1962-1963 Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire's Turbocharger
On April 16, 1961, Oldsmobile added what would come to be the 1962 Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire's predecessor -- an F-85 Cutlass coupe with bucket seats and a luxury interior -- as its response to growing demand for sporty compacts like Chevrolet's Corvair Monza. For 1962, the Cutlass coupe and its new convertible companion got the 185-horse V-8, but halfway through the model year, Oldsmobile had a bigger surprise on tap.
Placed on sale in April 1962, the Jetfire two-door hardtop -- based on the F-85 Cutlass -- held a turbo-boosted edition of the 215-cid V-8 good for 215 bhp at 4600 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque at 3200 revs. That figure of one horsepower per cubic inch, first achieved in 1956 by the Chrysler 300-B, was a nearly magical number to enthusiasts at the time.
A turbocharger boosts the strength of the air-fuel mixture as a way to get more power out of a given engine without increasing its size. So does a supercharger, albeit via a different power source. Essentially, a turbocharger is a shaft with turbine impellers at each end. As exhaust pressure is directed against one impeller, it begins to spin. Meanwhile, the other impeller draws in air, sending it via centrifugal force into the intake manifold. This process boosts air pressure and forcefully feeds the fuel-air mixture into the engine for better combustion.
Turbocharging wasn't a new idea in 1962. Its history dates back to the early twentieth century. In 1905, according to Canadian historian Bill Vance, a Swiss engineer named Alfred Buchi patented an exhaust-driven supercharger for use on diesel engines.
As World War I brewed, General Electric and other U.S. companies were working on turbos for aircraft. GE's Dr. Sanford Moss, later named "father of the turbocharger," put a GE turbo on a V-12 Liberty aircraft engine. In high-altitude testing, it showed a dramatic power boost. After proving their worth in the Great War, turbocharged engines saw extensive use on World War II fighter planes.
Bentley and Bugatti made early use of superchargers in cars. In the U.S., makes such as Cord, Duesenberg, and Graham also used "blowers" prior to World War II, and several others resorted to them in the 1950s.
If turbochargers presented a bigger mystery to American enthusiasts in 1962, at least they would get a crash course in them. Anticipating a lack of understanding of turbos, Olds used the special Jetfire promotional folder to teach as much as to sell; a cutaway drawing explained the flow of intake and exhaust gases and a Q-and-A section tackled questions a prospective buyer might raise about the turbocharger's operation.
A month or so after the Jetfire's debut, Chevrolet launched the Monza Spyder with a turbo version of the Corvair's air-cooled flat six, also generating one horsepower per cubic inch. (Historically, then, the Jetfire is the first volume-production turbo car in America.)
In the next section, learn how Oldsmobile's team of engineers developed the Jetfire's turbocharger.