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100 Years of Turbo

Turbocharging was 100 years young in 2005 – but the dream of its earliest pioneer, Dr Alfred J Büchi, has even more resonance in the 21st century than when he first conceived the concept at Winterthur in Switzerland in 1905.

Today the agenda remains performance based, but in 2005 a new environmental imperative emerged. Here too, turbo has a major role to play in engine downsizing, emissions control and CO2 reduction. It may be 100 years old, but turbocharging truly is a technology fit for the 21st century.

Innovation & Ingenuity

Turbocharging was 100 years young – but the dream of its earliest pioneer, Dr Alfred J Büchi, has even more resonance in the 21st century than when he first conceived the concept at Winterthur in Switzerland in 1905.

In 1905, Dr. Alfred Büchi patented a design innovation that would eventually change the face of performance engine manufacturing forever.

It’s the technology that helped to change the driving habits of millions of people around the world, that put the ‘hot’ into hot rods, lit up Formula One for 12 glorious years and spawned a global industry.

Turbocharging is 100 years young in 2005 – but the dream of its earliest pioneer, Dr Alfred J Büchi, has even more resonance in the 21st century than when he first conceived the concept at Winterthur in Switzerland in 1905.

The Power of Turbo

Dr Büchi had the vision, aerospace engineers recognised the potential, but automotive manufacturers brought relevance for the technology to millions of car owners and truck users around the globe.

Today the agenda remains performance based, but in 2005 there was a new environmental imperative. Here too, turbo has a major role to play in engine downsizing, emissions control and CO2 reduction. It may be 100 years old, but turbocharging truly is a technology fit for the 21st century.

The early days of turbo

In 1905, the chief engineer at Sulzer Brothers Research and Development, Dr. Alfred Büchi, patented a power unit comprising an axial compressor, radial piston engine and axial turbine on a common shaft. It was a design innovation that would eventually change the face of performance engine manufacturing forever.

An experimental turbocharger plant was opened at Winterthur in Switzerland in 1911 and, although there was considerable scepticism about Dr Büchi’s designs, in 1915 he produced a prototype that demonstrated how the energy generated by the exhaust gases of aircraft could be used to counter the negative effects of diminishing air density at high altitude. While such an innovative design would prove to be highly successful in the future, the initial Dr Büchi prototype failed during testing, unable to maintain adequate boost pressure.

However, in 1919, significant progress was made when General Electric successfully installed a turbocharger in a Lepere bi-plane’s Liberty engine, which powered the aircraft to an altitude record of 33,113 feet.

Even so, the engineering world did not fully recognise the potential of Dr Büchi’s modified development of a separately manifolded ‘pulse system’ until the Second World War, when thousands of GE units were installed into high-altitude allied aircraft like the B-17 Flying Fortress. The Garrett Corporation, a fledgling company established in 1936 by J.C.Garrett in a small Los Angeles office, supplied all-aluminium intercoolers for these aircraft, a commission that laid the foundations for the development of a global enterprise committed to technology and innovation.

Automotive turbos

The idea of turbocharging engines became common knowledge worldwide during the 1930's partly as a result of compressor race-cars and it was towards the end of this decade, in 1938, that the first turbocharged truck engine was built by the Swiss manufacturer Saurer.

Then, in 1953, in what was literally a ground-breaking move, Caterpillar Tractor Co. approached Garrett to help them manufacture higher-horsepower, heavy-duty earthmoving equipment - and the T02 turbocharger was tested to enormous success. It fulfilled CAT’s need explicitly and they commissioned 5000 units for the D9 tractor.

This success prompted the Garrett Corporation to launch the AiResearch Industrial Division in 1954 – a business dedicated solely to the design and manufacture of turbochargers. It was a significant milestone in the modern automotive turbo era.

Turbo Goes Mass Market

If Dr Buchi was the ‘father’ of turbocharging, Cliff Garrett was the ambitious ‘heir’ who used his entrepreneurial flair to create mass-market automotive appeal for the technology.

His business was a pioneer in the application of the technology to the production car market. In 1961, the automotive industry took its first tentative steps into the world of passenger vehicle turbocharging when the Garrett® T05 was developed for the Oldsmobile F85, which made its appearance in 1962 alongside the Chevy Corvair (TRW turbo).

The appropriately named Oldsmobile Jetfire had a 3.5 liter aluminum V-8 engine that used a highly complex air and fuel system. Significantly, the engine was high compression, carbureted and contained a complex water-injection that utilized ‘Rocket Fluid’ – a 50-50 mixture of water and alcohol that was injected between the carrburetor and turbo at times of high engine load.

In the commercial diesel arena, turbochargers were soon to be adopted by Deere farm tractors. The Garrett® T04 model found its way into more and more commercial diesel applications as engine manufacturers recognised the mutual benefits of better performance, greater torque and improved fuel efficiency. By the mid 1970s the mass-market turbo era for trucks was well underway – 30 years on just about every commercial diesel vehicles is equipped with a sophisticated turbocharger.

For passenger cars, the 1970s proved to be a turning point for the turbo industry.

The Porsche 911 Turbo (KKK turbo with Garrett® wastegate) was unveiled in 1975, but it was in 1977 that the Saab 99 brought the benefits of turbo technology to a wider audience with a 2 liter turbocharged gasoline car that achieved the same level of performance as a normally-aspirated 3 liter engine. This was soon followed by the Mercedes 300 Turbo Diesel SL, which offered car drivers fuel efficiency and impressive driveability. Buick then announced that the 1978 Buick Regal and Le Sabre sports coupes would be turbocharged.

Today’s automotive turbochargers may have their roots in the aerospace industry – but, in many ways, the engine boosting technologies employed in passenger cars and commercial vehicles actually out-perform their air industry counterparts

Over the next 20 years, manufacturers launched model after model of increasingly sophisticated turbocharged passenger cars. Ironically, although the technology was given impetus in the US, the turbo was to have its greatest impact on passenger cars in Europe, where 50% of passenger cars are now turbocharged.

Today, manufacturers around the world look to the technology to help deliver fuel efficiency and to meet the increasingly demanding emissions standards being applied in the US, Europe and Asia

Turbos Then and Now

Today’s automotive turbochargers may have their roots in the aerospace industry – but, in many ways, the engine boosting technologies employed in passenger cars and commercial vehicles actually out-perform their air industry counterparts.

It’s the technology that helped to change the driving habits of millions of people around the world, that put the ‘hot’ into hot rods, lit up Formula One for 12 glorious years and spawned a global industry.

For example, the rotating parts of a turbocharger will deliver reliable performance at up to 280,000rpm — speeds much higher than within a jet engine’s moving core.

Early turbochargers were matched mainly to gasoline powered sports cars with the primary objective of delivering power. Today the focus is fuel efficiency, performance and emissions control in gasoline and diesel engines through advances in aerodynamics, high temperature materials, balancing technologies and bearing systems.

Modern turbos have fewer parts, are smaller, spin faster, offer variable flow solutions, work at pressure ratios of around 2-2.5:1 for gasoline and 4-6:1 in diesel engines and are fully interconnected with the engine management system through the latest sensing technology and electronic actuation. Boreless and threaded bore compressor wheels produce high and ultra-high boost pressure, while high capacity, low loss thrust bearings enhance performance and durability.

Turbo technology has had a huge impact on the torque curve of a modern 1.9 or 2.0 liter diesel engine, to the point where massive amounts of torque are available from very low engine rpm, making for a relaxed, responsive, but fuel efficient, passenger car driving experience.

Forty years on - how do they compare?

Turbocharging took its first steps into mainstream motoring with the 1962 Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire Turbo Rocket. So how does the original Garrett® T05 compare with a modern turbo such as the Garrett GT®2560 found in the Ford RS Focus?

Modern turbochargers help engines to provide much higher specific output - 107hp / liter for the Ford RS Focus compared to 61hp / liter for the Oldsmobile Jetfire. Today’s turbos are lighter in weight, benefit from better aerodynamic design (which optimizes flow pressure ratio and efficiency), operate at higher temperatures and provide better integration into the powetrain system. As a result, while the turbocharged Oldsmobile Jetfire provided 16% performance enhancement compared to its non-turbo version, the boosted Ford RS Focus delivers an impressive 50% increase.

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1962 2002
Turbo Model TO5 GT2560
Car model Oldsmobile Jetfire Ford RS Focus
Engine Cylinder V8 4
Engine Size 3.5 L 2 L
HP 215 215
Peak compressor
efficiency
58% at 1.5:1 and
12 lb/min
>78% at 2.0:1 and
20 lb/min.
Maximum speed 90,000 rpm 146,000 rpm
Weight 25lb 15lb

Turbo Evolution Timeline

Today power still defines the turbo, but it also has a major role to play in engine downsizing, emissions control and CO2 reduction.

Source and Credit: Honeywell Technology Solutions Pvt Ltd