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35 Years Before the Regal Turbo, Buick Helped Build This Jet Engine for American Warplanes
When you think of Buick engines, you inevitably think of one of, at most, three examples. The Fireball straight-eight, the Nailhead V8, and the 3.8-liter V6 turbo. But we bet most of you had no idea whatsoever that 30 years before they were messing around with turbos, Buick had a hand in building jet turbine engines instead.

35 Years Before the Regal Turbo, Buick Helped Build This Jet Engine for American Warplanes

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It must be said, Buick didn't invent or design the jet engine they'd go on to build during times of war. It was the creation of one of the most noteworthy aeronautical companies in American history, and even they copied it from the Brits. Curtiss-Wright, consisting of a merger between Wright Aeronautical Company of Patterson, New Jersey, and Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corporation of Buffalo, New York, sired some of the first turbojet engines in American warplanes.

They were the first in line for some of Great Britain's greatest jet technology in the year 1950. The engine in question came courtesy of Armstrong Siddeley of Coventry, England, U.K., dubbed the Saphire. Though they're most famous for building cars based on WWII-vintage British fighters and bombers like the Lancaster, Tempest, Typhoon, and even the Sapphire itself, their claim to fame in the aviation sector was their top-notch jet engines.

Their engine tech was so impressive that Curtiss-Wright boss Roy T. Hurley flew himself to Great Britain to take a look for himself. What he saw when he arrived at Armstrong Siddeley HQ thoroughly blew his mind. By comparison, the very first jet engines from the U.S., the U.K., and even Germany were frail, unreliable, and very prone to failure. The Sapphire was altogether different.

Its forged composite-alloy compressor blades and robust fuelling and cooling internals made lesser jet engines look practically useless by comparison. In its most powerful configuration, the British Sapphire jetted an impressive 8,300 lbf (37,000 N) of thrust and was used in both the Gloster Javelin and Hawker Hunter fighters as well as the Hadley Page Victor bomber. By 1951, Curtiss Wright was ready with licensing in hand to make their own variant of the Sapphire, christened the Wright J-65.

Of course, the Americans did make a couple of changes to the British design. One such was swapping the Sapphires hand-machined midsection diffuser frame with one fabricated from nodular iron and then welded into place in order to streamline production and save money that could be put back into development elsewhere. It also attempted to address concerns with compressor stall situations at low RPMs with the Sapphire attributed to a lack of air inlets on the engine nacelle.

Though Curtiss Wrights's rivals at Pratt & Whitney had beaten them to the market with their J57 turbojet, the J-65 was still able to secure contracts to power the American Martin B-57 Canberra bomber, Republic F-84F Thunderstreak, and A-4 Skyhawk land fighters, and the North American FJ Fury, and the Grumman F-11 Tiger Naval fighters.

It was during this initial production run to supply these programs that the Buick division of General Motors was contracted to use their Detroit factories to help meet demand. At the very same time Buick was manufacturing the iconic Fireball straight-eight engine, their own variant of the J-65, dubbed the J65-B-3, was leaving factory floors owned by the very same company.

Units produced by both Buick and Curtiss-Wright are said to have had power outputs as high as 7,200 lbf (32,000 N) of thrust each, with later variants exceeding the power output of even the British Sapphire engine it's derived from.

This particular J-65 we have in front of us here is currently in the collection of the Glenn H Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, New York. A museum dedicated to the life of a man whose company would go on to merge with Wright Aeronautical to make the J-65 project a reality.

The engine, which was used in flight, was partially disassembled and a section of its nacelle removed to allow the viewing public to see all the interesting and complicated-looking technology on display. It's only once you see the internals of a turbojet engine up close and personal that you understand just what a wonderful and somewhat miraculous technology it can be.

Check the gallery above if you'd like to see more.

 
 
 
 
 

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