During the early 1960s, compact cars such as the Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant, and Rambler American were popular with the American driving public. For the most part scaled-down versions of large American cars and powered by 6-cylinder and small block V-8 engines, these compacts were designed for economy rather than performance. Although the economical attributes of these compacts were much appreciated at the time, there was a sector of the American driving public that desired more horsepower from these cars. In response to the demand for more powerful compacts, General Motors’ Oldsmobile Division took a then-novel approach of installing a turbocharger on a small block V-8 engine. The end product of Oldsmobile’s innovation was the world’s first turbocharged passenger car: the Oldsmobile F85 Jetfire.
Introduced in April 1962 and sold during the 1962 and 1963 model years, the Jetfire was a special version of the Oldsmobile F85 compact. Marketed as a sporty personal car, it offered a higher level of performance than the typical American compact of the day. The Jetfire used the F85’s chassis and rode on a 112-inch wheelbase. It was clothed with a two-door hardtop body. Inside, the Jetfire was given a sportier interior than the standard F85, being equipped with bucket seats and a front compartment console.
But it was the Jetfire’s exclusive “Turbo Rocket” engine that set it apart from other cars of the day. The engine itself was a high-compression version of General Motors’ 215 cubic-inch Small Block V-8. An advanced power plant originally designed by Buick, it featured an all-aluminum block and cylinder heads, and was given a single-barrel carburetor. The engine was fitted with a turbocharger supplied by Garrett AiResearch, which was powered by the engine’s exhaust gases. A particularly novel feature of this turbocharged power plant was its use of fluid injection, which cooled the engine by spraying “Turbo Rocket Fluid” into the air-fuel mix when the turbocharger was engaged. A 50/50 mixture of distilled water and methyl alcohol sold by Oldsmobile dealerships, the “Turbo Rocket Fluid” was supplied by a fluid reservoir that required periodic refilling by the car’s owner.
Fitted with this innovative engine, the Jetfire was capable of a high level of performance for an American compact car. The “Turbo Rocket” engine produced 215 horsepower, at a then-impressive power ratio of 1 horsepower per cubic inch. The car was also blessed with excellent acceleration, able to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 8.5 seconds. Oldsmobile also boasted that turbo charging allowed it to improve the car’s performance without sacrificing fuel economy.
Although the Jetfire was a pioneering car, it ultimately proved to be unsuccessful. The engine was plagued by cooling problems, and drivers frequently neglected to refill the “Turbo Rocket Fluid” reservoir, which often led to engine damage. These problems led Oldsmobile to take the extraordinary step of offering to remove the Jetfire’s turbocharger system and replace it with a four-barrel carburetor, and many Jetfire owners opted to do just that. A market shift towards cars with larger engines also hastened the Jetfire’s demise.
After an unsuccessful two-year production run, Oldsmobile pulled the plug on the F85 Jetfire in 1963. Only 9,607 of these cars were built. A mere handful of fully intact F85 Jetfires are still in existence today.
’63 Oldsmobile: Ninety-Eight, Super 88, Dynamic 88, Starfire, F-85, Jetfire, Oldsmobile: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Oldsmobile Range, 1962-1964
Hunter, M. Park, “1962 Oldsmobile Jetfire,” Special Interest Autos, April 1996
Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 589-593
New From Olds…Only From Olds!…Jetfire by Oldsmobile (1962), Oldsmobile: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Hurst/Olds, Jetfire, Landau, Limited, and L55, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.
There’s Something Extra Under This Hood! – Exclusively in Jetfire by Olds! (1962), Oldsmobile: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Hurst/Olds, Jetfire, Landau, Limited, and L55, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.
“The Early Days of Turbo – Part 4,” Autospeed, Issue 504, 28 October 2008
Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.