Preparing for takeoff - 1968 Howmet TX
Calling this whole adventure a gamble is an understatement...
By the time The Beetles and The Rolling Stones became world-famous and unorthodox bands, cars were beginning to become just as interesting as the people of that time. You could imagine long hair and tie-die clothing sitting in every single divers seat known. And that is just what's on the road.
Motorsport was reaching a great golden age all throughout the world. America had taken its first Le Mans win, the WRC faced much harder and more skilled competition, and even a small racing series in Britain, known as the BTCC was really starting to flex their biceps enough that more and more of a variety of cars, companies, and countries, started to take the series as their own. The 1960's brought us growth, evolution, and variety that we may never get to experience again.
The British Touring Car Championship had seen an exponential growth leading well into the 1970's. Credit - Autocar
However, even more than the BTCC in the later years of the 1960s, there was even more of a rise in endurance racing and most importantly: Le Mans. The Ford GT40s showed Ferrari who was boss, ending the dominant rule of the red stallions. Hope was restored, and racing became one of the most action-pact and interesting sports once again. People would do anything to take part. Literally anything.
Meet the Howmet TX, one of the most obscure yet very interesting cars to have ever raced the great circuits of the world.
What makes the Howmet TX interesting in not the Cortina taillights or its anorexic body size. As a matter of fact, you barely even recognize these because when you look closely, you will find three of the four smoke stacks from the Titanic sticking out of the back like the Empire State Building in the middle of a field. Those three large and not very environmentally healthy pipes release all of the byproduct of... a turbine engine!
That's right, what makes the Howmet "Turbine Experimental" so unique is that sitting right in front of the rear axle and taking the place of the rear window is a gas-turbine engine taken out of a helicopter! How cool is that!
Racing this car at the time was not easy. Due to the high-revving attitude of the engine, it was very easy to get up to speed, but quite a bit more difficult slowing it down again. After all, it revs to a whopping 65,000 RPM. Not 6,500 but 65,000! If we saw that kind of thing in racing today, let's just say Formula 1 would get much more interesting.
Anyway, because the Howmet is as feisty as your neighbors annoying Chihuahua, the throttle and engine assembly had to be reduced to 80% of it's full power. And when your racing again GT40s, Ferrari P4s, and even Porsche 917s, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Yes I know, strapping a helicopter engine onto a small and nimble car like this doesn't really sound safe, but all worked out in the end. But we are nowhere near the end yet, so let's just keep on moving along.
As I said earlier, it is a lot of work dealing with a thing like this. Even starting the car up is no simple task. Unlike other cars where you flip a few switches and might turn a key here and there, the Howmet TX needs its behind jacked up in order to let the turbine get up to speed. Then, you flip your usual switches and a little bit of Greta-friendly black smoke escapes those massive circles wrapped in metal and boom, you are on the move.
As a car, it was very unusual. However, once you were able to get it going and start racking up lap times, it was now unusually tame. The only real difference was that it had a one-speed transmission and no clutch, meaning that all you would do was pound the left petal, squeeze the brake on the right, and turn, all in that order. Pretty cool if you ask me.
Although you might be thinking at this point that this was all just a giant recipe for disaster, let me tell you that this is the only gas-turbine car to have ever won a race. All of that wining from the engine and fear that you are being attacked by a plane went to good use, as this actually won a race. If only we could see a variety of winners today.
All in all, this American underdog and Speed Racer look-a-like is truly a masterpiece, and pretty one at that. I guess you could say that it is kind of like owning a dog in a way because even though it is a pain to deal with most of the time, it will reward you time and time again, and it starts to win over your heart.
Four Howmet experiments mere made, and four survive today. They may have slight variations underneath that painfully beautiful bodywork, but they still share that truly amazing turbine engine. And of course, they also shared those Cortina taillights too.