August 2016

My name is Charlotte Gallant and I have recently taken up the post of BMIHT Deputy Archivist at the British Motor Museum. One of my first projects has been to begin organising our Collection of Engineering Papers. This is a wide ranging assortment of test papers, meeting minutes and technical data on engines, bodies, paint, trim and many other aspects of British Leyland cars from around 1950 to the early 1980s. One of the largest groups of material in this Collection relates to Rover Gas Turbines. When I started, I knew very little about this fascinating company, but looking through this documentation made me want to investigate further which led me to an interesting article detailing a specific event in the company’s history.

Why This Document?

Among the various reports and paperwork, I discovered a box of scrapbooks filled with newspaper cuttings. Someone had lovingly cut hundreds of articles out of national, local and foreign newspapers about Rover Gas Turbines and kept them safe for future generations. There are five large scrapbooks in total, ranging from 1950 to 1966. Three are about general Rover Gas Turbine news and events, while the other two scrapbooks relate to particular aspects of the history of the company. One is about the gas-turbine powered ‘Jet 1’ (1950-1951) and the other is about the launch of the Rover Gas Turbine marine engine Although both subjects are interesting, it is the latter which caught my attention as I had never heard of this type of engine being used for nautical purposes.

The format of a scrapbook, something which someone has taken so much time and care over, really appeals to me (having completed a similar project as a child with Formula One racing); and although the article I eventually chose contains a lot of technical information, it also captures the social and marine history of the time. The article is from ‘Yachts and Yachting’, a publication which is still running today. While there are many different cuttings within the scrapbook, this one had a nice balance of text (which was informative without being overly technical), pictures and diagrams.

The launch, powered by two 120 hp Rover gas turbine engines, commenced its test on Thursday 12 October 1950 at Chelsea Reach on the river Thames. It is said that until the engines were started, ‘Torquil’ looked like any other air/sea rescue launch, except for the twin funnels which took away hot gases from the engines. As the article states, no trouble was experienced in starting the turbines, which were quiet and almost vibrationless. The launch was considered by Rover to be a floating test bed only. Indications were, however, that a good turn of speed could be generated. Unfortunately, the high fuel consumption proved to be a severe problem which Rover’s engineers had to contend with.

Rover gas turbines were used in a number of other ventures, including light aircraft, water pumps and electricity generating units. However production numbers were never large and, according to Technical Director, Noel Penny, in the whole of its lifetime the company only just about broke even.

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