Garrett: The man, the turbo, the future

By Motoring Staff Time of article published Mar 22, 2019

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John Clifford Garrett is, arguably, the ‘father’ of car turbochargers.

His passion for engineering (and for aviation) was evident from an early age and in 1928, he became Lockheed’s 29th employee; however, he harboured a greater ambition; to run his own aviation corporation.

Let’s get to know this man behind the turbo that’s probably fitted to your vehicle:

On May 21, 1936, John Garrett created the Aircraft Tool and Supply Company, later the Garrett Supply Company, in a one-room office in Los Angeles.

The company’s first product, an all-aluminium aircraft intercooler, was built by the end of the 1930s and by the end of the 1940s, post-war planning had paid off with a listing on the New York Stock Exchange.

The ‘50s saw diversification and expansion as the company’s deep aerospace design experience and knowledge supported the development of the firm‘s land-based business, and soon Garrett became synonymous with ‘boosting’ in the automotive sector.

Garrett reportedly accounts for an install base of more than 100 million vehicles, and it maintains an average launch rate of 100 new applications annually, spanning, gas, diesel, natural gas, electric and fuel cell powertrains.

The company’s website tells the story of its turbocharger origins and evolution.

In 1962, the Oldsmobile Jetfire Turbo Rocket became the first turbocharged production car using a Garret snail, but the technology’s impact was felt more in agri when in 1967 Deere selected the Garrett T04 turbo for its now legendary farm tractor and the entire industry followed.

Forward into ’90s, turbocharging goes mainstream and global when Garrett’s new variable nozzle turbine technology (VNT) enabled the 1991 Fiat Croma to adjust exhaust gas flow in direct response to specific engine requirements.

And, when Volkswagen and Audi paired VNT technology with its 1.9L diesel engines for its Frankfurt Motor Show display in 1995, the symbiotic fit between turbocharging and direct injection diesel powertrains was confirmed.

For passenger cars, though, the 1970s had already proved to be a turning point for the turbo industry, according to Garrett’s spokespeople. The potential of turbocharging in the racing environment was recognised as early as the 1920s and ‘30s when compressor cars, which used supercharger technology, competed against each other.

“Today, turbos and electric turbos help to turn power into podium positions and deliver enduring success at some of the most famous race events in the world like in Formula One, Indy, FIA World Rally, 24 Hours of Le Mans and many other international events and leading international race teams. We are very proud to have been chosen by Garrett to be the official agent for distributing its turbo technologies in Southern Africa,” says Chris Kambouris, founder and owner of TurboDirect SA.

“As a brand, Garrett represents more than 60 years of turbo technology leadership and its technologies and innovations have been used by nearly every major global auto maker,” he adds.

In 2017 Garrett turbo technology won its 18th consecutive victory at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, helping the Porsche Motorsport LMP Team to its third consecutive win. In 2018, Garrett turbo technology helped Toyota win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kambouris says that as more and more vehicles become turbocharged, motorists should learn about how a turbo engine operates.

This is because a turbo replacement (or two, or three in the case of some cars such as the older BMW M50ds) could cost a small fortune.


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