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Weekly Motor Fix: jet-age Rover

26 May, 2015

Although most will have heard of JET1 — the gas turbine–powered version of Rover’s venerable P4 — few are aware that Rover got involved with the Whittle jet engine as far back as the ’40s. Indeed, fitted to a twin-engined Wellington, the first Rover W2B turbo-jet engines took their maiden flight on August 9, 1942.

Following further tests, the British Ministry of Aircraft Production–sponsored jet project was taken over by Rolls-Royce in 1943. However, Rover persisted with their development of the gas-turbine engine with the aim of producing a series of road cars. Although that idea would ultimately prove to be unsuccessful, Rover Gas Turbines Ltd (established in 1953) continued to produce engines for many years — the group becoming part of British Leyland in 1967. Subsequently, Rover-developed gas-turbine engines would find a place in trucks and British Rail’s APT-E — an experimental train that ran four Rover-built gas turbines, and was first tested in 1972. The high-speed APT-E was able to reach speeds of around 250kph.

Perhaps Rover’s best-known jet-powered vehicle was the Rover-BRM cars that ran several times at the Le Mans 24 Hours race. With a chassis derived from a contemporary BRM F1 car, the Rover-BRM’s gas turbine ran on paraffin, idled at 28,000rpm and ran up to 55,000rpm at load. Fifty years ago, in June 1965, the Rover-BRM made its final appearance at Le Mans. Driven by Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill, the innovative jet-powered car lasted the entire 24 hours of the race, eventually finishing in tenth place overall, and also earning honours as the first British car to cross the finish line.

The Stewart/Hill was recently restored and will make an appearance at this year’s Goodwood Revival meeting in the UK. New Zealand Classic Car hopes to print a feature on Rover’s jet-age cars with the help of a New Zealand Classic Car reader who was actually part of the Rover Gas Turbine group from 1956 to 1967.

Taipan – surpassing interest

“It’s merely a passing interest,” insists Selby — despite owning three variants of the classic VW Beetle, including an unusual VW van that was sold as a body kit for a Subaru. In his defence he points to a 1961 Ford Thunderbird, a car that he converted to right-hand drive. However, on the VW side of the ledger, since he opened Allison Autos in Whanganui 27 years ago, Selby has built 15 VW-powered Formula First cars, followed by a beach buggy, restored a derelict Karmann Ghia, and hot-rodded a common or garden Beetle into something that has to be seen to be believed. As speed is not something generally associated with classic VWs, though, Selby is still waiting for this particular modification to catch on amongst the hot rod faithful.

Travelling companion

It’s easy to see why the Morris Minor Traveller was one of the best-loved variants of the Morris Minor. Introduced in 1953, it was equipped with the same independent torsion bar front suspension, drum brakes, and rack and pinion steering as its saloon sibling but, with their foldable rear seat increasing versatility, many Travellers were used as trade vehicles, says Derek Goddard. Derek and Gail Goddard, the owners of this superbly restored example, have run Morris Minors since before they were married in 1974.
“Our honeymoon vehicle was a blue Morris Minor van — it was a rust bucket,” says Derek.