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Ford’s Futuristic Gas-Turbine - “Big Red”


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Designed for the super highways of tomorrow, Ford's advanced experimental “Big Red” gas turbine truck represented a massive and deeply invested R&D effort by Ford Motor Company. And unknown to Americans, a major catalyst for the project was the potential for lucrative military gas turbine engine contracts unrelated to heavy trucks.

“Big Red” made its public debut at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair powered by Ford’s 600 horsepower model 705 gas turbine engine.

After the fair, “Big Red” toured the United States and Canada with stops in Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Los Angeles, Newark, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, Toronto and Washington DC.

Later, the truck made several cross-country test runs at costs comparable to diesel operation.

Specifications: Ford “Big Red” Gas-Turbine Tractor

Wheelbase: 119”

Length: 237”

Height: 156”

Width: 96”

Axle Track (Front): 82”

(Rear): 78”

Turning Radius: 21’

Ground Clearance: 7.75”

Top Speed (at full load) 70 mph

(at reduced load) 78 mph

Fuel Capacity: 280 gallons

Operating Range: 600 miles

GCW rating: 170,000 pounds (double-trailer combination)




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Ford Big Red gas turbine (3a).jpg

Edited by kscarbel
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Ford executive vice president Charles H. Patterson said “This truck is a concept vehicle from our product research office. It is a test-bed in which advanced engineering ideas are proved out in actual over-the-road operation”.

While Patterson emphasized the Ford gas turbine truck is not planned for production, he said “it represents the thinking of our research engineers as to the best type of truck to make efficient use of the super highways and turnpikes of the future. For the first time, a truck has been designed with performance characteristics approaching those of passenger cars. This truck has the potential for economically hauling greater payloads than anything on the turnpikes today, and moving them farther and faster than present-day trucks”.

Ford envisioned huge double-trailer combinations like the “Big Red” concept which would travel 24/7 for maximum operating economy, rarely leaving the interstates except for driver changes, switching trailers and refueling.











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Impressed with Ford’s 300 horsepower gas turbine prototype of 1961, the U.S. Defense Department had contracted with Ford to develop a 600 horsepower version. Within two years of being awarded the joint Army-Navy contract, Ford engineers designed and built the model 705 gas turbine.

Developed for use in many military applications (e.g. tanks, minesweepers, hydrofoils and power generation), the model 705 gas turbine was very compact in size, measuring 49” by 44” by 38” (L x W x H).

The unique feature behind the model 705 turbine was supercharging, employed in two compression stages, a feature never before attempted by any manufacturer in gas turbine engines under 5,000 horsepower. This allowed for a lightweight, compact engine that used less air while delivering excellent fuel economy.

The two compression stage design was like having two engines in one. The truck could operate with only half the engine running. Then when required, the driver could activate the second stage to power refrigeration, cabin comfort items or other requirements. At the push of a reset button, the full 600 hp would be available, directed to wherever the drive system required it.

By 1964, at the same time Ford was courting the military’s turbine business, approximately half of the 41,000-mile Interstate Highway System was open for use. With it’s completion in sight, the U.S. Department of Commerce recommended the easing of length and load restrictions for commercial trucks. That decision motivated truck manufacturers to envision all-new truck designs for the 1970s and beyond.

Ford’s answer was the breathtaking “Big Red”, a towering “tractor-trailer of tomorrow” test-bed for the 705 engine. With cutting edge aerodynamic styling and a plush cab designed for extended cross-country travel, “Big Red” allowed Ford to simultaneously test the gas turbine designs it was developing for the U.S. military while evaluating advanced heavy truck technologies for the coming decade and beyond.

Ford engineers and designers were extremely serious about the “Big Red” concept, and viewed it as a fully operational working truck accurately reflecting the needs of the future.

Designed to pull two 40-foot trailers at 70 miles per hour, a 270-gallon fuel capacity gave the truck a 600 mile range.

“Big Red” was 13 feet tall and 8 feet wide. From the front bumper to the rear of the second trailer, the double-trailer combination measured 96 feet long.

Big Red’s maximum rated gross combination weight rating was 170,000 pounds, an impressive figure in 1964.

Though 13 feet tall, the aerodynamic shape of the cab and trailer resulted in 37 percent less wind resistance than conventional cab-over-engine tractor-trailer combinations of the period (An important factor given that 50 percent of the horsepower needed to move a tractor-trailer at highway speeds is required to overcome wind resistance).

To optimize cab and trailer aerodynamics, Big Red’s cab was designed to be the same height as the trailer. The cab front is convex, and the cab sides are smooth with no protrusions.

The rear of the cab was concave so that the trailer could be close-coupled to the truck. By minimizing the tractor-trailer gap, drag caused by crosswinds and turbulence was reduced for a more aerodynamic profile and greater fuel efficiency.

Sitting eight feet above the highway behind a free-standing control console, the driver had unlimited visibility.

Test drivers reported that the turbine power-plant was virtually noiseless, and produced an odorless, non-toxic exhaust (which was safely vented 14 feet above traffic).

Years before brake regulations were created for heavy trucks, “Big Red” was built with three redundant brake systems. The brakes would pulse-lock automatically if the air pressure dropped below minimal levels.










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Rare in 1964, both the 12,000 pound steer axle and 44,000 pound tandem bogie were air suspended. The drive axles were fitted with energy-efficient low-profile super single (duplex) tires.

Drivers commented favorably on the ultra-smooth front and rear air-ride suspension, even when cruising at 70 to 80 mph.

And extremely unusual for the time, the lightweight fiberglass-over-steel construction cab was mounted on a four-point suspension system (a feature not seen again in America until the Ford CL(T)-9000 in 1977, another cutting edge truck from Ford). Leaf springs at the front corners mounted fore and aft, and at the rear corners mounted laterally, so as to control cab pitch and sway, dampened road shock to reduce driver fatigue.



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To enter the cab, the driver actuated a single control handle recessed into the cab’s exterior behind a small door at ground level. The air cylinder-actuated door then automatically opened and an electric motor-driven retractable ladder extended downward from its horizontal storage position under the cab floor. Once inside, the ladder retracted again for enhanced aerodynamic efficiency.

The driver sat behind a single pedestal-mounted instrument panel and steering wheel, with six gauges mounted above the panoramic tinted windshield to monitor turbine conditions.

The contoured leather driver’s seat was power-adjustable fore and aft.

Large foot pedals were mounted flush with the floor and included a foot rest (dead pedal). The driver actuated the 5-speed Allison automatic transmission via column-mounted controls. And of course, Big Red featured cruise control.

Despite the futuristic design, Ford engineers strived to make all driver controls somewhat similar to those of conventional trucks.

To meet the non-stop operating conditions planned for this truck, Ford provided revolutionary comfort features included a dual-zone thermostatically-controlled HVAC system.








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The off-duty co-driver could walk around the spacious cabin and make use of the “crew support station”, which included a built-in refrigerator, food warmer, sink, and hot and cold liquid dispensers. A disappearing private toilet enclosure featured its own innovative electronic waste-incinerator.



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Featuring a “flat floor” design like many of today’s premium COEs, the cab’s interior was 7’ wide with over 6’3” of headroom. The interior was lightly pressurized, with aircraft-style swivel reading lamps.

In the center of the rear cab wall was a large illuminated map of America’s planned super highway system for the 1970s.

Designed not to distract the driver, a TV set located above the windshield had power-adjustable vertical slats blocking the driver’s view of the screen so that it was only viewable from the off-duty driver’s adjustable lounge chair, which itself could be converted into a bed.






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I’m certainly curious if “Big Red” still exists. The 1996 summer issue (Vol. 2, No. 3) of Ford Truckin' magazine states that “Big Red” was sold (or leased) to the owners of the Miss Bardahl Unlimited Hydroplane race team - minus the turbine motor (note the tow bar) - in the late 60's, and sold to Holman-Moody a few years later. The article has an interview with Jim Augenstein who was the Ford project manager and drove “Big Red”. He said Holman-Moody had sold it but didn’t identify the new owner.

Indeed eyewitness accounts state that Ford dealer Holman-Moody of NASCAR fame purchased “Big Red” and stored it first in a hanger at Charlotte (North Carolina) airport, and then at a nearby facility at least thru 1973 (these buildings were torn down around 2005 to make way for a new runway). The picture below shows “Big Red” in the initial Charlotte airport hanger (no mention of the two custom 40-foot trailers). I also read that Holman-Moody advertised the truck for sale during the 1970s.

Several publications have mentioned "Big Red" is languishing in poor condition at Ford’s Dearborn proving grounds. Did Ford repurchase the truck from Holman-Moody? Certainly, this truck is a rich treasure of America’s trucking history.


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Ray Law – Ford of Canada General Sales Manager

“Ford’s 600 horsepower gas turbine is the culmination of years of intensive research. The Model 705 engine is basically two turbines in one and represents the result of a search by computer of hundreds of theoretical designs for the one best able to deliver diesel-like fuel economy throughout the operating range.

This supercharging approach results in a lightweight, compact engine containing smaller parts running at speeds up to 75,500 RPM. Air passages are considerably smaller than conventional turbines because Ford’s two-stage compression reduces air volume to one-sixteenth of its original volume.

The use of small rotating parts, cast aluminum and thin-wall cast iron housings results in an engine weighing about one-third that of a diesel engine of comparable power, an important factor in economical truck operation because weight savings can often be translated into added payload revenue.

Car motorist on the road with this truck would benefit too, by the fact that the turbine exhaust is odorless, clean, smoke-free and low in smog-causing unburned hydrocarbons.

Another benefit from the turbine powerplant is the low level of sound produced by the engine. It is no louder than that of an automobile at 50 feet away.

Because a turbine is most efficient when run steadily at full power, its best application is long-haul superhighway trucks which would travel non-stop for hours at a time.

Because turbines are relatively vibration-free, the truck chassis can be made of lighter metal, and the weight savings can again be translated into more payload.

Transmissions can be made simpler, and with fewer gears, because the turbine has greater torque at low speeds than a piston-type engine. Oil consumption is practically zero because the turbine has no crankcase and no oil contamination by “blow-by”. The gas turbine is air cooled and requires no coolant and radiator.

Maintenance is simple. The Ford turbine is designed so individual components can be replaced without disassembling the engine. When complete replacement becomes necessary, the entire engine can be quickly removed from the truck.”

Specifications - Ford Model 705 Gas Turbine

Weight: 1,475 lb

Shaft Horsepower: 560 @ 3,080 rpm

Rated Horsepower: 600 @ 3,080 rpm

Torque (ft.lb.): 955 @ 3,080 rpm

1,620 @ Stall

Fuel Type: #2 diesel

Burner Temperature: 1,750ºF

Exhaust Temperature: 660 ºF











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Lots of good info there. A truck way ahead of its time..... super-singles and side trailer fairings.

It looks like the early pics show a smooth area above the grille. Perhaps heat issues arose and a mesh opening solved that problem.

Also interesting to note is that it looks like nothing was borrowed from the then current H-Series cabover.

"If it's all the sime to you... I'll droyve that tankah"   Max Rockatansky (The Road Warrior)

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Being a retired engineer it is my humble opinion the days of "dreaming" are gone. If a project does not have a "payback" or "commercial viability" it does not get worked on. If "management" does not approve a project, it gets put in the dumper. At most companies, there was a "skunk works" to do "what if" stuff. Now it is all about pleasing the "stakeholders/investors".

I had no intent to insult ingineers , but the lobby of oil is a tad bit to strong and many dreams are becoming nightmare because many decision takers are only shitholder oriented ! my 02 cents ,

Makniac , collector and customizer of die-cast model in 1/50th scale

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I had no intent to insult ingineers , but the lobby of oil is a tad bit to strong and many dreams are becoming nightmare because many decision takers are only shitholder oriented ! my 02 cents ,

I did not take it as an insult. I was just stating the "good old days" of "dreaming" are gone. You are right....shitholders. Oh, and let's not forget the EPA and the government/regs.

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PRR Country and Charter member of the "Mack Pack"

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Our nation in general does ot create anything anymore, most of our technology is now imported from asia, drives me freakin nuts!

"Any Society that would give up a little LIBERTY to gain a little SECURITY will Deserve Neither and LOSE BOTH" -Benjamin Franklin

"If your gonna be STUPID, you gotta be TOUGH"

"You cant always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you get what you need"

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I did not take it as an insult. I was just stating the "good old days" of "dreaming" are gone. You are right....shitholders. Oh, and let's not forget the EPA and the government/regs.

glad to know that I did not insult the community of engineers , yeah EPA sometimes are let says finniky .

Makniac , collector and customizer of die-cast model in 1/50th scale

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  • 2 months later...

I am always surprised by the interest in Big Red and the turbine program. Yes, Big Red still exists. It was purchased from Holman-Moody years ago but not by Ford. The truck had been repainted in a shade of red that was not flattering. A great deal of time and money was spent putting the original colors back on the truck. The two 40-foot Fruehauf trailers have not been located, although I do have the bogie that went between the trailers that was also made by Fruehauf.

The pictures you see with the smooth front are early photos. Engineers learned early about the heat buildup under the cab while idling for long periods of time. The additional grille opening resolved the issue.

Big Red Owner

Thank you so much for posting and bringing us up to date on the status of "Big Red". Do you have any current photographs that you can share with us? If the Ford gas turbine was removed by Ford prior to the sale to Holman-Moody, is the chassis thus without a powertrain at this time?

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The 705 engine did not work out as well as hoped. It was replaced with the 707 which is a good proven gas turbine.

We also talked about Ford's A-707 engine, indeed a reliable and high-performing gas turbine engine. So at the time "Big Red" was purchased, it was fitted with the A-707 and still is to this day? If so, what is the running condition of the A-707? Do you plan to bring this this historical American treasure back to the public view?


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