General Motors was mad for innovation in the early ’60s: For example, check out the 1962 Olds Jetfire with its all-aluminum, turbocharged V8. Here’s the story behind this fascinating development.
We’re trying to choose our words carefully here. While the Olds Jetfire was indeed a pioneer, it’s not really a first. Introduced at the New York Auto Show on April 20, 1962, the Jetfire wasn’t the first turbocharged passenger car on the market, or even the first from General Motors. The Corvair Monza Spyder turbo had been unveiled a few weeks earlier at the Chicago Auto Show. Besides, turbochargers weren’t really new anyway. They were employed with great success on combat aircraft in World War II, and they were commonplace on diesel trucks for years before they appeared on the Corvair or the Olds.
Still, as an early adopter of turbochargers for passenger cars, Oldsmobile and General Motors can take a bow for their work in developing and popularizing the technology for consumer use. Here’s the intriguing story behind the 1962 Jetfire and its Turbo Rocket V8.
Headed by Gib Butler, a veteran Olds engineer who worked on the division’s original Rocket V8 of 1949, the Jetfire program began in May of 1960, a few months before Oldsmobile’s 215 CID V8 was introduced to the public. (Buick and Pontiac compacts also used a version of the all-aluminum V8.) Early development focused on a traditional Roots blower system for the little V8, then shifted to an exhaust-driven turbo-supercharger supplied by Garrett AiResearch, a company with considerable experience with turbos in diesel truck applications.
While the base version of the 215 V8 with two-barrel carb was rated at 155 hp, and the four-barrel model was good for 185 hp, the production Turbo Rocket V8 (above) was rated at 215 hp, a full one horsepower per cubic inch. Boost was limited to a conservative 5 psi above atmospheric in order to limit detonation while maintaining a relatively high 10.25:1 compression ratio. Cam timing and other features were the same as the non-boosted engine. The Jetfire was tuned to mirror a conventional engine’s output curves, with positive boost building at just 1100 rpm and maximum boost occurring as soon as 2200 rpm.
This cutaway illustration shows the basic layout of the Jetfire package, with the AiResearch T5 turbocharger centered over the intake manifold, fed by a specially designed Rochester one-barrel sidedraft carburetor with a remote throttle body. While the turbo systems for the Corvair Spyder and Olds Jetfire were developed within GM at the same time, they have surprisingly little in common.
To aid in the battle against detonation, the Jetfire incorporated water-alcohol injection, another successful WWII development. Branded by Oldsmobile as Fluid Injection, in company advertising the sub-system received nearly equal billing with the turbo itself. Turbo-Rocket Fluid, as it was called, was essentially a 50/50 mix of water and methanol with a dash of corrosion inhibitor, and was available over the counter at any Olds dealer. When the fluid supply (said to be good for 225 miles of aggressive driving) ran out, a safety switch in the reservoir actuated an auxiliary throttle valve to limit boost until the tank could be replenished.
Unlike the Corvair Spyder turbo, which was a production option on the Monza, the ’62 Jetfire was a stand-alone model in Oldsmobile’s compact F-85 lineup. Distinguished by its pillarless hardtop bodywork and brushed aluminum side trim, the Jetfire was sticker-priced at $3,045, around $350 more than a Cutlass coupe with the normally-aspirated V8.
Both three-speed Hydra-Matic and four-speed manual transmissions were offered. Hot Rod magazine reported that Olds engineers had achieved 0-to-60 mph times in the 7-second range with the manual-transmission cars, but published road test results were typically a second or so slower. While the Jetfire was peppy, it wasn’t a match for a large-displacement performance V8.
The Jetfire’s cabin included a number of special features, including GM’s sumptuous vinyl-covered bucket seats and a center console with shift lever. A large, round Turbo Charger gauge in the center of the console was simply marked with a green band for economy and a red band for power, with a lamp at the bottom to warn when the Turbo-Rocket Fluid ran low.
In 1963 the Olds compact platform received all-new sheet metal with four more inches of overall length, and the Jetfire tagged along. The brushed aluminum side trim was revised and continued, as were the special interior features, and the Turbo Rocket V8 itself remained unchanged.
As a mid-year model, the ’62 Jetfire sold only 3,765 units, but business picked up for 1963 with 5,842 vehicles sold. However, ’63 would prove to be the final year for the turbocharged Olds compact. For 1964, the F-85/Cutlass family was moved up to the GM A-body intermediate platform. Meanwhile, the aluminum 215 CID V8 on which the Jetfire was based was discontinued. In its place came a totally conventional, normally aspirated 330 CID V8 that produced 210 hp with far less cost and bother.