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When Were Turbochargers Invented?

Posted by Scott Goldfarb on

Looking back in history to find out when were turbochargers invented, you’ll find two major events that gave the turbo its rise to prominence.

The first is WWII, when turbochargers were used for warplanes to help plane engines cope with flying at high altitudes. The second is the release of SAAB’s 99 Turbo in 1978, which really helped popularize the technology around the world.

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When Were Turbochargers Invented?

The automotive industry needed a lot of time to accept the technology. The turbocharger was officially invented in 1905 when Dr. Alfred Büchi received a patent for a turbocharger on a marine engine. The first successful turbochargers were developed later in 1925 and 1928 by the company Rateau (now known as Alstom).

Early designs and technology

Dr. Büchi’s original concept consisted of a turbine connected to a compressor by a shaft. The turbine was powered by the engine’s own exhaust gasses, which were supposed to power the compressor, which trapped the incoming air.

He proposed the first prototype of a turbocharged diesel engine for commercial use in 1915, but his ideas weren’t considered until 10 years later when he managed to increase an engine’s horsepower by 40% using turbocharger technology.

Early designs and technology of the Turbocharger

Source: shutterstock.com / Photo Contributor: EiksFoTO

Early applications in the auto industry

Dr. Büchi’s demonstration of how turbochargers can revolutionize the auto industry eventually led to it being widely accepted as a viable concept. The first turbo-engine-powered car was the 1962 Oldsmobile Jetfire

The same year, Chevrolet also introduced a special Corvair called the Monza Spyder, which also had a turbocharging engine.

Becoming mainstream

Turbochargers became prevalent in the 1980s as they were incorporated in both sports cars and normal vehicles. 

Iconic turbocharged vehicles from that era included the Porsche 911 Turbo, the Mitsubishi Starion, the Saab 900 Turbo, the Ford Thunderbird Turbo, and the Buick Regal Turbo.

Ford Thunderbird Turbo

Source: shutterstock.com / Photo Contributor: Lissandra Melo

Early adoption in racing

Because of their capacity to improve performance, it is only natural that turbochargers were adopted in racing earlier than for normal cars. In 1960, competitive racing cars started using the technology both in Formula One and other competitions.

The first turbocharged car to win a Formula One race was the BRM P83, designed by British engineer Tony Rudd.

Current state of technology

The enormous advances in technology have made turbochargers better than ever. To explore the latest turbocharger innovations, visit our diverse collection of turbos for sale, for various vehicles and industries.

They are used in small-engine cars to improve performance while being economical and in big cars to improve performance and fuel efficiency.

The future of turbochargers is with their use in electric and hybrid vehicles. In an electronic turbo system, an electric motor drives the compressor wheel instead of the exhaust gasses. This increases the amount of air entering the combustion chamber which results in faster acceleration.


Turbochargers were first conceptualized as early as the 19th century, and the initial purpose for a turbocharger doesn’t differ from what it is today. It is still meant to improve the vehicle’s efficacy and be more economical.

It’s debatable when were turbochargers invented because the first patent from 1905 was for a concept that couldn’t be made to work. The first functioning turbocharger was in 1915, and initially, they were used in marine and later for warplanes.

Through successful demonstrations of how turbo can improve driving, the auto industry started accepting the technology, and by the late 1980s, it was part of the mainstream.

Nowadays, technology is much more advanced, and turbochargers are even used in electric and hybrid vehicles for the same purpose.


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