Volkswagen Beetle "Black Widow" by Turbonique

I first read about this car thanks to Jason Torchinsky's piece at Boing Boing in 2009.

At the time, there was no grainy, Zapruder-like film featuring this drag car called "Black Widow" and some of its exploits on the strip during the '60s. It wouldn't have mattered. This was my first automotive rabbit hole, a car upon which discovering spent the next few hours searching for more. Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?

If you haven't read about this car yet, you're in for a treat. I'll stick to the facts; for a more enjoyable read, I recommend friend-of-#bcotd Brendan McAleer's story on Turbonique.

Turbonique was, without a doubt, the single most old-testament aftermarket automotive company that ever existed. Get in, sit down, strap in, and hold on—time for the story of the postage-paid rocket-propelled car.
— Brendan McAleer, autofocus.ca
  • Who? Defence subcontractor employee Gene Middlebrooks, who was set on using a self-propelled supercharger to make cars faster. His day job was in a factory that made rockets—by 1962, Turbonique was founded to eventually sell rocket-powered superchargers.
  • What? A range of performance accessories under the Turbonique banner, including axle-mounted "Auxiliary Power Superchargers" in various sizes that burned Thermoline (stuff so potent you'll end up on a watch list for searching for it). Turbonique's official test car was a 1955 Beetle, making an immense 1,500 horsepower thanks to the addition of the AP supercharger drag axle. That was good enough to smoke the 32-cylinder drag monster Showboat. The Beetle hit the quarter mile in 9.36 seconds. Then, a while later, it was destroyed after hitting an aerodynamic wall at some 294 km/h (183 mph).
  • Where? Florida. Where else?
  • When? The '60s.
  • How? Rocket propellant pumped through a turbine—hit a button, and hold on. These were sent via mail order catalogue, and ranged in price between $2,500-5,000.
  • Why? Make money and go really fast. 
The engines proposed by Turbonique Inc. were turbine driven engines. These were, seen from the perspective of our 21st century, quite rudimentary. They consisted basically of a carefully designed circular chamber (snail housing) where a rocket type burner was ignited and the thrust of the burned gases was used to make a turbine spin at high revs. This movement was converted into a more useable power source by means of a reduction gear. The turbine reached speeds of 92,000 rpm. The reduction gear brought this movement to a more useable 5750 rpm speed with astonishing high torque output. The micro-turbo engines were really powerful!
— vwsupercharger.info

This is all fine and dandy, but after being incarcerated for mail fraud, the book closed on both Middlebrooks and Turbonique. You can still locate parts from the defunct company, however, and a number of enthusiasts are dedicated to keeping—literally—the flame alive. Godspeed.

Sources