White-hot jet-powered jaguars

Imagine the following pub conversation:

‘What are you driving these days?’

‘Actually, I’ve just taken delivery of my Jaguar Jet-Car. Just doing my bit for the environment…’

It’s not as outlandish as it seems. Jet cars have been around for a while and we’ve got the terrific Rover ‘Jet 1′ from 1948 on show at the Science Museum:

Rover 'Jet 1', 1948 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

The problem back then was that the jet engine (or gas turbine) was used to spin a shaft coupled directly to the car’s wheels, and jet engines aren’t too good at the rapid changes of speed demanded in a car.

Sixty years on, the idea’s back – but this time in a wholly new form. An automotive engineer I met at a transport industry event told me about research now being funded by the Technology Strategy Board on a jet-powered car.

The new approach, being led by Jaguar Land Rover, is to develop micro jet engines coupled to electrical generators, charging batteries that drive electric motors.

The concept is the same as hybrid cars such as the Toyota ‘Prius, but with a gas turbine rather than a conventional piston engine keeping the batteries charged. The trick, presumably, will be to balance a complex set of variables: power, weight, fuel consumption, size, cost and mechanical simplicity.

There’s also the cultural meaning of the jet engine, a potent symbol since the 1940s of British defiant modernism, an icon of Harold Wilson‘s white heat of technology.

Whittle jet engine, 1941 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Let’s be honest. Jets are cool – they excite people – and if we’re to grapple successfully with environmental problems, we must remember people make technology choices for lots of reasons, not all of them rational. Something worth talking about down the pub, perhaps.

One thought on “White-hot jet-powered jaguars

  1. Marcus de Mowbray

    I have long known about the time delay of jet engines making them unsuitable for normal cars, but using a small turbine to drive a generator seems so blindingly obvious, I cannot believe it has not been suggested before. Model jet engines are getting very impressive, and would not have to be that much bigger to power a decent generator.
    One problem with battery and compressed air designs is that a heater for Winter is either impossible, or uses up too much available power. My Heinkel-Trojan bubble car does not have a proper heater, but I do not use it every day. Commuters need a heater in cold weather, a fact which some transport and design pundits over-look, but a jet-based system could also use surplus heat to provide this.

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