Heppenstall and the $1 Race Car

22 July 2022

The Howmet TX is not the only gas turbine-engined car used for racing, there were the Rover-BRM, the STP-Paxton Turbine Car and Lotus 56 Turbine, but the TX is the World’s Only Race Winning Turbine Car.

In 1968 Ray Heppenstall raced two gas-turbine-powered sports-racing prototypes for the Howmet Corporation in the USA and Europe, winning races at Huntsville, Alabama, and Marlboro, Maryland.

In July 1968, one car, driven by Ray Heppenstall and Dick Thompson, finished third in the FIA International Championship six-hour endurance race at Watkins Glen.

In 1970, with Heppenstall driving a revised TX, he captured six world land speed records at Talladega, Alabama.

The two TXs (Turbine eXperimental) were the brainchild of American racer Ray Heppenstall, powered by 350bhp turbine engines leased from Continental Aviation & Engineering. Howmet Corporation supplied the materials and financial backing; Howmet made turbine castings for the aerospace industry and felt the project would prove a marketing edge.

It made its racing debut at the 1968 Daytona 24-Hour race. It succumbed to engine problems at Sebring, having qualified behind a Porsche 907 and Ford GT40.

The Championship then moved to Europe, but the team cut the trip short to overcome a continued lack of reliability. They were successful in their endeavours, and next time out, Heppenstall finished 2nd at the New Cumberland circuit, setting a new lap record in the process.

Heppenstall had experienced success at various outings, and things looked good for Le Mans. Still, the car lacked outright speed in qualifying and, following fuel starvation problems, eventually crashed out of the race.

With the result that Howmet withdrew their racing support at the end of 1968 but found sufficient funds for a record-breaking campaign, for which Heppenstall rebuilt the car as a Roadster.

Howmet then sold both cars to Heppenstall for $1, but the leased engines had to be returned, and he eventually offered the chassis to privateers.

One of the cars has been fully restored to its former glory, fitted with an Alison 250C 18 turbine, and regularly used in classic events, including several much-appreciated appearances at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.