Datsun's 280ZX was a pretty awesome car in its own right. Seth Kettleman, however, decided to take a classic 1983 model, and augment it in a rather unique way – he replaced its original six-cylinder power plant with an ex-US Air Force Garrett GTP turboshaft engine. The end result looks pretty sharp, but it really has to be heard to believed ... and, if you like what you hear, you can buy the car now for US$16,000.
Kettleman is a surplus aircraft parts dealer, and a tinkerer who likes to experiment with vehicles. In the recent past, he provided a Boeing engine and technical support for the building of a jet-powered Batmobile replica. He also ended up coming into possession of a canopy from an A-12 Avenger II stealth bomber, which he attempted to sell on eBay.
The 280ZX’s replacement engine was removed from a military surplus auxiliary power unit, which is one of the places where turboshafts are commonly found. They also make their way into things like helicopters, tanks, hovercrafts and ships ... cars, though, not so much.
Unlike the engine you would find in a jet fighter (for instance), a turboshaft doesn’t create propulsion simply through jet thrust, but instead harnesses exhaust energy to spin a rotating shaft – that shaft subsequently turns something such as a set of rotor blades. Depending on who you ask, turboshafts aren’t technically considered to be jet engines, although they are often thought of as such, as they are very closely related.
The output shaft of the Garrett GTP in Kettleman’s car spins at 6,000 rpm. It runs into a drop down reduction gearbox, which reduces the speed to around 3,250 rpm. The gearbox also reverses the direction of rotation, making it appropriate for use with the car’s factory drivetrain, which includes its 5-speed transmission, flywheel, and clutch.
Ultimately producing 210 shp (shaft horsepower), the engine doesn’t propel the car to fantastic speeds, but it reportedly does allow it to keep up with traffic. It will run on kerosene, diesel, jet fuels, aviation gas, or a combination of fuels, and gulps them down at a rate of about 20 US gallons (75.7 liters) an hour. Because it produces no vacuum that can be used by the brake booster, Seth added a separate vacuum pump for that purpose.
Other added features include an epoxy-primed urethane matte-black paint job, custom headlight covers modeled after the engine cones of an SR-71 Blackbird jet, and indicators such as a dashboard exhaust gas temperature gauge. It does have some rust, however, and lacks a heater, air conditioner and radio – not that anyone would be buying the car as a practical means of transportation.
“This was a bare bones budget build,” Kettleman told us. “It was to prove that a standard turbo-shaft turbine without a free turbine power-section, could indeed be installed in an automotive application ... The car is very street able and is pretty similar to driving any other 5-speed car. Only thing you don't do is down shift and engine brake like a normal car. The turbine does produce some engine braking, yet you don't want to apply too much load at once or the turbine will slow and temperatures will rise. Yet all in all it drives great.”
If that sounds like your kind of ride, you can check it out on eBay right now. You can also take a listen, in the video below.