June 16, 2015 at 2:28 pm #49978
I work as the Design Manager for Riley Will at BRC Engineering, however my first post here will be of a different sort…
I just learned that that an old friend still has this forgotten relic sitting in a collapsing barn. The first time I saw the kart was about 25+ years ago. You can imagine the WOW factor it had on me as a teenager. We couldn’t believe that this twiggy little thing could handle rocket power and be safe! Well, it turns out that they weren’t. The rumors I’ve heard is that a few people met their fate while harnessing the power of Turbonique. Apparently, if you backed out of the throttle, then got back into it you created a bomb. Copper tubing corrosion and bad solenoids were also an issue.
Here’s a summary of my friend’s story:
“The kart was purchased by a local car dealership and was intended to
be run as advertising. No one at the dealership had the balls to drive
it so I got elected. It was advertised on a radio show for three weeks
prior to a drag race in the summer of 1967. Exact date forgotten, but
may be able to figure it out with time. We had the cart fueled and
ready to go to the line, I had my fire suit on, and a race official
came to me and said “last minute ruling by NHRA that we can’t run
rocket cars due to insurance reasons.” They then announced it to the
crowd. Total BS of course. They padded the crowd wanting to see the
rocket powered go cart and always knew they couldn’t let us run. I
said “It’s fueled up with volatile fuel, can we run after the race?”
They granted that and I made a single run after the crowd left and the
lights were still set up. Only witnesses were the drivers who had
raced that day. That was the only “official” run. I drove it on a
blocked off street a week earlier just to make sure it worked before
we went to the race. So a partial run and a full run, me driving, were
the only times it was “lit up”.”
The kart is 100% original, 100% complete (minus the battery) and a bit dirty. The word “patina” comes to mind, which makes it more valuable right? 😉 He’s motivated to sell it to a collector or museum that will give it the home it deserves. Thanks for viewing!June 18, 2015 at 11:27 am #50082
The Story of the Wetaskiwin Turbonique Twin T-16 Rocket Powered Go-Cart Written by Bill Moore, Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada
I had a friend, Ron Otteson, who worked in the parts department of the Wetaskiwin Motors Chevrolet Dealership in Wetaskiwin, Alberta Canada. This was in the spring of 1967. Ron and I were avid readers of Hot Rod Magazine and saw an ad for Turbonique products. Turbonique was an Orlando Florida company created by an ex aerospace engineer Gene Middlebrooks. Ron sold the manager of Wetaskiwin Motors on purchasing a rocket powered go-cart from Turbonique as an advertising strategy.
We contacted the management of the newly opened car racing facility, Speedway Park, in Edmonton Alberta and they enthusiastically agreed to let us do demonstration runs at their drag meets and said they would pay us $2,500 per run. We ordered the cart and it was air freighted to us at the cost of $2,700 Canadian. Probably wouldn’t be allowed on a plane today due to the high pressure oxygen and nitrogen bottles strapped to the frame.
When we received it we found there was no fuel in the shipment so I phoned Gene and asked him what it burned, and how could we get some? He said they supplied Thermolene to their American customers but he couldn’t ship it on a plane due to its volatility. Thermolene was N-Propyl-Nitrate and in the days before the Internet we couldn’t find a supplier in Alberta. N-Propyl-Nitrate is a monopropellant, which doesn’t require oxygen to combust. Gene informed us that Ethylene Oxide would do the trick, as it is also a monopropellant. Ethylene Oxide is used to produce many other compounds. I had a friend who worked at Dow Chemical at Fort Saskatchewan NE of Edmonton Alberta, and he said they made ethylene oxide there. He and I modified a five-gallon propane bottle to contain the ethylene oxide, which boils at 10.4° C so has to be contained under pressure at normal ambient temperatures.
My Dow friend and I entered Dow using his pass at midnight one night. We went to the sampling shack near where they loaded product on rail cars and bled off five gallons into our container.
So now we had fuel and I wanted to do a test run before we got in front of a crowd at Speedway Park. Ron requested I drive it as I was single and he was married with two young children. With the aid of some friends we blocked off access to three blocks in Wetaskiwin with their cars. We partially fueled it up and I drove it for about one block with a two block shut down. We then rolled it into a friend’s welding shop and shut the door before the police arrived. We told the officer that we don’t know what that loud sound was but we heard it too. So we knew the cart worked.
Speedway Park advertised the rocket-powered go-cart for three weeks prior to their next drag meet in 1967. At the meet they told us we would be running just before a planned intermission. As the time drew nigh we fueled up and I donned my fire suit. A race official came to us and declared that due to a last minute ruling by NHRA they couldn’t run a rocket powered car for insurance reasons. We later heard that all Turbonique products were banned from official NHRA events as they had an inordinate number of explosions and fatalities. We heard opinions that Speedway knew this before the meet and used us for advertising and never intended to let us run.
I appealed to the official that the car was fueled up with a volatile chemical, which we couldn’t put back in the container, and we couldn’t pour it out as it was toxic and explosive. They agreed to let us run after the crowd had left and they would leave the timing lights set up. Another friend from Wetaskiwin was there and he asked me if he could run his 426 Hemi Charger against me for comparison purposes. I said I wasn’t too keen on running beside a relatively large car as in the event of something going wrong I wasn’t going to come out on top when I was sitting on a small go-cart. He said he would then run behind me.
The way the rocket powered cart works is this. There are two spherical rocket chambers on the back of the frame with machined rocket nozzles coming out of them and aiming backward. Two small high pressure steel bottles with regulators are strapped to each side of the frame, one containing oxygen and the other containing nitrogen. There is a tank vertically mounted directly behind the driver’s seat to contain the liquid fuel, in our case ethylene oxide. There is tubing from the oxygen bottle into the rocket chambers and tubing from the nitrogen bottle into the top of the liquid fuel tank. Tubing is connected from the bottom of the liquid fuel tank into the rocket chambers also. There are spark plugs threaded into the top of the spherical rocket chambers, which are fired by high voltage circuits energized by a 12V motorcycle battery.
The run sequence is:
1. Turn on the spark plugs just before the run with a toggle switch mounted on the steering wheel.
2. Step on an electrical switch mounted to the right fixed “pedal”.
3. This switch opens electrically actuated valves on the high pressure tanks. First, the oxygen is released directly into the rocket chambers, then the nitrogen pressurized liquid fuel is forced out the bottom of the fuel tank into the rocket chambers at around 600 PSI.
4. The ethylene oxide hits the oxygen rich atmosphere inside the chambers with the presence of a spark from the spark plugs. It immediately ignites causing back pressure which stops the oxygen flow. Oxygen isn’t needed at that point as the ethylene oxide is a monopropellant and brings it’s own oxygen to the show.
5. There is just a bit more than enough liquid fuel to complete a full power quarter mile run which was the length of a drag strip in those days. Do NOT back off then re-ignite part way down the track. It is theorized that the two fellows killed on these carts did just that, which caused some unstable combination of fuel and oxygen in the chambers resulting in the rocket motors exploding with disastrous results. This could have had something to do with the NHRA ban of Turbonique products.
So I made the run in the right lane with only the drivers of the drag cars that had run that day as witnesses. I turned 151 mph in 9.7 seconds in the quarter mile. At the end of the run I braked, and as I slowed I made a 180 degree turn and turned back toward the start moving into the left lane. As I straightened out I was looking at the grill of the Charger coming at me in the left lane at way over 100 mph. I had left him in the dust, and was expecting him to be coming up behind me in the right lane. Later the driver said when driving behind me he was taking in very large smelly molecules from the cart’s exhaust through his ventilation system and moved to the left lane to get clean air. Luckily I had enough momentum to turn left back into the right lane and he passed by me harmlessly. That would have been a sad way to go after surviving a quarter mile run on the cart.
Back to Wetaskiwin and we had to tell the manager of Wetaskiwin Motors that we wouldn’t be allowed to run the cart as advertising. They took the cart from us and as I found out later, stored it in a shed. I ran into the manager many years later and asked him where the cart was. He told me it was in a shed at his son’s place and I asked if he would sell it to me for nostalgia sake. He agreed and wrote a bill of sale on a paper napkin. I paid him and the next day picked up the cart. It had stuff piled on top of it but suffered very little damage. It was very dirty and somewhat corroded in places but otherwise as good as new. My plan was to restore it and donate it to the Wetaskiwin Reynolds Alberta Museum which is a world class museum celebrating virtually anything that ever had an engine. Their artifacts include old tractors, gas and steam, motor cycles, and virtually every kind of car and truck from the late 1800’s to about 1995. They also have an airplane facility. They display refurbished artifacts in the main building and have hundreds more in “as found” condition in a large storage building near by.
A friend from Calgary who builds modern racing go-carts heard about my cart and put out some feelers on social media. I immediately was contacted by several people and institutions who are interested in purchasing the cart for various reasons. Due to the amounts being offered I am seriously contemplating selling the rocket powered go-cart rather than donating it. My house needs a reno! At this point I still have the cart and haven’t done any restoration on it in case a prospective purchaser would rather do it themselves. I am taking some time to reflect on where the best home for this piece of history would be and of course taking into account financial gain.June 18, 2015 at 11:28 am #50083
More photos to follow in the coming days.June 23, 2015 at 8:12 am #50355
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