RAC Cars News


What a turbo does for a car

By raccars Published


How does adding a turbo charger to your car improve its performance?

Turbocharging is a method of forced induction by means of a turbine. It works by increasing the volume of air entering the combustion chamber, which makes the engine more powerful and efficient. An engine which doesn't use a turbo is naturally aspirated, which means that it relies upon atmospheric pressure to drive air into the combustion chamber.

Turbo and superchargers are both forced induction devices which were historically grouped together, but these days the two are distinguished by their power sources. A turbo is powered by exhaust gases from the engine, whereas a supercharger is powered mechanically, usually by means of a belt attached to the crankshaft. Some cars are fitted with both super and turbochargers.

The turbo was invented in the early 1900s but wasn't commercially viable for another couple of decades. They were first employed in the aviation industry, and then by ships and locomotives before being utilised in the automotive sector. When you fit a turbo to a car it increases the power and torque produced by the engine while also improving fuel economy and reducing emissions.

Turbochargers have created some of the most famous and exciting cars in the world.

Audi Quattro

Famous for its legendary rallying capabilities, the Quattro boasted a tenacious grip on the road thanks to its four wheel drive format, while its turbocharged five cylinder engine made it ferociously quick. The Quattro was the car that really made people sit up and take notice of Audi.

BMW 2002 Turbo

The first mass production car to be fitted with a turbo was the BMW 2002, although significant turbo lag made the experience 'interesting'. It was made in left hand drive format only and with a production run limited to 1,672 units, but had absolutely loads of character.

Bugatti EB110

Bugatti isn't one to do things by halves, and in the Nineties it fitted no less than four turbos to the four wheel drive EB110 supercar. This ostentatious beast also came with scissor doors and a 552hp V12 - and nearly finished Bugatti off. Fortunately the Veyron came along to rescue it...

Ferrari 288 GTO

This was Ferrari's first venture into turbocharger territory and it was designed for Group B rallying. However, that particular competition was axed before the 288 GTO even reached the track. Ferrari went on to sell 272 units of the 288 GTO.

Ford Escort RS Cosworth

The boy racer's dream car was a supercar for the masses and enjoyed genuine motorsport success. The Escort RS Cosworth has to be one of the most entertaining cars to have ever worn the blue oval badge, even though the Garrett T35 turbo unit used in early models suffered more lag than a transatlantic traveller.

Lotus Carlton

Another favourite of car thieves and joy riders in the early Nineties, the Lotus Carlton was a ferociously quick collaboration between Vauxhall and the Hethel gang. Its 177mph top speed was ridiculous at the time and left road safety campaigners rather upset and flustered.

Maserati Biturbo

Working on the premise that if one turbo equals good, two must be even better, Maserati became the first manufacturer to use twin turbocharging. The Biturbo never achieved the public profile of some other Maseratis but was still one of the most exciting cars of its day.

MG Montego Turbo

The Austin Montego was a typical and not particularly interesting boxy Eighties saloon - that is until it was fitted with an MG badge and a turbocharger to make it MG's fastest production car ever. A number of sports car drivers were surprised to find themselves left trailing in the wake of one of these after pulling away from the lights.

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