Oldsmobile Jetfire

During the 1960s American automotive industry was faced with some of the biggest changes so far. Desire for more powerful machines was wearing down and small cars, most of them European began to conquer the market.

Economical in size and power, these compact vehicles fascinated the average American buyers. At the same time there was still a strong demand for powerful models which couldn't be ignored.

Oldsmobile team, known for their engineering breakthroughs such as Hydra-Matic automatic transmission and Rocket V8 engine, wanted to bring the two trends closer and create a unique car which would capture everyone's attention.

On April 20, 1962 Oldsmobile introduced the Jetfire, a car powered by a turbo-boosted edition of the 215-cid V8 engine good for 215 bhp at 4600 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque at 3200 revs. The model performance was amazing at the time – holding one horsepower per cubic inch.

Such small aluminum V8 actually gave Oldsmobile Jetfire the performance of a heavier, larger-displacement engine. The entire technology was considered quite revolutionary in those days, even though turbocharging wasn't a new idea in 1962.

In 1905 Swiss engineer named Alfred Buchi created an exhaust-driven supercharger for diesel engines. During the World War I, several United States companies including General Electric developed prototypes for American aircraft. Dr. Sanford Moss is commonly known as father of the turbocharger, since he installed a GE turbo on a V-12 Liberty aircraft engine.

The early use of turbochargers in automotive industry happened in Europe, where Bentley and Bugatti experimented with several models. A team of Oldsmobile engineers lead by Gilbert Burrell, chief engine designer, worked on the 1962 Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire's turbocharger development. This technology was unknown to most of the average American automotive enthusiasts back in 1962, so Oldsmobile had to take a strong campaign just to educate them.

A turbocharger basically boosts the strength of the air-fuel mixture in order to get more power out of a given engine without increasing its size. Thus a special Jetfire promotional folder was provided to anyone who wanted to understand the new marvel. The Jetfire is the first volume-production turbo car in America.

Turbochargers did have a couple of drawbacks, such as intense heat from the exhaust gases and pinging. In order to prevent pinging, Oldsmobile designed an innovative fluid-injection system. Turbo-Rocket Fluid system was an equal-parts mix of distilled water and methyl alcohol, along with a bit of rust inhibitor. When it was activate, a small amount of fluid was injected into the air-fuel mix, resulting in evaporation and subsequent heat absorption. When the fluid ran low, an indicator warning light would flash inside the car.

The special Jetfire V8 engine also required special pistons and strong main bearing caps, along with a performance-tailored fuel pump and connecting rods. Intake valves were aluminum-coated, while the distributor and coil worked at higher voltage. A bigger radiator was needed as well. Only 3765 Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire coupes were sold in 1962, followed by 5842 more in 1963.

Final ending for the Jetfire happened in 1965, with the General Motors decision to offer free conversion of turbocharged engines into four-barrel carbureted versions. The problem with model was a simple fact that average people didn't follow instructions and couldn't understand the technology. A lot of people never used the turbocharger causing it to freeze up.

Others would let them run out of fluid, and then complain about the performance. Automatic transmissions sometimes shifted harshly. In retrospect, the Jetfire still remains an amazing piece of engineering design. Because it was built for a short amount of time, there is estimated less than 100 functional Jetfires in existence today, making this model rare and collectable.

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