Turbonique was started in 1962 by a former aerospace engineer who specialized in turbine engines and rockets. While he was an aerospace engineer, he fantasized about possible applications of rockets and turbines in the world of speed parts. So when he started his own company, that’s exactly what he started designing. Before long, you could mail-order various rocket-powered turbine engines that would bolt right on to your car, truck or even go-kart. And these things were utterly insane. They were powered by a monopropellant fuel called Thermolene, which Hot Rod.com describes as “Stable under certain conditions, Thermolene could quickly decompose, producing an exponentially uncontrollable hurricane of hot gases surely launching an unimaginable catastrophe from what looked like a can of mouthwash.” Their most well known engines were their Drag Axles, which bolted directly to the rear axle of your car and produced anywhere from 45 to 1,300 horsepower depending on which one you ordered.

This Chevelle met its demise when the Drag Axle seized up, causing the car to crash and roll over multiple times. The driver survived, though.

One of their publicity vehicles, the Drag Axle-equiped “Black Widow” VW Beetle, became somewhat infamous for at one point beating Tommy Ivo’s four-engined “Showboat” dragster, and later crashing after becoming airborne at 183 mph.

With the exception of the Turbonique Drag Axle, the Black Widow was just a stock VW Beetle. I think the idea was to show how good the axle was without any help, but it just made the car even more of a deathtrap.

Turbonique actually advertised the crash, saying “We forgot our own strength for a split second”. It wasn’t long before word spread about these strange devices which could bolt onto your axle and cause mind-boggling acceleration. Many people wanted to try it. But very few cars that these drag axles got bolted to survived. It made your car extremely fast, sure, but there were so many ways for it to go wrong. For one thing, if you let off the throttle and then floored it again, the Drag Axle would become a bomb. There were also instances where the rocket would melt the turbine, causing the rear axle to suddenly lock up and the car to crash. And even if you could get the car to work well enough, you also had to handle the fuel extremely carefully because it could melt through plastic, rubber, and even metal if water was present. And it was toxic, too. Basically, any car with a Turbonique Drag Axle was a deathtrap. Also, some people fitted the things to go-karts, which were apparently capable of going from 0-160 miles per hour in four seconds. 

Here’s a surviving Turbonique go-kart. Either it somehow miraculously managed not to kill its driver, or the builder realized at the last second that this was a terrible idea.

Yeah, not everybody survived that...
But in the end, the company’s founder was brought to court and the company was no more. Oddly enough, though, it wasn’t because their products were super dangerous; it was because people complained that their products weren’t as easy to install as the advertisements claimed. It was probably for the best, though.

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