Wacky 1993 Volvo 850 Turbine Hybrid Prototype Being Auctioned at No Reserve

The vehicle was built in an effort to reduce emissions but fell victim to unmanageable fuel economy.


General Motors, and Ford all conducted work on turbine technology in the mid-20th century. The allure of smooth, effortless power coming from a simpler source as compared to a piston engine was very attractive, although the idea never caught on because of seemingly inescapable flaws. That doesn’t mean the idea was completely abandoned, though—far from it.

That very allure drove Swedish automaker Volvo to experiment with the technology starting in the late 1970s, and this experimentation eventually led to the construction of the prototype being sold Thursday at a Bonhams auction in Paris. The 1993 850 in question has a small gas turbine engine—at least visually similar to others we’ve seen in passenger cars—that isn’t connected to the wheels. Rather, it spins a generator to charge a battery. The battery, in turn, sends its charge to electric motors at the front wheels. The expected sale price for this unusual piece of automotive history? At least $68,000.

That’s a surprisingly low price for a vehicle that doubtlessly took hundreds of thousands—if not millions—to develop, and it only has around 2,500 miles on the odometer. A practically new turbine-powered hybrid Volvo 850? Count me in!

The weakest link in this whole drivetrain is presumably the nickel-cadmium battery. That said, the Volvo ECC concept, which likely has a very similar drivetrain to this car, claims an all-electric range of 90 miles, which isn’t bad and can probably be attributed to its .23 drag coefficient. This 850’s aerodynamics are doubtlessly worse, but it’s got the gas turbine engine hanging around too.

Specs for the 850 in question are hazy, but we do know that the ECC’s drivetrain produced a peak output of 95 horsepower, which allowed it to sprint to 60 in 12.5 seconds when in “hybrid” mode. This prototype is likely very similar. There is an associated set of magazine pages that also comes with this car describing its performance and engineering, though the listing only shows one of these pages. Interestingly, the generator used to charge the battery was also used to spin up the turbine during the starting process. Clearly, there’s something to this turbine-hybrid layout.

In the end, this Volvo didn’t work out because of what seems like the unsolvable turbine problem: fuel economy. Apparently, the high NOx emission issue which plagued earlier attempts at using these engines was partially solved by evaporating diesel fuel into the air before it was burned in the engine, but the motor’s thirst was unmanageable. Despite having a higher thermal efficiency than a piston engine, turbines just aren’t well suited for use in automobiles.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy this turbine-powered automobile, massive tailpipe and all. The auction is set to take place on Thursday, Feb. 3, and the car is being sold at no reserve. I might make a cheeky bid myself. Who knows, maybe I’ll just have to go bankrupt. 

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