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Turbocharging then and now

Back in the 50s I was a shade tree mechanic and followed automobile engineering vociferously. The subject of supercharging always fascinated me but I noticed very few manufactures used it. I remember when the ultimate engine size per horsepower was a standard measure of engine design. The metric of 1 horsepower per 1 cubic inch was the ideal goal. What I remember is that supercharging was noisy, expensive to maintain and bound to shorten the engine life.
Now, many cars use turbo charging to increase horsepower and torque, yet no one mentions anything about long term effect on the car’s engine. What happened? Signed, Undercharged shadetree mechanic

Turbo cars have been available since the early 1960s. BMW offered one in 1974 and Saab offered them in the late 70s untill they were closed. Manufacturers offered a bunch in the 1980s to provide good hp and good mileage in the same engine. So that means there is a good 4 decades and multi millions of miles of experience with turbocharged street vehicles that easily last for 200,000 miles.

Additionally a number of manufacturers offer supercharged cars and have for 20 years. A buddy had a supercharged Pontiac 3800 v6 he ran for 350,000 miles before the engine wore out.

I personally put 113k on a turbo Saab, 75k on a turbo Ford and currently have a turbo Audi 2.0 4 cylinder with 30k. No worries, they work great!

Of course Studebaker had superchargers on the 57&58 Golden Hawks and 58 P-Hawks, of course the 289 was a very stout engine. Ford offered superchargers on 57 Y-Blocks. Then sStudebaker brought back superchargers available on all models in 1963.
Some card from the thirties had superchargers available.
As to engine wear—lubricants are much better now than back then.

Kaiser put a supercharger on the flathead Continental I-6 in 1955 because they didn’t have a V8 or the money to tool up for one.

I also find it unusual that a gasoline-engine family car would require a turbo. But many family cars come turbo equipped these days. I presume it’s due to the car buying public’s desire for both good 0-60 times and good fuel economy. Those parameters sell, so the manufactures are using turbo technology to deliver what the buyer’s want. It’s hard to believe that a turbo-equipped engine would be equally reliable to a non-turbo. But I’ve never had a turbo-equipped car.

I had one of the first turbocharged production cars in the US (a 1962 Oldsmobile Jetfire). It did get 215 horsepower from a 215 cubic inch V8, but the design and execution were problematic. It truly was an idea whose time had not yet come.

My last SAAB had right at 200k miles when I got rid of it. The big thing with turbos is that the oil changes need to be a bit more vigorous.

Back in the late 80s I replaced a number of seized (oil coked) turbochargers on Subarus under warranty and the odd thing about this was that at the time Subaru considered a turbocharger an “emission control device”.

I’m renting a turbocharged 1.4 L VW Jetta. It’s great, 46 mpg on the highway (75 mph) and very peppy.

watched a bit of a video on the 79 capri RS turbo. though ford had the turbo mustang also. carb motor, no intercooler. than in 84 or so they had the svo mustang and the mustang turbo gt which had fuel injection. but the gt did not have an intercooler. and i think the 2 motors were different models.

I recall a plaque on the dash of a 6x6 multifueler truck insisting that the engine be allowed to idle for a minute before shutting it down. That time was required to allow the turbo charger to spin down from some astronomical rpm while oil continued to be fed to the bearing. Failure to follow that instruction meant turbo charger failure. Does any manufacturer marketing turbo engines make it plain that they must follow that procedure? For those insightful of the operation of a turbo charger it is somewhat obvious what occurs if that procedure is ignored.

On long haul trucks turbo chargers are common but those engines run for hours, even days without shutting down and when they are shut down they have almost certainly run at idle for more than a minute. Turbo chargers in such conditions have a relatively long life while turbo chargers on muscle cars suffer.

I have seen ads for turbo oilers that accumulate a head of pressure against a volume of oil that feeds oil into the turbo when the engine is turned off and maybe such devices are part of the current design. Turbos can be properly designed to last as long as the engine with no special driving procedures but is that the case?

I don’t need one. I don’t want one. Until they are properly engineered to survive in ‘normal’ driving conditions turbos will be a problem to deal with but for now they are TRENDY, like the Pelotons and Roxors and cold shoulder blouses.


Actually, there are many publications and groups that have tracked the reliability of engines of all types, and turbocharged in particular. Consumer Reports is just an easy one to recall. Like every new technology, it matured and reliability became a non-issue. Fuel injection, auto stop-start, electronic throttle management, ABS, driver-assist technologies. Every one of them is feared by a segment of the buying population. TVs, phones, home electronics of all types, and every other technology have progressed and those who knew the tech at some distant point all worry that today’s tech is not really working as good as it seems. How could it be? It must be unreliable because it is more complicated.


There’s nothing magic about a turbo engine. It’s an engine with an air compressor on the intake. As long as the engine is strong enough to take the boost, then wondering as to its reliability compared to a NA car is kind of like wondering if a semi will die before a Civic because the semi has more power.

They got a bad rap because when they first came out, they weren’t terribly reliable. But as @GorehamJ pointed out, almost every new thing is unreliable until it matures and the kinks get worked out. They also got a bad rap because people would abuse them. They’d run the car very hard and then shut it down immediately without giving it a chance to cool down a little. That would coke the oil that remained in the turbo. For awhile turbo timers were popular. They’d keep the engine running for a little bit after you removed the key to prevent coking.


in 10yrs we will have lots of turbo history to look at

Agree about shutting down without a short idle time to allow the turbo spin down every time I hear about a turbo going bad I think they are shut down to soon.