Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
Using jet turbines to propel cars is a frightening idea. They're hungry for anything combustible, so you just throw whatever fuel you have to hand in there, it makes a noise like a helicopter that's parked itself two inches from your face, then it tears toward the horizon like... well, like a jet engine. You spend the whole time on the brakes, desperately trying to rein the damn thing in. It's madness.
Still, in the interest of experimentation, a number of people have tried it. And this effort, Rover's JET 1 from 1950, was the world's first gas-turbine-powered car, proving that when it came to experimental thinking and Brunel-esque engineering solutions, the plucky British manufacturer really was at the bleeding edge of innovation. And public displays of lunacy.
Post-WWII Britain was in awe of the jet engine, it was the ultimate symbol of modernity, and it made a lot of sense to test its versatility for road use - Rover were proud to boast that a car such as this could run on petrol, diesel or paraffin, and the development of this project carried on right into the mid-1960s, with jet-powered trucks and even a reasonably successful Le Mans entrant in the form of the slinky Rover-BRM.
However, it's hard to escape the fact that such a powertrain returns some fairly shonky mpg figures - try 5mpg for size - and, while life's too short to spend every mile gazing in apprehension at your fuel gauge, you probably would notice the necessity to squirt another bottle of paraffin into the hungry jet every few miles. This, among much complexity and fear of deafened passengers, is why you don't see jet cars everywhere. JET 1, then, exists as a glorious tribute to the engineering nous of the post-war era - a racy open tourer with three seats, two pedals, aircraft gauges, hand-painted number plates, and quite a lot of vents. You can see it on display at the Science Museum in London where, thankfully, they don't switch it on. In a confined space, that'd be really frightening.