Turbonique was a company founded in 1962[1] by Clarence Eugene "Gene" Middlebrooks Jr of Orlando, Florida.[2] Middlebrooks, born 3 August 1931,[3] was a native of Jonesboro, Georgia, had studied mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech and had worked for aerospace contractor Martin-Marietta on the propulsion system for the Pershing missile program.[4]

FounderGene Middlebrooks
HeadquartersOrlando, Florida

The company specialized in products built around very compact low cost gas turbines built for high power output during brief periods. The turbine was fuelled by an isopropyl nitrate monopropellant that they sold under the brand name "Thermolene".[2] In addition to the fuel, the main products sold by the company were:[1]

  • Micro turbine engines, ranging from the 42 hp (31 kW) "S-2" up to the 1,000 hp (750 kW) "S-28", weighing only 120 pounds (54 kg).[5]
  • "AP", for Auxiliary Power, a piston engine supplemental supercharger driven by its own micro-turbine which could be engaged by a switch.[6] The device was heavily based on Middlebrook's patent US 2963863  "Drive Control Means For a Turbo-Compressor Unit". Unlike conventional superchargers and turbos, no engine power would be used to supply the extra air, and testing on a Chevy 409 engine was reported to give a power gain from 405 hp (302 kW) to 835 hp (623 kW) with the supercharger engaged.[4][7]
  • Conventional exhaust driven turbochargers.[8]
  • "TB-28", the "drag axle", a micro-turbine to be mounted directly to the rear axle of a vehicle. It would supplement the power of the conventional engine, usually driving the axle via a Borg Warner sprag clutch, and was intended for drag racing. The price for a complete unit was US$4,695.[2] Power output was stated as up to 1,300 hp (970 kW), and it was essentially a on/off device.[4]
  • Rocket thrust engines, in various sizes. The "T-16" had 300 lbf (1,300 N) of thrust. One application was for drag racing gokarts, posting times of 7.3 seconds and speeds over 150 mph (240 km/h) for the quarter mile[9][10][11] using a twin T-16 engine rocket powered kart driven by "Captain" Jack McClure.[12][13] There were also higher powered models, like the T-21, T-22 and T-32. They were used to power cars, motorcycles (Evel Knievel planned to use one for a jump over Grand Canyon[14]) as well as boats and more.[4]

The company was mostly based on mail order, and was a frequent advertiser in magazines, using gramophone records[15] and 8mm film[16] in addition to a catalog[17] as promotional material. A 1955 VW Beetle named the "Black Widow", clocking 9.36 seconds 168 mph (270 km/h) quarter miles equipped with a Turbonique drag axle at the Tampa Dragstrip in 1965, occurred frequently in advertisements. When it crashed, becoming airborne after reaching 183 mph (295 km/h), this event was also advertised, saying "we forgot our strength for a split second".[18][19]

Being based on rocket fuel and technology, there were a number of safety issues with these devices. For instance if the operator let off the throttle, then reapplied it, the device would essentially become a bomb.[10] In 1967, after a few reported incidents and fatalities, the NHRA banned the use of Turbonique turbines for drag racing.[citation needed]

In 1968, Middlebrooks was accused and jailed for mail fraud mostly based on the goods supplied by Turbonique being more difficult and more expensive to finish and install than described in the advertisements.[20] At the trial, Middlebrooks waived counsel and represented himself. An appeal in 1972, stating that he suffered from hypomania at the time, was rejected.[21][22] The company folded shortly after the court case.[23][2] Middlebrooks died on 4 August 2005.[3]


  1. ^ a b Wojdyla, Ben (8 March 2010). "VIDEO: The Demented Rocket-Propelled Genius Of Turbonique". Jalopnik. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d Magnante, Steve (1 December 2005). "Where It All Began 1967 - Turbonique Drag Axle". Hot Rod Magazine.
  3. ^ a b "Clarence E. Middlebrooks - Death Record". MooseRoots. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d Burge, David (11 April 2006). "Turbonique, The Real Acme". Garage Magazine (#14). Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  5. ^ "Turbonique Gas Turbine Specifications". Rocketman. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  6. ^ "Turbonique AP supercharger, rocket drag axle and microturbo thrust engine". The Tuners Group. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  7. ^ "Turbonique AP Advertisement". Rocketman. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  8. ^ "Turbonique Turbocharger Specifications". Rocketman. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  9. ^ "Why It's a Rocket Kart..." Vintage Karts. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  10. ^ a b McTaggart, Bryan (28 December 2015). "Best Of 2015: Here's A Proper Barn Find: A Turbonique T-16 Rocket Go Kart Was Found In A Barn In Alberta". BangShift. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  11. ^ Buffel, Steve (16 June 2015). "The Ultimate "Barn Find"? Turboniques Twin T-16 Rocket Kart". Ekartingnews. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  12. ^ McClure, Jack. "The Life and Times of Captain Jack McClure". Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  13. ^ Lohnes, Brian (3 October 2015). "Turbonique Video: Watch This Amazing Footage Of Jack McClure On His Turbonique Rocket Go Kart". BangShift. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  14. ^ "Turbonique motorcycle advertisement". Rocketman. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  15. ^ "Turbonique engine noise" (Grammophone record). Youtube. Turbonique. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  16. ^ "Turbonique Inc" (8mm film). Youtube. Turbonique. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  17. ^ "Turbonique Catalog". Turbonique. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  18. ^ "Turbonique advertisement: Sorry about that". Rocketman. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  19. ^ Donnelly, Jim (2 July 2009). "Fire Bug". Hemmings Daily. Hemmings. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  20. ^ "United States v. Clarence Eugene Middlebrooks, Jr., 431 F.2d 299 (5th Cir. 1970)". Court Listener. 10 August 1970. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  21. ^ "Clarence Eugene Middlebrooks, Jr. v. United States, 457 F.2d 657 (5th Cir. 1972)". Court Listener. 20 April 1972. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  22. ^ "Clarence Eugene Middlebrooks, Jr., Petitioner-appellant, v. United States of America, Respondent-appellee, 500 F.2d 1355 (5th Cir. 1974)". Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  23. ^ Wojdyla, Ben (28 March 2008). "Turbonique Rocket Drag Axle Equipped 1964 Ford Galaxie 500". Jalopnik. Retrieved 1 January 2016.

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