"Jet-powered" 280ZX could be yours for $16,000


May 23, 2012

Seth Kettleman's turboshaft-powered, jet fuel-burning 1983 Datsun 280ZX

Seth Kettleman's turboshaft-powered, jet fuel-burning 1983 Datsun 280ZX

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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.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

If Chrysler had continued turbine research past 1968, we would have forgotten about pistons by now.

Captain Obvious

The car sounded like it was going to sprout an afterburner or helicopter blades and take off at any moment near the end. Would have liked to see it blasting down a highway (runway?). It is a shame that it does not produce that much power though.

Maybe ho should have used a more powerful helicopter gas turbine for greater effect.


Turbines are great at doing a few things rather well. Making power and consuming fuel being right at the top of the list. A 280Z with a few modifications can run 13 second quarter mile runs without burning 20 gallons in a hour.

While it's neat he has a turbine, it's not efficient.


I thought turbine engines are alot more efficient than internal (65%), 20 gallons a hour for 210 hp, ill pass

Narendra Rajcoomar

Narendra, otto engines are about 30% efficient, diesel about 40%, and turbine efficiency depends on load, and is at it's best under max output, but generally around 25%

Byron Morgan

It's right up there with Jay Leno's Y2K Jet turbine motorcycle !!!

Jim Andrews

This reminds me of the rover gas turbine that I studied in school. A reciprocating ICE can be more thermally efficient than a gas turbine because higher temperatures can be sustained in the internal combustion engine than in a continuously operating turbine (better Carnot efficiency).

Materials limit the temperature at which thermal energy is transferred to the working fluid (mostly air) in a turbine, but in a reciprocating engine, the engine materials have a chance to cool in between power strokes.

Rawle Roopchand

It might just be the only one I've seen with a 5-speed. They're usually automatics.

As for Jay's Y2K bike, Seth has worked on the original prototype and  this is MUCH cheaper, obviously.

He is building a more powerful  go-cart with a helicopter motor right now.

I know Seth and he can't discuss anymore but he told me BEFORE  he signed the papers with the feds (now he can't discuss it)  about the canopy deal.

They reimbursed him for his costs (he more or less broke even) but they basically confiscated it.

Thanks,Ben, for the good article.

You outlined the Turbine-Automotive challenges pretty well.

Not all experimental projects are very "logical" or "practical"  at first glance but, like race cars, the derivitives can eventually be very impressive AND practical.

For now, this is art meets science on a  bare-bones budget.

Turbines are multi-fuel and have unquestionable power-to-weight superiority over anything else (even electric when everything, such as batteries and/or generators are factored in)

I would like to believe that with the advent of CNC and the expansion of affordable Turbo technology that the day in the sun for the full spread of Turbine applications has yet to come.

If Turbos are what make so many motors come alive, why not just get rid of the motor,make the Turbo bigger and then feed it fuel?

After all, how many diesels do you see on the mass vehicle market WITHOUT Turbos?

In Memory of Don Vesco and Turbinator- STILL the fastest wheel-driven car ever built.

Only 12 wheel-driven cars have ever broken 400mph- The Turbine-powered 4wd Turbinator is STILL King of the Hill!

All the best to Rick and the Vesco crew as they go for 500mph! "First to 500!"

GO TEAM! {^,^}

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