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Jet-powered Ford guns for 300 mph

By Keith Barry
Owner Joe Wilkins hopes to fire up this car on the Bonneville Salt Flats after he attaches a spoiler to the back.
Owner Joe Wilkins hopes to fire up this car on the Bonneville Salt Flats after he attaches a spoiler to the back.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Texas man has outfitted a 1939 Ford with a jet engine he hopes will make it go more than 300 mph
  • Nicknamed the "Hemi Jet," it fires up this weekend at the Houston AutoRama
  • The car has a Chrysler engine, a Chevrolet drivetrain and a Ford body
  • Owner Joe Wilkins plans to run it flat-out someday at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah

(Wired) -- Joe Wilkins knew there was only one way to give his supercharged, alcohol-injected Hemi-engined hot rod more power: Put a jet engine in the trunk.

"It started as a hobby and turned into a monster," said Joe Wilkins, the motor madman behind what might be the wildest 1939 Ford ever built. He's an inventor and defense department contractor, and the idea of goosing the Ford's ability to turn heads and shred tires came when he bought a used gas turbine engine.

"I got hooked on the simplicity and power that this thing produced, and I decided one day I want to put it in a car."

Luckily for us, he did. The Hemi Jet -- Wilkins has copyrighted the name -- fires up this weekend at the Houston AutoRama, and Wilkins plans to attempt a land speed record in the near future.

In the meantime, he's tooling around Navasota, Texas, in what he says is the ultimate sleeper when the jet engine's tucked away in the trunk.

If you see this car pull up next to you at a traffic light, you may want to think twice before trying to race it.
If you see this car pull up next to you at a traffic light, you may want to think twice before trying to race it.

Most people say "Nice car" and assume he's got the obligatory small-block Chevrolet engine under the hood. Little do they know.

"I can drive it up to the store and get a gallon of milk if I want to," he told Autopia.

The car is an amalgamation of the Big Three, with a Chrysler engine, Chevrolet drivetrain and Ford body. Wilkins says the jet engine was probably used as an APU and weighs 110 pounds.

He claims the car is street legal so long as the jet stays stowed. He fires it up from time to time to show off, and he plans to run it flat-out at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

"We want to be the fastest street legal car in the world," he said.

He's got some intense competition. The Bugatti Veyron tops out at 253 mph and the Shelby Supercars Ultimate Aero TT does 255. And then there's Red Vector One, that crazy Vauxhall that does zero to 60 in under a second. Record, schmecord -- we just want to see the video.

"I'm more than certain the car will go over 300," Wilkins said. "We've still got a ways to go [before Bonneville], but not a long way. We'll have to experiment in some wind tunnels and end up with a spoiler on the back to keep the front end on the ground."

Sadly, Wilkins won't be behind the wheel during the car's test run.

"I turned 61 last Sunday. I just don't think I'm going to be able to handle it [without] the reflexes I had 20 or 30 years ago," he said. "I know several people who would be more than interested."

So do we, and we even suggested Wilkins give the job to fellow jet-junkie Bob Maddox. After jumping from a plane with a pulse jet strapped to his chest, we suspect Maddox would welcome the opportunity to stay on the ground.

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