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Hagerty Employee

Lost for 40 years, Ford's turbine-powered big rig has been rediscovered | Hagerty Media

Though automakers are now pouring resources into electric drivetrains, the search for promising new avenues of automotive propulsion is nothing new. In the '50 and '60s, the Big Three were elbow-deep in turbine development, hoping to bring the power-dense engines to market in one form or another.
New Driver

Dear Brandan,

Turbine engines are powerful, and have many fewer parts, but they are not fuel-efficient.
Railroads, such as Union Pacific, and several European national railroads, experimented with turbine power, but ultimately didn't go for it. The Germans made a series of locomotives (BR 210) which had a turbine adjunct that significantly boosted power, but the turbine was found to wear out more quickly than expected because they didn't operate continuously, and always cooled below operating temperature when they weren't needed for a power boost (like Cadillac's 8-6-4 V8s?). Ultimately, a couple of turbines catching fire ended the career of that series locomotives. The French TGV was originally envisioned as turbine-powered, and the French did built a couple of turbine-powered (not a boosted diesel, as in the German locomotives) trains, some of which were purchased by Amtrak. But ultimately, turbo trains were not fuel-efficient, and none have operated for years. In terms of energy content released by high compression, diesel still beats other internal combustion engines in terms of efficiency. Unfortunately, there are the particulates and the NOx issues.
New Driver

It's a cool-looking truck though!
Intermediate Driver

Here's a video update, but looks like it is still a mystery about where it is or who owns it.

I remember reading about that truck in (I think Motor Trend) back in the 60's. Cool truck. What got me in this video is how tiny the wiper blades are in comparison to the massive windshield. Maybe they didn't make wipers long enough then, when an 18" blade was considered BIG.

Mid-60's Econolines often stripped the splines of the wiper motor because those flat front ends offered so much wind resistance to the movement of the drive arm. Take a look at these arms -- they must be over three feet long! Put a full-sized wiper blade on there and they'd snap right off.

Kinda Ford's answer to GM's Futurama vehicle (??) But its a double-trailer, not a bus.
Also, did you notice the TV dinner and black and white TV?
New Driver

Working during high school at a gas station on Michigan Avenue near the Ford Engineering Center, Big Red passed the station one afternoon. It stopped at the light on the corner and when the light turned green, he did a burn out that I would never have expected for a semi-truck. I was disappointed I never saw the truck again.
New Driver

Turbines are extremely reliable in aircraft applications and can operate reliably at varying speeds and power levels. Failure rates are in the 1/100ths of a percent. the most critical aspect is the operating clearance between turbine blade tips and the shroud housing material, which is of the order of 5 thousandths of an inch. There are two problems in competition with piston engines like gasoline or diesel. One is cost and the other is part power fuel consumption. Piston engines have a thermodynamic cycle, which is constant over the operating speed range i.e. compression ratio. The equivalent thermodynamically of compression ratio in a gas turbine is compressor pressure ratio, which is a function of engine gas generator speed. Thus, a gas turbine with a regenerator can match the fuel consumption of a piston engine at its max power point, but as the gas generator speed drops to reduce power the pressure ratio falls accordingly and the thermodynamic efficiency drops exponentially raising the fuel consumption significantly. In a piston engine with its constant compression ratio the ideal thermodynamic efficiency remains constant over the speed range. However, at low speeds the internal friction in the cylinders is a dominant source of loss and at high speeds the air induction losses dominate as the friction losses diminish relative to the increasing power production. This results in a bucket shaped fuel consumption characteristic for pistons vs. a rectangular hyperbola shape vs. power for turbines with the fuel consumption rising rapidly as power diminishes from the max power point. Thus, gas turbines have much higher part power fuel consumption relative to pistons and it is inherent in the thermodynamic cycle. It is not a problem for aviation as aircraft are operated near their max thrust or power settings through most of a flight.

I think the real solution here is already in use for marine applications. Have the turbine operate at or near peak efficiency to operate a generator, and have the drivetrain be electric motors. You get the peak efficiency fuel sipping of the turbine (and it could be a fairly small turbine at that) and all the torque and horsepower characteristics of an EV in one package.
Pit Crew

I found a cool period video of it driving under its own power:

Pit Crew

Seriously though, here’s another Ford archive video:
Community Manager

Now that is clever. 🙂 

Intermediate Driver

Just wondering how it would handle a strong crosswind.

About as well as a modern cab-over with double trailers. 13'6" is a fairly typical trailer height, and this guy was shorter than that.

I’m not sure why starting the turbine would be a “delicate” operation, provided there is oil in the lubrication system. Turbines have relatively few moving parts, and as noted in the article, Ford used the 707 in limited commercial duty so there must be someone still around who knows the start-up procedure. After all the work that went into the restoration it would be a shame not to see this beast move under its own power again. When the current owner is ready to let it go, Big Red definitely should become part of the collection at The Henry Ford museum.

The linked article had what I was looking for... pictures of the engine. I believe GM built 5 turbine powered semis, and even Toyota threw their hat into the turbine ring. Fuel economy killed the GM experiment, but believe it was excessive cabin heat that put the coffin nail in the Toyota attempt
Pit Crew

Just to clarify, the term "gas turbine" does not refer to the type of fuel, "the crown jewel of Big Red was its 600-hp gasoline turbine engine". In fact it refers to the hot combustion gases that spin the turbine. The fuel used is typically "jet fuel" which is more closely related to kerosene.