SI Vault
Kenneth Rudeen
April 30, 1962
Gas-turbine sedans in the New York Auto Show and a new racer for the Indianapolis '500' threaten the old faithful piston cars
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April 30, 1962

A Real Cyclone Of An Engine

Gas-turbine sedans in the New York Auto Show and a new racer for the Indianapolis '500' threaten the old faithful piston cars

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Amid the gloss and glitter of that tire-kicker's paradise, New York's International Automobile Show, the two cars might easily be overlooked. Garbed in reticent British green, the Rover T.4 sedan occupies a modest niche on the second of three exhibition floors in the vast Coliseum. The light blue Dodge Turbo Dart hardtop stands like a pretty wallflower on the third level, at the fringe of the crowds ogling her shiny Detroit sisters.

There are other things that are new in the show: the Raymond Loewy-designed Studebaker Avanti (which went on display this week) of Gran Turismo styling and with the American industry's first disc brakes in a decade on the front wheels; the Cobra, a touring-racing roadster, Ford V-8 engined and British AC-bodied, devised by Racing Driver Carroll Shelby to compete with Corvettes and Ferrari GTs; the plush Jaguar Mark X sedan from England; a Swedish Volvo station wagon; a Pontiac with some of speed merchant Mickey Thompson's hot rod artistry beneath the hood; and Detroit models utilizing turbo-supercharging, a method of recovering energy from exhaust gases.

But of all the 450 motor cars gathered from the U.S. and nine foreign countries for the largest of American auto shows—and this year one of the world's finest—none are more intriguing, in one respect, than the Rover and the Dodge. In a show dedicated, above all, to the good old reciprocating piston engine, the gadget that put the world on motorized wheels, these quiet intruders are forerunners of eventual revolutionary change.

Their hoods conceal not piston engines but gas turbines, offering the kind of motive power that, within a young man's lifetime, has made most piston-engined aircraft obsolete. But the Rover and the Dodge are not experimental playthings. They are perfectly roadable passenger cars that can approach the performance and manners of our orthodox machines.

Furthermore, as the New York show opened last week, by a significant coincidence the world's first serious gas-turbine racing car was being completed in a Tulsa, Okla. workshop 1,300 miles away. It is entered in the foremost American race, the $400,000 Memorial Day Indianapolis "500," and if it comes anywhere near justifying Builder Jack Zink's faith in it, it will stand the Brickyard on its ear.

Zink is a compact, restless Tulsa man who builds industrial burners to make money and makes parachute drops for fun. He is tired of campaigning the same old Offenhauser roadsters at Indianapolis.

Last year he wanted to take a turbine car to Indy. There wasn't time to get it ready. This week the car is complete and set for testing. Site of the tests: a new ?-mile oval track built for the purpose on Zink's J-Bar-Z ranch northwest of town. The driver: California's Dan Gurney, a Grand Prix star (SI, Feb. 9) who has never raced in the "500."

Zink's turbine is a 375-hp Boeing model of a type supplied to the Navy to power pilotless, radio-directed, torpedo-carrying helicopters. Light but bulky, it is rear-mounted in a new space-frame chassis (below) built by Zink's chief mechanic, Dennie Moore. Suspension is independent for all wheels. Thus the car defies Indy convention not only in motive power but also in the engine's rear position and the matter of suspension.

Light and potent

At 1,100 pounds, the John Zink Track-burner, as it has been named, weighs 500 precious power-saving pounds less than the lightest Offie roadster. Zink figures to lose only 5 hp while slowing for Indy's 135-mph turns; the typical Offie drops from 400 to 340 hp.

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