The Howmet TX Turbine Car. It looks like an endurance Racer. Sounds like the Batmobile. When I watched the video, I smiled for 5 minutes. The sound!
Text from the Ascott Collection.
An emblematic car
The Howmet TX is powered by a helicopter turbine. Only two examples were built by the Bob McKee and Ray Heppenstall partnership, to compete in the 1968 endurance world championship season. One of the Howmet TX’s major technical innovations was the command system for managing the exhaust gases (waste-gates), designed to provide instantaneous response in both acceleration and braking phases.
The turbine produces 400 HP for a total car weight of 750 kg—a heck of an advantage to help rival with the toughest competitors. The Howmet TX is one of that elite club of American sports cars which have managed to shake up the order otherwise established by European constructors such as Ferrari or Porsche. Just as the Chaparrals (which it shares a certain family resemblance with), and the Ford GT40s did, the Howmet TX has marked our memories. Those of us who have seen it in action will always remember the highly distinctive sound of its engine and the unique smell of kerosene fanning out behind it as it went by.
A first-rate race record
In 1968, this unique car joined the starting line at several endurance races such as the Daytona 24 hours, the Sebring 12 hours, the Brands Hatch 500 BOAC and the Le Mans 24 hours races. It is the only turbine-powered car ever to have won a race. In 1970, it also set a number of speed records.
A complex restoration operation
The car was imported to France from Missouri (USA) by Xavier Micheron in 2005. It was then subjected to a major restoration operation. The main problem was that the turbine driving the car was not fitted out with the precious power management system which was the Howmet TX’s hallmark. Without this system, the car would have been simply undriveable in a classic race. A laborious task of research and documentation then began. For since the father of this innovation, Ray Heppenstall, was no longer alive, it thereby became necessary to contact many different people in the United States and Europe to gather together the requisite knowledge and know-how on the subject; which proved to be a difficult exercise since the technology involved had long since fallen into oblivion.
Thanks to our encounters with enthusiasts still skilled in the requisite art and by dint of sheer tenacity, the turbine’s restoration was finally completed two years after it began. The job was especially tricky, since it was extremely difficult to persuade a firm with expertise in the field of helicopter turbines to agree to modify a turbine to the considerable extent required. For to recreate the original exhaust gases management system, it was necessary to perforate the turbine casing and a number of inside parts and then to graft on to them exhaust pipes fitted with waste-gates—in other words, a whole series of operations which nobody was prepared to undertake. A turbine rotates extremely fast (57,000 revolutions a minute) and even the slightest malfunction can have disastrous consequences.
A fine adventure at both human and technical levels
This outstanding car would never have got back onto the track if we had not met Olivier Richez, a specialist in helicopter engine maintenance and vintage car enthusiast. The running of the car (chassis, race assistance, etc.) was entrusted to the Crubilé Sport company. Jacques and Sébastien Crubilé did a remarkable job in enhancing the reliability of this oh so special car, thereby enabling it to compete in numerous races.
A successful return to the race-track
The Howmet TX’s restoration was thus a superb adventure peppered with new encounters and friendships, and finally crowned with success: In 2008, the Howmet TX joined the starting grid at the Le Mans Classic and thus, 40 years on, was able to race once more on the legendary Le Mans 24 hours circuit. It was Xavier Micheron who drove it down the famous Hunaudières straight at its top speed of 310 km/h.
It subsequently competed in numerous historic races, including the Le Mans Classic in 2010 and 2012 and the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where it had a standing invitation for each year’s event.
It has recently joined the highly prestigious GULF car collection which brings together the cars which were once sponsored by the famous company and its iconic blue and orange racing livery. For, noblesse oblige, the Howmet TX proudly sported the GULF colors on its side when it originally raced in Europe.