It is hard to find a car that more perfectly encapsulates the wildcat spirit of 1950s and ‘60s sports car racing, or just the whole Speed Racer ethos altogether, quite like the Howmet TX. It’s a conventional racing chassis with a turbine engine meant for a military helicopter and taillights off a Ford family car.
We at Jalopnik write about the wonderful American Howmet every few years over and over again because every time you see it, the car still seems beyond belief.
Here’s how Mattijs Diepraam, one of the best automotive historians on the internet, gave a good short description of the car in his larger general history of the turbine-powered automobile we republished back in 2010:
The Howmet TX Continental sports car was conceived concurrently with the STP-Paxton Indy car, but made its debut one year later, as it was campaigned extensively in 1968. The original car, chassis 01, was built up from a McKee Can-Am car, with cars 02 and 03 specifically built for the turbine engines. The Continental TS325-1 helicopter engine, its calculated equivalent of 2958cc producing an approximate 330 hp, drew from a center-mounted fuel tank carrying 32 gallons of Jet A fuel.
It was designed for the FIA Group 6 3-litre prototype class through the sponsorship of the Howmet Corporation of America, a metal company working as a large subcontractor to the aircraft turbine industry. The man with the vision was sportscar racer-cum-engineer Ray Heppenstall, who convinced his racing pal Tom Fleming, a board member at Howmet, to start a publicity-gaining racing programme. As such the Howmet-Continental TX was entered for the World Sportscar Championship in the days it was still covering such glamorous events as the Daytona 24 Hrs, the Sebring 12 Hrs, the 6 Hr events at Brands and the Glen, the Targa Florio, the 1000 km events at the ‘Ring, Monza and Spa, and the Austrian Sportscar Grand Prix.
What made it something you could drive was the addition of a wastegate, greatly cutting down lag in acceleration. It makes sense if you think of it as a giant turbo sans internal combustion engine.
But the joy is seeing it as such an alternate history, whooshing where its fellow Lolas and Porsches it now shares track days with rumble and growl.