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History of Turbochargers

Posted by Scott Goldfarb on

Engineers are always interested in new ways of increasing engine power. They tried many different techniques, and many developments have been made in the industry since the early days. Yet, the history of turbochargers dates back to the 19th century. 

Professionals tried upgrading the fuel and improving the combustion chamber. After some time, they discovered one of the most effective ways of increasing the power of their engines. That is to create pressure in the air within an intake system, so they needed a device blowing air into the engines, often referred to as a compressor. That’s when the turbocharger was created.

Although turbochargers were growing in popularity, many considered them too expensive to install. Luckily, new developing technologies have appeared. They lowered the cost of turbocharger production and made them more accessible and affordable to use.

As a result of these advancements, you can now find a wide range of turbochargers for sale to enhance your vehicle's performance.

History of Turbochargers

Source: shutterstock.com/ Photo Contributor: Scharfsinn

History of Turbochargers

Various types of compressors were invented and built by engineers. However, the history of turbochargers shows that reliability and high efficiency are crucial for such components. Thus, let’s discover how innovation and turbocharger development occurred throughout the years.

Early experiments 

Internal combustion engine parts of unused energy include heat and exhaust inertia. They are emitted to the exhaust system and released in the air to heat up the environment

In 1925, a Swiss engineer called Alfred Buchi installed a gas turbine. He called it a turbocharger and put it in the exhaust system, turning the compressor through an axis. 

The first patent on a turbocharger

The automotive industry was not interested in turbochargers in the beginning. However, after a few years, professionals recognized and evaluated the efficiency of this gas turbine. So, they started using it more often.

Dr. Alfred Büchi received the first patent on a turbocharger in 1905 for a marine engine. But Gottlieb Daimler and Rudolf Diesel were the ones researching forced induction. Hence, the first turbochargers were known to be applied to airplanes in the late 19th century.

Early turbocharger designs and prototypes

The early turbochargers were completely different from the ones we have today. They struggled with advancing their technology due to the lack of proper metals. In fact, the technology advancements are still improving to this day.

But back then, the materials used were not durable enough. They couldn’t withstand the engine’s enormously high temperatures. Therefore, they struggled to apply turbocharging to automobiles. Instead, they applied turbochargers to smaller engines.

In the 1960s, turbochargers were applied to larger diesel engines. They were completely different from the prototypes made in 1938. And the first vehicles with turbochargers were trucks. But in the 1970s, turbochargers became so popular that many people used them for Formula 1 racing.

Evolution of Turbocharger Technology

The history of turbochargers reveals that the beginnings of their production were difficult. Nonetheless, the turbocharger technology eventually evolved. Many breakthrough inventions appeared, making these compressors well-known and respected in the industry.

Evolution of Turbocharger Technology
Source: shutterstock.com/ Photo Contributor: Couperfield

Improvement in material and manufacturing technique

In 1994, engineers developed turbochargers that could endure high temperatures. This was due to the addition of stainless turbine housing. Yet, the twin-scroll turbine housing invention was even more impressive because it reduced turbo lag.

Introduction of variable geometry turbochargers

The evolution of turbocharger technology flourished upon the introduction of variable geometry. The history of turbochargers shows that the VG turbo had a unique rotating system. Hence, it could act as either a small or a large turbocharger.

Also, this turbocharger offered high flow capacity at maximum operation, which helped reduce the turbo lag. The first VG turbochargers were applied to trucks in 1984. But in 2001, variable geometry turbos were used for passenger cars.

Turbochargers in Automotive Applications

Turbochargers have high performance and efficiency. So, automotive manufacturers often see turbochargers as staple devices in the industry. They are also used to provide more power to smaller engines and improve gas mileage.

This forced induction device isn’t considered simple anymore. In automotive applications, it’s seen as a system construction. It has revolutionized the industry over the years.

Early adoption of turbochargers in racing

In the 1970s, racing cars such as Formula 1 started featuring turbochargers. This was to increase engine efficiency. After this, turbochargers became standard in racing cars. Their technology is also used in newer models today.

Turbochargers in passenger vehicles

Mercedes was the first brand known for implementing the newly developed turbocharger technology in their cars. Their models were known for enhanced engine efficiency. This is due to their appropriate usage of turbos in passenger cars. 

Advantages and disadvantages of turbocharged engines

Turbochargers can be used on any vehicle with gasoline or diesel engines. Regardless of the engine size, a turbocharger can create more power output. Hence, versatility is one of the turbocharged engines' most prominent advantages.

If the turbocharger is working properly, it can also save fuel in the engine. This is due to their ability to burn fuel cleanly using more oxygen and causing less air pollution. In other words, we can say turbocharged engines are eco-friendly.

Nonetheless, you must also consider the disadvantages of turbocharged engines. They use more power, creating more energy output and sometimes causing bad fuel economy. Also, they are complex parts that require more maintenance than ordinary engines.

Future of Turbocharging Technology

Some engine sizes are restrictive and can benefit from turbocharging technology. The performance of turbocharged engines has improved over the years, creating more reliability for the users and leading to a promising future.

They are also considered as an economical alternative for the ordinary engines. Thus, they are used during the production of contemporary hybrid and electric cars. Nowadays, we pay more attention to environmental consciousness, and turbo diesel cars are considered ecological.

Future of Turbocharging Technology
Source: shutterstock.com/ Photo Contributor: Evannovostro


The history of turbochargers shows that the automotive industry has come a long way. Today, different vehicles can increase their engine efficiency by using only one part, a turbocharger.

New types of turbochargers are constantly introduced on the market, and many brands recognize their potential. So, they started using them to make electric and hybrid vehicles.

Altogether, the early beginnings of turbo production are nothing like the advanced parts we can get today. Many things have changed since the 19th century, and these parts are nowadays included in the manufacturing of modern cars.


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