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Guide to Turbos

Guide to Turbos

Posted by Glenn Rowswell on 5th January 2012

Mazda RX7 with a huge turbo

All hail the great man Alfred Büchi who invented the turbocharger and received a patent for his efforts in 1905. The technology was introduced into aircraft development way before it hit the automotive market. The first to use it in a production car were General Motors in 1962, while Porsche made turbos sexy by creating the now legendary 911 turbo in 1974. Turbos are now used widely in both tuning and economy vehicles.

The basic principal behind how a turbo works is actually quite simple. The easiest way to think of it is like a big
air pump. The exhaust gases spin a turbine wheel, which is connected to – and spins – a compressor wheel. The rotation of the compressor wheel then compresses (hence the name) the air around it and feeds it into the inlet manifold at a higher pressure, therefore creating boost. And we all know that more air, plus more fuel equals more power! Simple isn’t it, eh?

Big Turbo

Ball bearing turbos are the latest generation in turbo design and aid spool-up time to reduce lag. The ball bearing unit replaces the traditional journal and thrust bearings. The main advantage of ball bearings is that there are less frictional losses when compared to the journal bearings which means they are more responsive, thereby offering a quicker spool-up.

Production turbo’d cars are ripe for tuning, and simple stage 1 remaps or boost upgrades can see good power increases for relatively little cash. However, if you want to turbo your normally aspirated car you’ll need deep pockets. For example, fitting a low pressure turbo kit to your Clio 172 will cost you the best part of 3k plus fitting. More serious machines require serious cash, but rewards are high, so if you’re Roman Abramovich’s son, get a 350Z and stick a GReddy twin turbo kit on it!

“Turbos never die, they’re always killed.” That is one of Turbo Technics’ Pete Petch’s favourite sayings, mainly because more often than not, it’s true. Turbos are very delicate items and need to be treated as such!