Report by Phil Homer
Standard Motor Club Historian
I suspect that many Standard-Triumph fans will be surprised if not a little bit startled to discover that their favourite Motor Manufacturer developed and sold a Gas Turbine engine.
The story can be told using photographs of the engine and the perhaps unassuming vehicle that it was mounted on. Yes, it’s a Grey Ferguson Tractor!
First, there is very little written evidence of the existence of the project. I do not understand why, but it all seems to have been kept a secret.
Here I need to speculate a little about why the Standard Motor Company got involved in this, for without doubt there were a number of contributing reasons. First, the factory already had a fair degree of experience in aero engine manufacture, as a builder of "Avon" Jet engines, under contract from Rolls-Royce in the early 1950's. In fact, Standard turned over the Fletchampstead North Factory at Canley for this purpose. These engines were destined for aircraft like the "Comet" airliner and the "Meteor" jet fighter. But that is yet another little-known story that I will have to tell one day.
Secondly, many car manufacturers were casting round for alternatives to the piston Internal Combustion engine and if gas turbine technology took off, so to speak(!) Standard would certainly want to play in that game.
A third reason was that the company was being sustained by its Tractor business. For most of the '50s, Standard-built Ferguson Tractors far outsold all Standard, Triumph and TR car production put together and it was an immensely profitable business.
The company knew that an end to this was coming as the contract with Ferguson was due to run out in 1959. Hence there was some urgency to reinvest some of those profits in developing alternative products, and the Turbine, they felt, could be one of them.
I have found very little so far on how the design came about or who was responsible for it, but it seemed to happen quite quickly. Fairly early on, however, Standard came to an agreement with a company called AutoDiesels, AD, in Uxbridge who would sell the engine on Standard's behalf. All of a sudden AutoDiesels came up with a batch of orders from their existing customers, which caused quite a rumpus at Canley. The engineering department accused AD of jumping the gun by taking so many orders and stated that it was their belief that the engine wasn't yet sufficiently well developed, nor had it been subject to sufficient long-term testing - but Standard was forced to go along with the sales anyway.
I can summarise some of the features of the turbine from the company's literature as follows:
Air is drawn into the engine through the large circular air cleaner that surrounds it. All the hot parts such as the flame tubes and volutes are contained within the air casting and do not reach any sheet metal to cause warping. This also keeps the outside temperature to 250 deg.C ( except for the exhaust pipe). The reduction gearbox is mounted in a separate light casting on the backplate of the engine and can be set to achieve speeds of between 24,000 rpm and 1500 rpm by "simple component changes". Standard seemed to have been pleased with the compactness of their design and certainly compared to competing products, it is very neat indeed.
It’s a fundamental principle of any Gas Turbine is that it runs at a constant (and very high) speed. Unfortunately, this, of course, makes them somewhat inappropriate for use in a road-going vehicle - as some sort of Constantly Variable Transmission CVT, is required to make the power useable. In the 1950’s CVTs were decidedly in their infancy and along with a dreadful thirst for fuel, this is probably the reason why early cars were not considered successful.
The most suitable applications for a turbine therefore were, and still are, to drive an electrical generator, pump or air compressor. Standard's advertising brochure highlighted all three potential uses, but together with AD they seem to have settled on the compressor application, at least at the outset.
Jet aircraft of the period used a Bleed Air system to start their engines and this compressed air usually came from an external turbine. In aircraft parlance, this starter device is called a "Huffer". So it was this market that the Standard was aimed at. AD's customers were some of the major airlines, based conveniently nearby at Heathrow. It seems entirely logical that the first turbines would have been mounted on a trailer, (a “Huffer Cart”) to be towed behind a vehicle but documentary or photographic evidence of a Standard Huffer Cart has so far evaded me, as has any evidence of a survivor.
Another approach would be to put the same kit into a road-going vehicle. A Standard employee at the time, Tony Lee, has told me of such a contraption.
The newly launched Atlas 10/12cwt Van was used as the "Mule" and Tony remembers a turbine being installed in the back of it. He told me that the Van's first task was to start a Russian jet airliner. In order to look the part, the Canley team were told to signwrite the Van with Russian lettering. The lettering arrived in the form of transfers. Unfortunately, but as you might expect, no one in the works knew any "Russian" and as Tony says " it all looked the same to us, backwards or forwards". (You are probably ahead of me here) So the transfers were inadvertently applied back to front, and it was some time before anyone noticed! No evidence exists today of this Atlas Van unless you know better………
That brings us to the main and exclusive photos in this story, which was the other vehicle that was planned to carry the turbine: there can be no doubt that the "mule" underneath this seemingly ungainly box of bits is a Standard-built Ferguson Tractor. Of course, I have no way of knowing if there really is a gas turbine engine under that sheet bodywork but it all looks far too well thought out and well-crafted to be a dummy! And whilst the vehicle looks rather incongruous as a Tractor, just remember what other vehicles look like that you may have seen working on an Airfield apron. The tugs that pull aircraft and stairs around are all low and flat-topped, so Standards "Huffer" would look somewhat in keeping. I'm less sure about the asymmetric overhangs though! But please remember that all of the elements came together nicely out of some sheet metal and items from the factory parts bins!
The turbine would appear to be mounted on the offside, alongside and parallel to the "Tractor". Don't be fooled by what appears to be the air intake at the front, since it must in fact be the Exhaust! So, when it was "ignited" the beast would hurtle backwards up the road, right? Well no, as I describe elsewhere the engine is designed to produce minimal jet thrust. You will note that there is also a demountable "tank" at the rear. It has been removed in one of the shots, Is it really a Fuel Tank, or what other purpose does it serve? You can see that it has a framework beneath it that look like skids….
If the photographer had asked for the panels to be removed at the time these photos were taken, then we would have learnt more - but maybe he still has those shots in his camera! I would certainly like to hear from him, or indeed anyone else who worked on this project, which certainly must have been in commercial secrecy, more than 60 years ago!
Write to Phil here: firstname.lastname@example.org
What is a Gas Turbine?
Not all Gas Turbines are jets. The operating principles however are the same. There is an "upstream" compressor that compresses the air and forces it into one or a number of combustion chambers where it is mixed with fuel and ignited. Once running, the combustion is self-perpetuating. The resultant gas drives a "Downstream" turbine which turns a central shaft through the engine to turn the upstream compressor. The differences are that in a jet, the rush of exhaust out of the turbine provides "Jet Propulsion" whilst in the type of gas turbine we are considering here, the engine is optimised to provide shaft power and the exhaust gas power is relatively minimal. The shaft can therefore be used to power an electrical generator for instance, or a pump or an air compressor.
Modern so-called "jet engines" are usually a "Turbo Fan", in this instance, the shaft turns a large Fan blade and this produces, mainly, a thrust of air out of the back of the engine.
Specification of Standard's IS/250 Gas Turbine
Speed:a constant 24,000 rpm +/- 1%
Power output: 250bhp at 3,000 rpm
2 combustion chambers fitted with Simplex atomisers
Compression Ratio: 3.0 : 1
Air Mass Flow: 5.2 lbs/Sec
Maximum Gas Temperature: 1050 deg. K
Compressor: single stage centrifugal, 19 vanes
Diffuser: 7 vanes
Turbine: Single stage radial flow 17 vanes with 14 vane nozzle ring
Gearbox: Two stage reduction by means of twin layshafts giving gear ratios between 1:1 and 16:1 -
The layshafts also drive the auxilary gears one of which drives the oil pump
Starter: 12 volt Lucas with pre-engaged solenoid. Ignition is by a High Frequency trembler coil with spark plugs
Fuel: Either Diesel Oil or paraffin but can be adapted to run on Gaseous fuel
Oil: SAE 10 or is drawn from the sump by a pressure pump filtered and supplied to bearings and gears at 15psi.
What happened to the Gas Turbine:
Standard-Triumph were in an acquisitive mood at that time - no doubt based on the cash flow being generated by the Tractors.
It is clear from Company records that there was an intention to take a controlling interest in AutoDiesel in 1958. Talks were so well developed that both companies had calculated and agreed a value for AD. It didn't happen - but the reasons are not recorded. The timing however gives us a clue: Standard had realised that Canley wasn't big enough to produce sufficient project "Zobo" (Triumph Herald) cars and there was an urgent need to build a new extension on the site. The company put an initial £2m into a new factory, which became the "Rocket Range", and this must have inhibited many of their other intentions, for that core market product was much more important to the company. In fact, what happened next was a complete reversal of the previous S-T policy.
Standard came to an agreement to sell all the rights to the Turbine to AD instead. That deal was quickly consummated and included the rights to manufacture, sell and service the turbine.
Perhaps Standard were also wise in predicting the way that "Huffers" would develop.
In fact, the market for them, except in military applications would become quite small.
Aircraft designers began building gas turbine Auxillary Power Units (APU's) into the aircraft themselves, making them less reliant on ground crews and giving the aircrews the ability to start their engines themselves.
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