Journal: Vintage, Jet-Powered Sports Car Hybrid Absolves Prius' Sins

Vintage, Jet-Powered Sports Car Hybrid Absolves Prius’ Sins

By Alan Franklin
July 31, 2013
7 comments

Old cars provide emotional experiences—they inspire not in spite of their inefficiencies, idiosyncrasies, and performance shortcomings, but because of them. As it is with interesting people, the hardships endured in a car’s making, the inherit flaws in their characters, and the ways they transcend these shortcomings are what make them extraordinary. These inspirations are what imbue an unliving object with a “soul”, that essential, elusive, and difficult-to-define ingredient present in all great machines.

Hybrids are the antithesis of our hobby because they are designed to be that way; they are mere conveyances engineered to be as unobtrusive and efficient as technologically possible, where common wisdom dictates the inclusion of any trace elements of this human spark would only detract from their core mission statements of MPG and ease of use above all else. We petrolisti reject this false narrative and the miserable cars that it produces.

Believe it or not, though, one of Toyota’s earliest hybrids wasn’t entirely incompatible with the concept of cool—in fact, it’s probably one of the coolest cars they ever built. Called the Sports 800 Gas Turbine Hybrid, it was heavily based on Toyota’s first-ever production sports car, from which the “Sports 800” part of its name came from. Predating the largely Yamaha-engineered 2000GT by a couple of years, the 800 was a tiny, pod-shaped thing with a Targa roof and a horizontally-opposed, air-cooled twin of 800 CC. A descendent of the Publica 700 economy car, the “Yota Hachi”, or “’Yota 8” as it’s affectionately known may have packed only 45 HP under its diminutive hood, but it didn’t weigh very much, either, contributing to a respectable 100 MPH top speed. A little over 3,000 were built during a four year run, and surviving cars are now pretty valuable.

A full decade later, in 1979, Toyota revealed the aforementioned hybrid version at that year’s Tokyo Motor Show. Equipped with a small, 30 HP turbine attached in parallel to a generator which in turn fed an electric motor running through a two-speed gearbox, there was no mechanical connection between the combustion motor and the driven wheels—a bit different, then, to how it’s more commonly done today.

With 33% less power and nearly half a ton more weight than its conventionally motivated siblings, the Turbine Hybrid must’ve been dead slow, and probably not even all that efficient, given the relatively narrow operational range and high thirst of jet engines. In an impressive engineering feat, though, Toyota scored big time with the experiment, as they were keen to show off their ever-increasing R&D capabilities. This was exemplified by the litany of pioneering Toyota tech introduced in the following decade—two examples of which I own myself: the world’s first mass-produced DOHC, 16-valve four cylinder that rests a few inches behind the driver’s seat of my MR2, and the incredibly over-engineered, paradigm-shifting LS400—my ’93 hasn’t used a single drop of oil in 25,000 miles of hard use. Both are inextricably and directly linked back to the teeny little jet car.

If Toyota put a turbine in the Prius today, I’d find a way to buy one tomorrow. Overcooked pasta chassis dynamics and an implied interest in bad indie rock be damned, a freakin’ jet engine washes away all automotive sins.

Image Source: my.reset.jp

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tapz
tapz

Alright, I’ll bite. The mk3 Prius is an absolute classic. A real highpoint in automotive history, and one of the most characterful, instantly recognisable cars on the road today. From its overall shape, the interior details as well as its engineering solutions; it’s all unique (bar some lame Honda imitations). It achieves what it sets out to achieve brilliantly, and that’s the result of sweat, ingenuity and persistence in the face of an awful lot of naysayers. It has no sins to absolve. Sure, I’d also rather have the 800, but that shouldn’t blind me or anyone else from what… Read more »

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange

I’m also not sure that the universal view that hybrids are to be hated by car enthusiasts should still hold? True I agree that the Prius was never created for the car enthusaists but then many cars and built for the hum drum everyday life rather than providing driving pleasure. However with the likes of the Porsche 918, and stupidly named Ferrari LaFerrari making use of electric power to boost there performance I think enthusiasts need to start looking at hybrids in a different light?

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay

With hybrid vehicles competing for outright victory at Le Mans, and with KERS and other technologies oozing their way through F1, the clock is ticking for all motorsport (on and off the track) to follow suit. Here in California, I’d be surprised if we are still allowed to drive our classics on the public roads in the not too distant future.

Yanick Kuper
Yanick Kuper

[quote]Hybrids are the antithesis of our hobby because they are designed to be that way; they are mere conveyances engineered to be as unobtrusive and efficient as technologically possible[/quote] Isn’t that exactly what Chrysler attempted to create with the Turbine Car? A purpose-built engine capable of running on anything combustible with “heavily reduced complexity, parts count, and maintenance resulting in much increased engine longevity, lower weight, instant warm-up, and negligible oil consumption with no need for regular changes, to name but a few.” If we switch roles and imagine that the turbine car [i]had[/i] been put into production whereas the… Read more »

Baskingshark
Baskingshark

If the Prius looked like the Turbine Car, all would be forgiven…

Are there any pics of the actual turbine-hybrid-800? All the images are from the standard 800’s brochure.

Baskingshark
Baskingshark

Great link, thanks. It’s also time Mazda started using that RX-500 “supersonic breadvan” styling language again…