Turbocharger history

From Turbo3 we explain the history of the turbocharger, told by the hand of BorgWarner, one of the best turbo brands of which we are official distributors.

The history of the turbocharger is almost as old as that of the internal combustion engine. As early as 1885 and 1896, Gottlieb Daimler and Rudolf Diesel investigated how to increase the power and reduce the fuel consumption of their engines by precompressing the combustion air. In 1925, the Swiss engineer Alfred Büchi was the first to achieve turbocharging by exhaust gases, obtaining a power increase of more than 40%. This marked the beginning of the gradual introduction of turbocharging in the automotive industry.

The first applications of the turbocharger were limited to huge engines, such as marine engines. In the automotive engine industry, turbocharging began with application to truck engines. In 1938, the first turbocharged truck engine was built by the “Swiss Machine Works Saurer” company.

The Chevrolet Corvair Monza and Oldsmobile Jetfire were the first two turbocharged passenger cars and made their US market debut in 1962/63. Despite the gigantic technical expense, their poor reliability meant that they soon disappeared from the market.

After the first oil shock in 1973, turbocharging became more accepted in commercial diesel applications. Until then, the high costs of investments in turbocharging were only offset by savings in fuel costs, which were minimal. Increased restrictions on emissions regulations in the late 1980s led to an increase in the number of turbocharged truck engines to the point where all truck engines today are turbocharged.

In the 1970s, with the introduction of the turbocharger in motor sport, especially in Formula I racing, the turbocharged passenger car engine became very popular.

The word “turbo” became very fashionable. Back then, the total practice of car manufacturers offered at least two high-end models equipped with a turbocharged gasoline engine. However, this phenomenon disappeared after a few years since, although the turbo petrol engine was more powerful, it was not economical. Furthermore, “turbo lag”, the delayed response of turbochargers, was still relatively large at the time and was not popular with most customers.

The great discovery

The great breakthrough in passenger car turbocharging came in 1978 with the introduction of the first passenger car turbo diesel engine in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SD, followed by the VW Golf Turbo Diesel in 1981. Thanks to the turbocharger, the efficiency of the car with a diesel engine could be increased, while maintaining practically the same “drivability” as a gasoline engine and with a significant reduction in emissions.


At present, turbocharging in gasoline engines is no longer seen primarily from the perspective of performance, but is seen as a way to reduce fuel consumption and, therefore, environmental pollution, thanks to the reduction in emissions. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Today, the main reason for turbocharging lies in harnessing the energy from exhaust gases to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.