GM’s experiments with the gas turbine engine didn’t end with the Firebird concept cars. There was also a futuristic tractor-trailer rig called the Turbo Titan III. Here’s more on this wonderful space-age beast.
All through the 1950s, General Motors held high hopes for the gas turbine engine, as symbolized by the automaker’s fabulous trio of Firebird dream cars. (Click here for more info on the Firebird I, Firebird II, and Firebird III.) But by the 1960s the romance had cooled off, and the company’s development focus for turbines shifted to large truck applications. Two prototypes based on production trucks, Turbo Titan I and II, led to the creation of a far-out dream truck known as the Chevrolet Turbo Titan III, a futuristic tractor-trailer rig.
The space-age bodywork for the Titan III semi tractor was constructed in steel and fiberglass, with an electrically operated tilt cab. A pair of jet fighter-ish air intakes in the nose also housed hideaway headlamp assemblies, and full skirting that ran the length of the chassis kept the fuel tanks, batteries, and other hardware tucked away out of sight. A fully functional prototype, the Titan III was reportedly driven coast-to-coast several times.
(By the way, Ford also built a futuristic turbine-powered semi tractor-trailer rig, known as Big Red. You can read about it and see it in action on video here at Mac’s Motor City Garage.)
The Titan III was powered by GM’s GT-309 gas turbine engine (to give us an idea of the development progression, the powerplant in the original Firebird I dream car was designated GT-302). Rated at 280 shaft horsepower and 875 lb-ft of torque, the GT-309 operated at 35,000 rpm, stepped down via reduction gearing to 4,000 rpm at the output shaft. Of course, GM never quite licked the gas turbine’s major drawback for highway use: Poor efficiency and response over the wide operating range required of a road vehicle.
The cockpit featured full power accessories, a comprehensive array of instrumentation what GM called “astronaut seating” with full headrests and suspension. Note what appears to be a Chevrolet production-car console shifter to operate the Allison six-speed automatic transmission. One eye-catching item is the Twin Dial steering system developed by GM’s Saginaw division, which is remarkably similar to Ford Motor Company’s Wrist Twist system that was created at almost exactly the same time. (Video demonstration of the Ford Wrist Twist system here.)
A custom 40-ft. stainless steel box trailer was also created for Titan III, as shown in the photo below. Full gross vehicle weight was quoted at 78,000 lbs. Of course, the dream truck was not predictive of future technologies, and to this day there has never been a gas turbine production vehicle—though that possibly could change with the advent of hybrid powertrains and other innovations. The Titan III was reportedly destroyed at some point in the late ’60s.