STP-Paxton Turbocar

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STP-Paxton Turbocar
STP Turbine.jpg
CategoryUSAC Roadster
Designer(s)Ken Wallis
Andy Granatelli
Technical specifications
ChassisSpace frame
Suspension (front)Double wishbone with coil spring
Suspension (rear)Double wishbone with coil spring
EngineUnited Aircraft of Canada ST6B-62 gas turbine, mid-mounted
Competition history
Notable entrantsUnited States STP Division of Studebaker Corp.
Notable driversUnited States Parnelli Jones
United States Joe Leonard
Debut1967 Indianapolis 500

The STP-Paxton Turbocar was an American racing car, designed by Ken Wallis as the STP entry in the Indianapolis 500. Parnelli Jones drove in 1967; after leading for much of the race, a transmission failure with only eight miles left ended its race. A crash during qualifying for 1968 was not fixed and the car ended its career.


Wallis, a distant relative of Barnes Wallis, had developed a workable plan for harnessing a gas turbine to a race car. He first presented the idea to Dan Gurney, who passed on the idea. Wallis then offered the plan to Carroll Shelby and Shelby said (according to later court testimony), "Hogwash." Finally, Andy Granatelli of STP expressed interest in the concept. Wallis and his crew moved in with Andy's brother Joe at STP's Paxton division in Santa Monica, and they began work on the turbocar in January 1966. It was Granatelli who introduced a side-by-side concept — that is, putting the mid-mounted (relative to the wheelbase) engine at the driver's left (a similar idea, with the driver in an offset gondola on the left, had been used by Smokey Yunick several years earlier). Granatelli also added four-wheel drive to the design.[1]

The aluminum frame of the car was badly warped during heat treating in early 1966, eliminating any possibility of the car racing in the 1966 Indianapolis 500.[2] Work started over again and the car was ready for the 1967 Indianapolis 500. Parnelli Jones drove the car during tire testing in Phoenix early that year and was impressed with the car. He agreed to drive the car in the Indianapolis 500 after being offered $100,000 and half of any prize money he won.[3]

Jones qualified the car at Indianapolis in sixth place at 166.075 mph. At the start of the race, he quickly took the lead and rarely relinquished it. However, with just eight miles left to go, he coasted into the pits with a transmission bearing failure.[4] The car was refurbished and entered by STP in the 1968 Indianapolis 500. Driven by Joe Leonard, the car crashed into the turn four wall during practice and never raced again.[1][5]

The car was originally donated to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History by the STP Corporation. It is currently on loan to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.[6] Curiously, rather than model this car Mattel chose to make a model of the similar "Shelby Turbine" which practised at Indianapolis in 1968 as one of the popular Hot Wheels toy cars. The Lotus 56 used a modified version of the same engine and four-wheel drive in a more advanced wedge-shaped body with new USAC intake restrictions, but one car crashed in turn one during practice killing driver Mike Spence and the three entered into the race did not finish either; subsequently USAC banned turbines and four-wheel drive cars entirely.


The STP-Paxton Turbocar was built around an aluminum box-shaped backbone. The driver was seated on the right side of the backbone, while the engine, a Pratt & Whitney Canada ST6B-62 turbine engine, was mounted on the left side of the backbone. Though never successful as an automobile powerplant, the small aircraft engine it was based on would become one of the most popular turboprop aircraft engines in history. The engine drove a Ferguson four-wheel drive system, which transmitted the power to the wheels. A torque converter eliminated the need for a clutch pedal and gearshift. The engine idled at 54% of full throttle, which meant that the driver didn't even have to press the accelerator pedal to pull away; all he had to do was ease his foot off the brake pedal. A movable panel was mounted behind the cockpit, which acted as an airbrake. The suspension's coil springs were located inside the backbone and the suspension A-frames had airfoil cross-sections. The car weighed 1,750 pounds, a few hundred pounds more than the Indy minimum weight of 1,350 pounds.[4]

USAC had limited the engine intake area to 23.999 square inches to limit the turbine's power output, but the engine still produced 550 hp. However, drivers reported that it had a three-second throttle lag. In less than a month after the 1967 Indianapolis 500, USAC cut the allowable turbine air intake area from 23.999 to 15.999 square inches and imposed the ruling immediately, although it had been customary to give two years' notice of engine changes.[1] With the reduced inlet area, the maximum lap speed that could be achieved was 161 mph.[7]


Television comedian Johnny Carson once drove the Turbine at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during a private test session.[8]

The cowling for the car was misplaced for over 20 years. It was found in 2007 in an office at the Smithsonian Institution.


  1. ^ a b c 'I've Got the Car Right Here' Retrieved 27 June 2011
  2. ^ Granatelli, Andy, They Call Me Mister 500 Henry Regnery Company. January 1969. ISBN 0-8092-9635-7
  3. ^ 'Parnelli Jones Made Mark in Speedway History' Retrieved 27 June 2011
  4. ^ a b 'The Big Engine That Almost Did' Popular Mechanics August 1967. Retrieved 27 June 2011
  5. ^ Autocourse Official History of the Indianapolis 500 Davidson, Donald and Shaffer, Rick . MBI Publishing Company, 2006. ISBN 1-905334-20-6.
  6. ^ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Retrieved 27 June 2011
  7. ^ 'Roger Ward's Indy 500 Preview: Will the Turbines Take Over?' Popular Mechanics May 1968.
  8. ^ "Indianapolis Motor Speedway remembers Johnny Carson". 25 January 2005. Retrieved 3 March 2015.

See also[edit]