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Lot 240

1968 Howmet Turbine Race Car

  • Chassis no. 1

Sold for $264,000

330hp, Free-turbine TS325-1, compressor – one stage axial, one stage centrifugal, combustor – single annular, centrifugal fuel-injection, single forward speed transmission, tubular frame, fully independent four-wheel coil-spring suspension. Wheelbase: 93"

Throughout the past century of automotive progress the turbine engine was perceived as a possible alternative to the internal combustion engine. The two most famous American turbine programs are the Chrysler Turbine and the Andy Granatelli Paxton-STP Indy racers. Yet, the most successful and only race winning turbine cars ever built were neither of these two examples, but rather the lesser known, but significantly more important 1968 Howmet Turbine racing coupes.

The moving force behind the Howmet TX was racing driver and engineer Ray Heppenstall and his racing buddy Tom Fleming, vice president of marketing at Howmet. Howmet Corporation, a leader in the development and processing of metals in the US, was

sponsoring Heppenstall’s Ford Falcon Sprint. While running at Daytona in 1967 the two decided to build a turbine-powered race car. The Falcon went on to play a small, but important role in whole turbine story.

Heppenstall had built the Sprint himself – not Ford, which gave him and Howmet manufacturer status in racing, while the sponsorship connection would lead to

the required parts, engineering and funding. The two realized immediately they needed a smaller engine than those being used at Indy.

Heppenstall discovered Continental Aviation and Engineering Corporation; then a division of Ryan Aeronautical, had designed a small turbine engine a number of years back when they bid on a US military helicopter engine contract. At the time Continental Aviation and Engineering Corporation located in Detroit, Michigan, were the leading producers of gasoline turbine engines used by the military. The engines were commonly installed in both

manned and unmanned aircraft.

The contract had failed to materialize; so ten engines were left over from the development work. Initially the 1968 Howmet Turbine Race Car was known as the Howmet Experimental Turbine- Powered Car. It was powered by the Continental Aviation and Engineering experimental turbine engine using Union 76’s Pure Oil fuel and lubricants exclusively. The car would also be used to further test the Continental TS325-1 experimental turbine engine.

The unique powerplant weighed a mere 170 pounds, yet produced 330hp. Due to the relatively small size of the engine it could be fitted into a space a mere 39-inches long, 20-inches high and just 18-inches wide. The only real modification required to convert the helicopter turbine engine for race car use was to design a turbine wastegate.

A turbine wastegate allowed for a quick power response to help overcome a three-second acceleration lag problem. There was a similar deceleration turbine lag problem to solve to assist high speed braking, but Heppenstall overcame this problem adding a specially designed manifold with a butterfly valve. Operating on pure turbine jet fuel the gas generator speed was 57,500 rpm, while the turbine speed was 44,000 rpm; reduced at the output

shaft to 6,789 rpm. The transaxle turned the wheels at approximately 2,000 rpm.

When fitted in the 1430 lb. Howmet racing car speeds in excess of 180 mph were possible. Specially designed controls allowed for the car to perform much like any automatic transmission fitted vehicle. Howmet supplied the aluminum for the doors and some of the body, the titanium for the castings for brake assemblies and the engine’s turbine blades while Continental continually added mechanical support.

The original Howmet bearing chassis number one and the very car offered here was built based on a 1967 McKee Group 7/Can-Am car known as the Crosal Special. It featured a multi-tubular space frame construction with a fully independent, coil-spring suspension. The resulting 37-inch high Howmet TX was clothed in sleek, light aluminum and fiberglass bodywork and fitted with Halibrand cast-alloy wheels.

Although small, the Continental engine did not quite fit the FIA’s equivalency. The engine was actually 3.3-liters using the FIA formula, but being a former military project the drawings

were classified and when asked Heppenstall invited them to measure, they took his word for it. Thus, under the FIA engine equivalency formula the turbine-powered Howmet TX Coupe

was placed in the International Group 6, three-litre sports prototype class.

The Howmet was tested at Daytona by Heppenstall less than a year after the project had been given the go ahead. Since Union 76 was a sponsor Heppenstall stopped the high-speed test at 176mph. (Top speed was in excess of 180 mph.) Turbine race car history was made on June 9, 1968 when chassis number one, the remarkable Howmet TX, won the “Heart of Dixie” race in Huntsville, Alabama.

The following weekend the Howmet TX race car qualified for the pole position and won at the Marlboro 300 endurance race in Maryland. At Daytona, Florida that same year, a Howmet TX set a world speed record for a turbine-powered car on a closed-circuit with a top speed of 176.085mph. This beat the earlier record held by Parnelli Jones at Indy.

A second Howmet was built and the two finished third and twelfth overall at the Six Hours of Endurance at the Watkins Glen International Sports Car Manufacturers’ race with the third place Howmet also winning its Group 6 prototype class.

As well as two SCCA wins, the Howmet TXs also ran in Sebring, among other races in the US. In 1968 the Howmet TXs competed in the Manufacturer’s Championship in Europe. The final event of the 1968 season was the 24-Hours of Le Mans; the race had been postponed until September that year due to student riots. At the 24-Hours of Le Mans sadly chassis number one TX retired early with mechanical problems, while chassis number two crashed.

The racing program ended after Howmet was sold to Pechiney and Fleming left. The crash at Le Mans and the discouragement of racing authorities with their piston engine bias were also factors. Along with Heppenstall, the Howmet TX race cars were driven by Ed Lowther, Dick “The Flying Dentist” Thompson, Jo Sieffert, Hans Herrmann, Hugh Dibley, Bob Tullius, Bob Johnson, Bruce Jennings, Michael Reed and others.

Meanwhile and despite the poor showing at Le Mans, Heppenstall rebuilt the crashed TX in open spyder configuration and went on to set six more turbine speed records in 1970. Ray Heppenstall made nearly two-dozen television appearances in one year proclaiming the virtues of the Howmet TX, but in the end the corporation sold both cars to him for one dollar in 1971.

Three years later, enthusiast and collector Jim Brucker bought the original record breaking Howmet TX at an auction in Pennsylvania. The second Howmet TX exists today in rebuilt form only, while a third replica car was built by McKee using a spare chassis and a non-original Allison turbine. Apart from being repainted once in its original livery the first Howmet TX race car remains in timewarp condition and still retains its original interior.

No changes in specifications have been made and the Continental TS325-1 engine remains. Included in the sale are spare engine parts that were also purchased and saved by Jim Brucker. While not in running condition, it is thought the Howmet is missing only its combustion chamber and compressor however otherwise is entirely complete.

A fully restored/refurbished Howmet TX would be a welcomed star in vintage racing circles and due to its 1968 international season of World Championship racing – including its appearance at the 24-Hours of Le Mans, is eligible for the retrospective races of that legendary event.

Also included in the sale of this historically important Howmet are many of the original Continental Aviation and Engineering Corporation build sheets as well as many other original

documents. The opportunity to purchase this completely untouched, timewarp example of racing history marks a rare one indeed as chassis number is the only completely pure example having never been damaged, still retaining almost all of its original components and just two owners from new.


Please note that this race car is offered on a Bill of Sale Only.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

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Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

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Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

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Cameron Smyth joined RM Sotheby’s as a Car Specialist in 2015, working out of our corporate office and providing assistance on c... read more

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David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

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Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

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Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

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Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

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A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

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Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

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Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

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Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more