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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.

Motorsport Flashback – Kiwi rallying in the 1970s

Rallying arrived in New Zealand in 1973 like a tsunami. It had been only a few years since the sport was introduced here and shortly afterwards Heatway came on board as the sponsor to take rallying to a new level. The 1973 Heatway would be the longest and biggest yet, running in both islands with 120 drivers over eight days and covering some 5400 kilometres. The winner was 31-year-old Hannu Mikkola — a genuine Flying Finn who had been rallying since 1963 before putting any thoughts of a career on hold until he completed an economics degree. The likeable Finn became an instant hero to many attracted to this new motor sport thing. I was one of them.

Think of it as a four-door Cooper

New Zealand Mini Owners Club coordinator Josh Kelly of Dunedin loves his Minis. It’s a family affair. Julie and Mike, Josh’s mum and dad, are just as keen, and they can usually all be found taking part in the club’s annual ‘Goodbye, Pork Pie’ charity run from the North of the country to the South.
But lately Josh’s young head has been turned by some other revolutionary BMC cars. He has picked up a couple of Austin and Morris 1100 and 1300s, which he started to restore — that was until an opportunity arose to buy a rare example stored in a shed.