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5 amazing cars that use aircraft engines

5 amazing cars that use aircraft engines

Not much can match the appeal of swapping a factory car engine for a crazy power plant that really doesn’t belong in its new home. From slotting a screaming Hayabusa engine into a Smart car, to a Porsche 911-powered VW Samba bus, it’s been done. 

However, few swaps can top a car containing an engine that was never even designed to drive wheels. Harnessing aircraft power in this way is nothing new though. 

Since 1924, every outright land speed record-breaking car has been propelled this way, but don’t go thinking you need corporate sponsorship and a spare dry lake bed to achieve the same rush. 

Some talented (and arguably mad) individuals have produced cars with plane or helicopter engines, using little more than sheer creativity and a well-stocked tool shed. Here are our top five cars with aero power.

Cars with airplane engines - Toyota MR2

05 Tail happy
The first wave of SW20 MR2s showed you didn't need to cough up for a Porsche 911 to experience snap oversteer. While Toyota later addressed these safety concerns, Indiana mentalist Marc Labranche undid any stability fixes by dropping an 8.8-litre radial aircraft engine in to the back of his MR2.

Originally fitted to a 1940s Ryan PT-22 Recruit training aircraft, the Kinner R-55 motor is positively compact compared to the V12 aero monsters of the day. But power is down, too, at just 160hp. Pretty paltry when you consider the factory MR2 Turbo engine could muster over 200bhp. At least you can bet that even with forced induction, no stock MR2 power unit could match the Kinner’s torque curve.

Cars with airplane engines - Rover SD1

04 Best of British
Back in 1983, Rover must have been pretty pleased with extracting 187bhp from its range-topping 3.5-litre SD1 Vitesse, but that wasn't enough for a Brit called Charley Broomfield. By moving the firewall back almost to the B pillars, he managed to insert a 27-litre Rolls Royce Meteor motor; a development of the Spitfire's famed Merlin engine.

The result? Around 650bhp and 1500ft/lb torque... at just 2500rpm. To harness such low-down grunt, Broomfield mated the Meteor to a bus gearbox to gear up the motor three-fold and achieve a verified 162mph before he ran out of road. Not bad for something literally created in a shed.

Cars with airplane engines - the Beast

03 Phallic symbol
Some may say a man who drives a car with a front end this long is compensating for something, but frankly you’d need some serious spheres to pilot this 19ft long beast. No really, that’s what it’s called: the Beast. Opinions vary over the origin of the power plant, with legend claiming it to be a bone fide Rolls Royce Merlin aero engine, and naysayers demoting it to the de-tuned, non-supercharged version built for the WW2 Centurion tank.

But two things are certain: its 27-litre displacement, and a history of controversy. See, back in the sixties when the Beast was born, it proudly wore a Rolls Royce grille to match its heart. Predictably Rolls’ top brass weren’t impressed, resulting in a court-ordered de-bling. The Beast still lives on though, in sunny Spain. Apparently.

Cars with airplane engines - jet Beetle

02 Herbie goes bonkers
Piston-propelled aero engines are all well and good, but these will only annoy your neighbours with noise. If you also want to set fire to next door’s cat, it’s time for jet power. Californian Ron Patrick did exactly this, loading a jet-modified gas turbine engine from a Sea King helicopter into the back of humble New Beetle.

Interestingly, the guy who sold him the engine, Tim Arfons, also knows a thing or two about jet power. His father, Art Arfons, broke the world land speed record in the mid-sixties in a jet-powered car appropriately titled Green Monster.

Patrick's Beetle isn't quite so monstrous, but it does pack 1350bhp. And for that little extra boost, the original 90bhp VW motor remains, making this burning bug street legal.

Cars with airplane engines - Thrust SSC Bloodhound

01 To Mach 1 and beyond
To really see what a jet powered car can do, you’ll need to mount the fire power in something better than a nostalgic take on Hitler’s vision for hippie mobilisation. The man who's spearheaded the ultimate in jet cars is one Richard Noble. Not content with breaking the land speed record in 1983 in the jet-powered Thrust2, he helped fund and design the current record-holding Thrust SSC.

Travelling at 763mph, this car not only broke the land speed record, it also broke the sound barrier. A pair of Rolls Royce Spey jets provided the punch, and sitting between them in the hot seat was RAF fighter pilot Andy Green.

Perhaps most amazingly, this record has stood unbeaten since 1997. Noble isn’t resting on his laurels though, as he’s got a new project: Bloodhound SSC. Target speed? 1000mph, generated by an engine that’s actually a hybrid… of jet and rocket power.