GM’s Turbine Dream Truck: The 1966 Chevy Turbo Titan III

1966-chevrolet-turbo-titan-iii-rf-colorGM’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.


1966-chevrolet-turbo-titan-iii-left-sideThe 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.) 


gm-t-309-gas-turbine-engineThe 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.


1966-chevrolet-turbo-titan-iii-twin-dial-steeringThe 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.


5 thoughts on “GM’s Turbine Dream Truck: The 1966 Chevy Turbo Titan III

  1. You seem to be forgetting that International Harvester also had a turbine road tractor that was fully functioning and road tested. The torque level wasn’t satisfactory enough to be a viable option.

  2. Not a bad body design for a cab over, looks like visibilty was pretty good. It would fit in well with today’s aero designs, with a conventional diesel powerplant, of course. Would have to have larger mirrors though. I wonder if that weight figure is correct,and if it is, how did they get away with it since the legal gross weight at that time was 73,280 lbs. Maybe experimental vehicles got a weight break?

  3. I remember picking up a copy of ‘The Chevrolet Story 1911 – 1966’ and the color photo of the Turbo Titan III was on the back cover. I was completely taken in by the entire rig. Actually, to me, the gas turbine engine was secondary to the styling of the truck itself. It’s sad to hear that this magnificent work of art may have been destroyed.

  4. 78000 lbs on super singles no less. Nice Styling. One of my truck driving uncles took me from Edmonton through Calgary and on to Ottawa and back the summer I turned ten. What a trip! Anyway I remember seeing a Kenworth cab over in Regina that had a turbine in it. Would have been the summer of 73. Really quiet. The driver told us it was OK on the prairies but lacked in the mountains.

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