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The greatest turbo cars ever built

By Andy Enright, 22 Jul 2020 History of Turbo

The greatest turbo cars of all time

Meet the five cars that helped create, and define, the cult of boost

Ferrari F40 (1987-1992)

The F40 wasn’t Ferrari’s first turbo car and nor was it Maranello’s best.

It’s neither as light nor as beautiful as its predecessor, the 288 GTO, but its appeal lay in its aggression and its undiluted charisma.

While Porsche was building complexity into its 959, Ferrari was paring it back to deliver a visceral driving experience.

Ferrari F40

McLaren designer Gordon Murray criticised its 1950s chassis tech and ‘marketing Kevlar’ but to drive one is to be awed by the savagery of its turbo power delivery.

That’s why, for many, it remains the most desirable Ferrari of all.

Interview with the man who engineered the Ferrari F40 and 288 GTO

 

Porsche 930 Turbo (1975-1989)

Consider this: In 1975 a Porsche 911 Carrera 3.0 made 147kW. Add a single KKK turbo and suddenly a fast car turned into a 191kW rocket.

This had swollen to 243kW in 1983, by which point the 911 Turbo’s quirky handling showed that engine technology had outpaced contemporary means of harnessing it.

Porsche 930 Turbo

Independent tests found it quicker than Ferrari and Lambo’s V12 flagships.

Most valuable are the 948 Flachbau (flatnose) versions produced under the special order scheme which now change hands at $1m.

930 to 992: History of the Porsche 911 turbo

 

Nissan Skyline GT-R (1989-1994)

Nissan can’t claim any great originality in mating a turbo lump with all-wheel drive – Audi’s quattro did that a decade earlier – but few did it better than the Skyline GT-R.

Arguably at its purest and most desirable in its lightest R32 body, the GT-R legend also includes Jim Richards infamous “pack of arseholes” at Bathurst in ’92.

Nissan Skyline GT-R R32

We tend to think of the twin-turbo RB26DETT powerplant as a heavy lump but N1 models weighed just 1400kg or, if you prefer, usefully lighter than a modern hot hatch like a Hyundai i30 N.

Nissan Skyline GT-R R32 goes up against supercars

 

Mercedes-AMG M177 (2015-)

We all thought the 6208cc naturally aspirated M156 engine that appeared in the 2008 C63 AMG was one for the ages.

Then the 3982cc twin-turbo M177 unit appeared and made us all eat our words.

Mercedes-AMG engine

Quicker, cleaner, more tractable and with the low-end torque to propel big AMG bodies as well as compact ones, it made downsizing more than respectable.

The forthcoming AMG GT 73 EQ Power+ 4-Door will have the ultimate iteration of this engine. How does the prospect of 597kW grab you?

 

Saab 99 Turbo (1978-1985)

Donning some of the coolest wheels of the 1970s, the 99 Turbo democratised turbocharging and gave a decade-old model a new lease of life.

Add turbo badging and a spoiler kit and you have a ready-made template for 1980s turbo cool.

Saab 99 Turbo

Peter Robinson tells a delightful story of Bill Tuckey crashing a Wheels test in 1978, sampling the 99 Turbo, and then trying to wrangle an exchange with his Torana test car for it.

We called the Turbo brilliant, exciting, thrilling and went so far as to say it “ranks as one of the great cars”. 


HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Subaru Impreza Turbo

Subaru Impreza Turbo

Made two litres, a turbo and all-wheel drive a classic formula. Still the most accessible of all the rally-reps, the Impreza is destined for Modern Classic status

BMW 2002 Turbo

BMW 2002

The original turbo sports sedan undone by geopolitics. German press criticised its “provoking aggression” but its 127kW was limited by the gearbox, not turbo tech

Jaguar XJ220

Jaguar XJ220

A turbo icon, but was originally slated to have an atmo V12. Managed a 7m46s lap of the ’Ring in ’91. Jaguar didn’t find that noteworthy and told nobody

Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo

MItsubishi Cordia

Surprised? Don’t be. Did more than most to move the meter on the power Aussies expected from a turbo hatch. Hit 400m in 15.9s in ’84, rewriting bang-for-buck

Turbo Titans
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the humble turbocharger and its miraculous power-boosting abilities.

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