Ever since 1955, when the 265-cubic-inch Corvette V-8 engine was introduced in a higher state of tune than ’55 Chevy cars or pickups, the little Mouse motor has been fodder for going faster. The hottest hop-up swap going at the time was to drop a Corvette engine into any vehicle born with smaller balls. Be it a ’32 Ford hot rod, an early Ford F-100 pickup, or just about anything one wanted to make faster, the simple answer was to plug in a Vette engine.
That was until 1971 when compression ratios dropped industry wide and, consequently, horsepower ratings along with it. By the time the ’70s were nearing the end the Corvette had been thoroughly emasculated, with the L82 as the only available high-performance engine option.
Enter Vince Granatelli, son of Indy 500 turbine engine pioneer Andy Granatelli, with the 1978 Jet Corvette. The Jet Corvette project was commissioned in 1979 by Herbert Orlowitz to be built by Vince’s Van Nuys, California, Pit Stop Service (for a mere $750,000).
Starting with a garden-variety C3 Corvette, Vince plugged in one of four Pratt & Whitney PT6B turboprop engines left surplus after the 1967-68 Indy 500 Turbine Indy car campaign. The PT6B Pratt & Whitney engine spins at 37,500 rpm and produces 1,000 shp (shaft horsepower). Interestingly, the stock ’78 Corvette TH400 automatic transmission and limited-slip 3.03:1 geared IRS rearend were left in place. In order to deliver power to the rear wheels, the TH400’s torque converter was removed and a transfer case was installed. The transfer case drops the rpm to a little over 6,000 and includes an engine brake used to subdue the PT6B long enough to drop the TH400 into gear. Let off the brake and the Jet Vette idles to 60 mph. For anything under 60 mph the driver has to ride the brakes.
In January 1982, Texas car collector, philanthropist, gearhead, and all around wealthy good guy Milton Verret outbid Reggie Jackson, paying $550,000 for the silver and black C3 Corvette at a Phoenix auction. Amusingly, the New York Times January 5, 1982 Sports page printed the headline “Too Rich for Reggie” when Milton scooped the Jet Vette from out of Reggie’s reach.
The Jet Corvette is slated to cross the block at the January 2015, Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction in Arizona. Maybe Reggie has saved his pennies and dimes since then, so instead of buying a brand-new 409 he can finally own the world’s only turbine-powered Corvette.