The history of turbochargers

The history of turbocharging is almost as old as that of the internal combustion engine. As early as 1885 and 1896, Gottlieb Daimler and Rudolf Diesel investigated increasing the power output and reducing the fuel consumption of their engines by using pre-compressed combustion air during the combustion in engine.

In 1925, the Swiss engineer Alfred Büchi was the first to be successful with exhaust gas turbocharging, and achieved a power increase of more than 40%. This was the beginning of the introduction period of turbochargers into the automotive industry.

The first turbocharger applications were limited to very large engines. In the automotive engine industry, turbocharging started with truck engines. In 1938, the first turbocharged engine for trucks was built by the Swiss Machine Works Saurer.

The Chevrolet Corvair Monza and the Oldsmobile Jetfire were the first passenger cars with the turbocharger. They made their debut on the US market in1962/63. However, despite maximum technical outlay, their poor reliability caused them to disappear quickly from the market.

After the first oil crisis in 1973, turbocharging became more acceptable in commercial diesel engines. Until then, the high investment costs of turbocharging were offset only by fuel cost savings, which were minimal. Increasingly stringent emission regulations in the late 80s resulted in an increase in the number of turbocharged truck engines, so that today, literally every truck engine has turbocharger.

In the 70s of past century, with the turbocharger’s entry into motor sports, especially into Formula I racing, the turbocharged passenger car engine became very popular. The word”turbo” became quite fashionable. At that time, almost every automobile manufacturer offered at least one top model equipped with a turbocharged petrol engine. However, this phenomenon disappeared after a few years because although the turbocharged petrol engine was more powerful, it was not economical. Furthermore, there was the”turbo-lag” problem, the delayed response of the turbochargers, which was at that time still relatively large and not accepted by most customers.

The real breakthrough in passenger car turbocharging was achieved in 1978 with the introduction of the first turbocharged diesel engine passenger car in the Mercedes-Benz 300SD, followed by the VW Golf Turbodiesel in 1981. By means of the turbocharger, the diesel engine passenger car’s efficiency could be increased, with almost petrol engine”driveability”, and the emissions significantly reduced.

Today, the turbocharging of petrol engines is no longer primarily seen from the performance perspective, but is rather viewed as a means of reducing fuel consumption and, consequently, environmental pollution on account of lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Currently, the primary reason of using turbochargers is the reduced consumption and emission of harmful gases.