'How G.M.'s First Turbo Engines Crashed and Burned'

The NY Times published it, but I found a link to a copy elsewhere:
Lots of mistakes fun to read about!

1 Like

The Delrin cooling fan on the Corvair was so typical of GM at that time, using their customers as beta testers.

GM didn’t sell the Corvair with that Delrin fan, that was a test vehicle. They found the problem, changed materials and went with aluminum before it was offered for sale. Exactly what they were supposed to do.


Back in the 80s/90s I saw quite a few of those early turbo SAABs and they were not unreliable as claimed.

The problem was that the turbo wastegates were adjustable and misguided adjustments which raised boost from 7 to 15-20; which then led to blown head gaskets, head bolts pulled from the engine block, and so on.
People would deny tampering with the wastegate but a missing lead seal (same as on a home electric meter) meant they were lying through their teeth.

1 Like

I tweaked my 85 Mekur turbo’s boost. 10.5 psi in 1st gear, 13.5 psi in 2nd thru 5th from the factory.

Bypass the 1st gear low pressure solenoid, drill out the bleed and you get 17.5 psi boost in every gear. Just below the overboost warning buzzer set to 18 psi. Done after the warranty expired, of course!

Problem with the SAABs was that Chiltons manuals omitted a few critical statements.
One being that there was no caution about how much to turn that hex on the waste gate to raise boost and there was a testing method to be used when checking boost.

People could not believe (and many found out the hard way) that 1/20th of a turn was enough. So they would give it half or a full turn. That was usually followed by catastrophic failure…and denials of tampering.

How much power did you gain? Check it on a dyno?

Never checked it on a dyno. Seat of the pants feel was significant.

A guy from KS had a Merkur at the road race course here in OK some years back. Stock lower end with head work and running 21 pounds of boost.

The old big block Mustangs and Corvettes would catch him on the corners but once the turbo was spooled up out of those corners he was outrunning them all.

Those old 2.3 liter 4s were fairly stout on the bottom end. Lots of small car race engines were and are built on the various sizes of these engines.

Even boosted 2.3s were not known for blowing head gaskets.