 17,000 RPM in seven tenths of a second, launching the car forward as if shot out of a cannon, the slicks being spun so fast they laid a trail of rubber the full length of the run.

The problem was that no one had the skill or guts to run it full out, instead lifting their finger off the button about halfway down the track. It was being crated up for shipment to the Smithsonian, when George Hutcheson, a machinist at the shop declared he could bring the car back to life, run it at full power and for the entire quarter-mile. At first nobody believed him. 

IF ANYONE CAN DO IT, IT WOULD BE YOU

About a week later, the car's owner "Fling" Taylor called. They spoke about the previous seven drivers who had failed. Hutcheson was not intimidated by the challenge. Taylor agreed to give him one chance to figure out what went wrong, fix it and pilot the car as intended. He agreed and the car was shipped to his garage. After examining every component on the car and becoming well versed in the operation of the turbine's systems, he called Taylor.
"There is nothing wrong with the car", he declared. The failures are the result of the previous drivers lack of skill and courage to drive it. Hutcheson was more than a machinist. He and his drag race car were known as "Stone Age Man", which had a long-lived reputation of winning. Yet despite his confidence in his own skill and courage, he practiced "dry runs" while in the car and suited up to imprint each run and every step of of operations to his subconscious mind.

ARE YOU STILL GOING TO DRIVE THIS THING? 
When Hutcheson was ready, Taylor rented Lyons Dragstrip for the day along with the mandatory ambulance crew. The dragster was rolled into the staging area.The bottled fuel and car was inspected from nose to tail. Taylor reminded Hutcheson what the turbine dragster would do after the 'switch' was thrown. CJ Hart, Lions Raceway manager and the ambulance crew listened over the shoulders of Fling and Hutcheson as they talked.

"After you hit the switch there is going to be a big explosion and thirty feet of flame shoots out the back as full power is transferred to the back wheels. Hold on and don't let off the switch because it will shut down the engine, you wont be able to restart once it is shut off." Taylor explained. 

The ambulance driver asked,"You still going to drive this thing?" Hutcheson answered confidently, "Yes, I will". Hutcheson gave the ambulance personnel instructions on how to shut off the gas after removing the top nose cover, if anything happened or it crashed. The person responding said, "Your nuts if you think I'll get anywhere near that thing" The first run was what is known as a half pass. Very simply, run the car to the half-track point and shut it down. It was required as a safety measure and a track rule.

START THE TIMER

When the green light illuminated, the turbine engine shot out a twenty foot long flame, white smoke encircled the big Goodyear slicks as the front end jumped up wards, track owner CJ Hart thought,"That's a gold mine", Taylor prayed, "Go George, go", the ambulance drivers shouted, "Holy shit" and Hutcheson almost forgot to let up at the half way mark.

THE REST IS HISTORY

Hutcheson and the US Turbine-1 went on to enjoy a long and fruitful exhibition class racing career. We found the following video which uncovered a few more answers. We kept finding references to Hutcheson's helmet having a plume on top. We kept thinking "a what?". The video answers all. Enjoy.

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