Tuesday Turbocharger

First…about 12 hours ago I wasn’t sure I would be in a position to post today. On a scale of 1 to 10, my headache was a 10, encompassing my head and my neck. Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, cold, heat…nothing seemed to work.

I think these really bad headaches are part of a bad feedback loop, where physiological and psychological stressors feed each other. Eventually though (~3 hours), the headache went away and I was able to sleep. This morning I feel fine.

I doubt many of you are interested in my medical issues, but they are a large part of my life and this is my blog.


In my opinion, the definitive article on turbocharging (and supercharging) is this one from Ate Up With Motor. Very briefly, a turbocharger is an air compressor that “feeds” the intake system and is powered by exhaust gases. Compression forces the air-fuel mixture into the cylinders at a pressure above atmospheric, giving them more mixture to burn and creating more power.

Although the turbocharger was a Swiss/German invention whose first application was in aircraft engines, the first application in passenger cars was in the Chevrolet Corvair and Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire in the early 1960s. As recently as 2010, only 5% of new vehicles sold in the US were turbocharged. By 2017, though, that proportion had grown to 28%.

As I have written before (apparently, my “favorite” phrase to write in this blog), while I would never try to impose my beliefs on everyone else, I think in all vehicles sold with internal combustion engines those engines should be turbocharged. Such engines can have smaller displacement, meaning better fuel economy, without sacrificing power. Turbocharged engines are also more thermally efficient than naturally aspirated motors and produce lower emissions, in part, of course, because they burn less fuel.

A 1963 Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire was offered at the Mecum auction in Indianapolis in 2017. Here is a picture of that car:


See the source image


Unfortunately for the Corvair and F-85, turbocharging technology was not advanced enough at the time for these cars to be practical. Instead of an intercooler that cooled the compressed charge (compressing a gas increases its heat, a hot charge is not good for engine performance), to inhibit premature detonation the Jetfire used a simple water-methanol mixture they dubbed Turbo-Rocket Fluid.

Oldsmobile offered a turbocharged engine (in its 215 cubic-inch aluminum V-8, no less) only in 1962 and 1963 while Chevrolet offered the option in the Corvair (for its flat-six mounted in the rear) from 1962 through 1966, inclusive. Jetfire sales actually increased 55% in 1963 compared to 1962 (in part because of its introduction late in the 1962 model year), but total sales for the two years were still fewer than 10,000. Total Oldsmobile sales for those two years were about 900,000 vehicles.

I am not an engineering geek, but the combination of turbocharging in a small-displacement V-8 really interests me. Of course, in 10-20 years internal combustion engines will be on the way out. What, if anything, will companies do to differentiate the drivetrains of various models?







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11 thoughts on “Tuesday Turbocharger

  1. Turbocharging has its own issues, as does supercharging. Superchargers take horsepower to run, my Hemi in my gasser probably takes 100 horsepower to drive it. Turbos suffer from “lag”, so to overcome that a smaller diameter turbo is needed. Many manufacturers use 2 small turbos to get the desired power output.

    It’s easy to tell a turbo car at the dragstrip. When they pre-stage, they start building rpm to build boost before actually staging. It’s a fine line as too much rpm will result in wheel spin. They are notable for a big “top end charge” with a high mph (measured in the last 66 feet of a drag strip) relative to their elapsed time.

    In 1989 I started building a drag car, turbo, injected 4 cylinder front drive 1985 Dodge Charger. I spent a LOT of money on that engine, in excess of 10K at the time, and had over 500 hp. It was also the first time I used a laptop to adjust boost, timing, fuel injector pulse length, etc. To say it was a handful to drive would be an understatement. But I was able to get the car to run low 10 second quarter mile’s at 135-140 mph. But it took me about 3 years to get to that point. Finally sold the car in 1999…

    The gent that I sold it to didn’t have it very long. His son “borrowed” it one night to go street racing and lost control putting the car into the woods at over 100 mph by the police estimate. He lived, thanks to the cage which was built to NHRA specs. But there was literally nothing, other than some interior parts that was salvageable. The impacts ripped the engine and transaxle out and actually cracked the engine and also tore it loose from the transaxle. I’m glad the kid lived, but was sad to see the car completely destroyed like that.


      1. The health IS improving, albeit slowly. I’m getting around a lot better and the surgery is about 65-70% healed. Given the location of it, I guess that’s the best I could hope for at this point. The glucose issue is a whole ‘nother story. Diet changed, with minimal “cheating,” and it still goes up and down for no apparent reason (I check twice a day). But it’s in a range that gives me an A1C of under 7 so I guess the medication, 3 different pills, is doing its job. Weight loss is starting to even out, now maybe 1 pound per week (total of about 30 lbs in 2 months).

        So, I guess to the dismay of many, I’ll be around for a bit longer.

        Hopefully your health will even out some soon.


      2. Thanks for the update. I assume (always a dangerous thing) that your A1C was never an issue before. I have been diabetic for 25 years. Whoever is measuring, myself included, is very happy when the reading is under 7.0 as it has been every time except twice.


      3. It was never an issue I was aware of. However, over the course of the last 10-12 months I HAD been sick more often than I wanted. Various minor, and some major (kidney stones) and a general feeling of being “run down” (low energy). Being kind of “thick headed” I never consulted with a doctor on the issues I was having, other than the kidney stones.

        Looking back, I suspect I was having the onset of diabetes which was confirmed when I went to the hospital.

        This growing up isn’t near as much fun as it seemed when I was a child.


  2. I am glad that your health for you and DDM is under control or coming under control. Severe headaches are always a serious problem with which to deal.

    The only reason turbocharging is working on the modern cars is the need for computers to control the combustion process. Without computers in control, the tuning would be a nightmare. Turbochargers were what made the B-29 Superfortress such a formidable weapon. It was the first major application of turbochargers on mass produced internal combustion engines and were needed to produce the power necessary to get such a large airframe off the ground. The use of CNC machines to machine the turbocharger impellers has made it possible to reduce the cost of these very complex turbines on both the inlet and outlet side of the device.


    1. Thanks for sharing your knowledge, Philip. In my opinion, CNC machines are the underrated development of the modern age. Of course, 3-D printers may make them less significant, maybe not.


      1. 3D printing has its applications as does CNC machining. When you need stronger parts, machining from forged aluminum is better such as your new wheels. The 3D printing technology is advancing and we will see where it is going. I am ordering some 3D printing files for some chess pieces so my son-in-law can print them from plastic for me. The better to protect my wood Dubrovnik pattern pieces from the grand children.


      2. Thanks, Philip. Not that I will live to see it, but 50 years from now some fabrication method will exist that is not even on the radar screen now.


  3. Interesting info on turbocharging. I did not know that the Corvair had that as an option. I used to drive one of the vans for work back in the day. It loved to throw that fan belt. šŸ™‚


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