Why Oldsmobile's Strange F-85 Jetfire Engine Was Way Ahead Of Its Time

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Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire engine

Turbocharged engines are fairly common in modern vehicles, but in the early 1960s turbo systems were an emerging technology. One of the earliest turbo systems was the Jetfire Turbo Rocket add-on that Oldsmobile introduced as an option on the Oldsmobile F-85 Cutlass Coupe midway through the 1962 model year. Oldsmobile barely lost the race to get the first turbocharger to market to Chevrolet, which introduced the Corvair Spyder Turbo two weeks earlier.

The Oldsmobile Jetfire System required a mixture of distilled water, methanol, and a special rust inhibitor to be added to a dedicated tank under the hood. The system boosted the F-85 Jetfire V8's output to 215 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, and the Jetfire was available in 1962 as a station wagon and in 1963 as a coupe or convertible.

Those output numbers were a dramatic increase over those of the base F-85 Cutlass, which put out 155 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque without the Jetfire add-on. 

Paired with the Borg Warner four-speed manual transmission, a 1962 Jetfire-equipped coupe could go from 0-60 in 8.5 seconds and reach a maximum speed of 107 mph.

Many owners gave up on the Jetfire system

Despite the remarkable boost in performance the Jetfire system provided, it ultimately proved to be too far ahead of its time. Many Jetfire owners didn't drive the car very aggressively, which resulted in the turbo system not being activated frequently enough to generate boost and lubricate the shaft of the turbo's compressor.  

The task of keeping the Turbo Rocket tank full was also often neglected, and the system would shut down if the tank ran dry. The subsequent loss of performance frustrated many Jetfire owners who didn't understand the simple solution. In 1965, Oldsmobile began offering Jetfire owners the option of swapping out the system for a conventional four-barrel carburetor and intake, meaning it's hard to find an intact F-85 Jetfire engine today. The quirky system earned the F-85 Jetfire a spot on our list of underappreciated Oldsmobile muscle cars, and Jim Noel, who founded oldsjetfire.com and works to preserve and rebuild the systems from his workshop in Bloomington, Minnesota, told Hagerty he thinks there are only about 150 restorable Jetfires left. 

"I talk with Jetfire owners every month, and more of them are considering restoration," he said. "I can think of 20-25 that are in some state of being worked on."

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