96 feet long, 13 feet tall and 40 years missing—but we set out to find it. And we’re very, very close.
Back in the 1960s, automakers promised to propel us all into the future with turbine-powered automobiles. The Big Three prepared prototype cars and trucks with optimistic jet-driven powertrains, and some actually entered the hands of the public for testing. Chrysler’s famous Turbine Car gets all the attention; less known are Ford and GM’s competing efforts to build a turbine semi-truck. Both companies proudly showed off concepts in 1964, but both quickly faded from view once the technology proved not viable in the real world.
Like many expired concepts, GM’s machines were probably destroyed, from what we’ve learned in trying to chase this story. But Ford’s futuristic truck—known as Big Red—escaped the crusher by sheer chance and vanished into thin air. It’s been lost for decades, or so the story goes. No one knows who grabbed it, where it ended up or whether it survives today.
But I’ve got news for you: Big Red still exists. And I think I know where it is.
Coming to that conclusion took months of digging, finding one obscure internet rabbit hole after another, and plenty of dead ends. Here’s how I got there.
Big Red’s Story
Ford’s long-missing behemoth was designed under the watchful eye of automotive engineer Roy Lunn—he of the Ford GT40, the mid-engine Mustang I concept, the XJ Jeep Cherokee and more. The name Big Red was fitting for a 96-foot-long, 13-foot-high crimson semi-truck. Its turbine engine, called the 705, was developed in house by Ford and produced 600 horsepower and 855 pound-feet of torque.
The interior was a midcentury dream with a full kitchen, a bathroom with a waste incinerator, a television for co-pilots, and a panoramic view of the road. It was Ford’s bet on the future of trucking and America’s gleaming interstate highways. And even though the turbine didn’t end up working out, Big Red was ahead of the game in predicting several features truckers today take for granted, such as flat cab floors, air suspension, suspended cabs, and redundant braking systems.
Ford and General Motors both made turbine-powered semi-trucks, both were functional, and both were tested extensively. If you’re more interested in the technical details of these machines—or GM’s efforts—you can read our main writeup on the trucks here.