Motoring Trailblazers - Rover T3

Sat 9th Feb 2019

The world of motoring is hurtling headlong into a bright new future of all-electric, automated, connected technology - and Marty McFly is not behind the wheel! But what were the cars that were ‘back to the future’ of years gone by?

There have been many different trailblazing motors which were seen by the critics to be ahead of their time, and in this series, we will investigate and showcase many of the best in class.

Rover T3
Whilst Chrysler may take all the glory as being the world’s first jet-powered car, it’s more likely that Britain got there first with Rovers production of the JET1 and subsequent series of gas-turbine engine cars through the 1950s.

It was the third iteration of the gas-turbine engine cars, the T3, which really caught the imagination, whilst earlier jet-engine cars had been built on Rover’s P4 platform, the T3 was the first car specifically designed to house a gas-turbine engine and as well as being a real looker, was considered worthy enough that it almost went into production.

Designed by Spencer King, with Gordon Bashford and Peter Wilks, the T3 came with 4-wheeldrive, rear suspension, glassfibre body, 4-wheel inboard Dunlop disc brakes and sheet steel frame. The compressor turbine engine could produce an impressive 52,000rpm, but the downside was that it was only capable of 13 miles per gallon!

Rover found themselves at the forefront of gas-turbine engine technology due to their efforts in the Second World War, assisting with the first generation of British jet aircraft. The company were keen to investigate the jet engine in other forms of transportation and as such produced the JET1, which whilst it had an extremely powerful engine, it looked like a the type of car a 1950s conservative politician might drive. The JET1 however had one rather tasty trick, its engine was capable of producing a top speed of 152mph, a world speed record for a gas turbine.

Rover would develop the technology throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, putting the engine into motorsport when they put together ther British Racing Motors team. Legendary F1 driver Graham Hill was behind the wheel on some of the test runs and was thrilled by the experience saying: “You’re sitting in this thing that you might call a motor car and the next minute it sounds as if you’ve got a 707 just behind you, about to suck you up and devour you like an enormous monster."

But for all the jet-powered speed, the gas-turbine engine proved to be extremely expensive to run, at a time when the cost of fuel was rising. Technical difficulties in making a jet-powered car made the project prohibitive and the gas-turbine dream was over.

The T3 however, provided plenty of inspiration and included enough innovation to be used in Rover’s P6 which was produced six years later.