Home Cars Revolutionizing Speed: The Most Popular Turbo Engines In Car History

Revolutionizing Speed: The Most Popular Turbo Engines In Car History

Cameron Eittreim August 16, 2023

Automotive performance has always been one of the most exciting parts of driving a car. The turbocharged engine was one of the cornerstones of performance in the automotive world, separating itself from the big V8s of the past. The turbo was oftentimes a lot lighter, better on fuel, and outperformed the traditional V8. There have also been turbo-charged V8 engines (and even larger ones as well), changing the way that we drive.

So we looked at the most popular twin turbo and turbocharged cars that were ever built. Some of these cars didn’t fare very well with public perception while others sold amazingly well. The thirst for more performance is something that automakers and consumers always strive to achieve. These were some of the most iconic turbos to ever hit the market, so look back at the most popular turbos below.

Photo Credit: BMW M

BMW 2002 Turbo

Few cars in auto history are more important than the BMW 2002 Turbo. It was one of the original turbo-powered cars that ever hit the market, and it was one of the most important race cars in the world period. Before 2002, BMW wasn’t known as a performance car company. There was a stigma that hung around BMW models, but 2002 changed all that. The car had an impressive run on some of the most iconic racetracks in the world (via Classic Driver).

BMW 2002
Photo Credit: BMW

The BMW 2002 was a modest-looking car and one of the smallest BMWs ever built. But what it did do was leave the blueprint for what a compact performance car should be. The styling and the performance coupled with the excellent turbo engine were enough to make the car a piece of automotive history. Let’s just say that the 2002 Turbo firmly cemented BMW’s reputation as the ultimate driving machine.

Photo Credit: Automobile Mag

1973 911 Turbo

Porsche is a company synonymous with turbocharged engines. The 911 Turbo had a completely different look than any other car at the time, and it had a popular run in the International Race of Champions (IROC). The interesting thing about the 911 Turbo was that it utilized a revolutionary engine. The compact design of the car had a quintessential Porsche style that defined the brand for decades (via Classic Driver).

Photo Credit: Automobile Mag

The 1973 911 was a notable one that redefined the turbocharged era for the rest of the decade. With the excellent performance the 1973 911 Turbo had the performance you could only dream of at the time, although it combined that with traditional Porsche character. The excellent car had the kind of design and engineering that redefined the sports car era in the 1970s and helped separate it from the muscle cars of the time.

Photo Credit: My Classic Garage

1978 Saab 99 Turbo

There was a car that was released in the 1970s that never gets enough credit for its innovation. That car was the 1978 Saab 99 Turbo. This turbo-powered Swedish sled was a compact car that had a great deal of style. The driving dynamics of the Saab 99 Turbo put it on the map with consumers who wanted real performance and handling. The car was a beautiful creation with all the attributes to make it a memorable ride (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: My Classic Garage

There was a time when the Saab 99 Turbo wasn’t on anyone’s radar, but nowadays it has become a highly sought-after collector’s car. The forced induction turbo gave the car a serious amount of horsepower and the excellent styling took it to the next level. There are many other turbo-powered cars from this era but the Saab was one of the most notable because of the quality and the drivability.

Photo Credit: Mecum

1979 Ford Mustang Turbo

The Mustang was the very first pony car on the market, but it was also one of the first factory Turbos on the market. The car had the look and feel of a fox-body Mustang with a whole lot of new performance under the hood.

Photo Credit: Mecum

The turbocharged engine was a first for Ford and the Mustang. But it was a way to combat the rising fuel costs in the 1970s. Drivers didn’t want to spend money to operate a large V8 engine anymore (via Popular Mechanic).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

1984 Ferrari 288 GTO

Ferrari was never a company that was big on turbo-powered engines but there were two notable exceptions in the 1980s. The 1984 Ferrari 288 GTO was the first exception as it took a turbocharged engine and a lightweight design to the next level. The car had a lot going for it, a short wheelbase and a very stylish design. From the outward appearance, the Ferrari 288 GTO was all there but it was under the hood that it rocked (via Popular Mechanic).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Although it doesn’t get as much credit as other models from the period, the 288 GTO was a great combination of speed and power. The car had excellent styling that was notable in the Miami Vice TV series later on in the 1980s. The combination of speed and power made the 288 GTO a different kind of Ferrari. Instead of having to rely on a big V8 engine, the car was humble and had a lot of performance.

Ferrari F40
Photo Credit: Ferrari

1987 Ferrari F40

The 1987 Ferrari F40 was one of the most expensive cars of the decade, clocking in a staggering $200,000 price tag. But for that price, you got one of the best turbo-powered sports cars that was ever built. The combination of a stellar powerplant and a beautiful exterior create a lethal dose of fun. The Ferrari F40 managed to put the company back on the map when it came to offering an innovative supercar (via Popular Mechanics).

Ferrari F40
Photo Credit: Ferrari

The 1987 F40 did a lot of things to revive the Ferrari name and keep it relevant. The car had a downright beautiful design and feel, and performance to match. There weren’t a lot of turbocharged supercars back then and this was one of the most notable. With the styling and the performance that you’d expect from a Ferrari, it became one of the most popular models ever.

Photo Credit: Popular Mechanic

1978 Mercedes-Benz 300SD

Mercedes-Benz has long been one of the companies that first innovated with turbocharged engines. The 300SD was one of the first turbocharged cars on the road and the company has long turbocharged diesel engines. The 300SD turbo was one of the most notable cars on the road when it first hit the market. Mercedes-Benz put a lot of engineering into the engine and the way that the car drove, which made it quite popular (via Popular Mechanics).

Photo Credit: Popular Mechanic

The 300SD was one of the innovators when it came to turbocharging a diesel engine, which is why the car is still popular today. Even though there have been a lot of competitors, the 300SD was the original when it came to design. From a driving standpoint, this was the cream of the crop and drove quite well. You won’t find another large sedan from this era that moves like the 300SD.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

1984 Buick Grand National

The Buick Grand National was one of the turbocharged cars that changed the game. Everything about it was next level, from the design to the engine, and it changed the way that we thought about turbocharged cars. The noteworthy build quality was based on the GM G-Body platform, and it changed the way that the car was positioned. Instead of focusing on a big V8 engine, the Grand National utilized a turbo-powered one (via Car & Driver).

Photo Credit: Hagerty

Every inch of the Grand National was a great example of GM engineering at its finest. The beautiful exterior and the noteworthy interior made the Grand National look a lot different than any other G-Body car. Few cars have changed the face of turbo-powered rides as the Grand National did in its prime and every other GM turbo that came after it.

Photo Credit: Mecum

GMC Typhoon

The GMC Typhoon was one of the most notable turbocharged SUV models ever built. It created a segment of high-performance SUV models that just didn’t exist. The exterior and interior were far different from the standard Jimmy model. For a short period, the Typhoon was the fastest production vehicle on the road. Few things changed the game for the automotive industry like the Typhoon did when it hit the market (via Car & Driver).

Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

The Typhoon is the SUV that laid the ground for vehicles like the Escalade-V and the Jeep Trailhawk. The high-performance offering took the SUV out of the Stone Age and put it into the modern era of performance. Before this vehicle, SUVs weren’t something fun to drive or enjoy and the Typhoon changed all that. Although it had a fairly basic design, the Typhoon was a groundbreaking model.

Photo Credit: GM

GMC Syclone

Like the Typhoon that came before it, the Syclone was a turbo-powered pickup truck based on the S-Series platform. The compact truck packed an ungodly amount of performance into a compact package that was never seen before. GM changed the game with the Syclone and it was also one of the fastest production vehicles on the road. You still had all of the versatility of a pickup truck without sacrificing the fun of a sports coupe (via Popular Mechanic).

Photo Credit: Hemmings

The Syclone was so popular at one point that even celebrities like Jay Leno owned one. The truck had a unique style to it and it was only offered in a few exterior colors. Although GMC didn’t sell the truck for a long period of time, it left quite a mark on the market. The Syclone will definitely go down as one of the most influential turbo-powered rides that ever hit the market. It looked great and performed just as well.

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