Ray Heppenstall, creator of the innovative Howmet TX turbine-powered sports car, has passed away at the age of 73. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1931, Heppenstall liked to joke that his family was “…in the iron and steel business—my mom ironed and my dad stole…” Fascinated with the automobile from an early age, Heppenstall began racing after World War II and soon took a job as sales manager for Economy Motors, which began his lifelong association with Crosleys. Heppenstall raced a wide variety of Crosleys, H-Mods and Formula cars over the next decade, culminating in his winning the 1958 SCCA National Championship in a Deutsch Bonnet.
However, in 1967, while racing a Ford Falcon to 12th overall in the 24-Hours of Daytona, Heppenstall convinced the vice president of Howmet (a company that made turbine blades) to give him seed money to explore the possibility of building a turbine-powered sports car to compete in the World Manufacturers Championship (Group 6). The result was the Howmet TX, a sports car designed and built by Heppenstall and Can-Am constructor Bob McKee. The Howmet made its debut at Daytona in 1968 and had its best international finish at Watkins Glen, where it finished 3rd in the 6-Hour. Though it competed internationally for only one season, Heppenstall did set six World Speed Records for turbine-powered cars with it the following year.
After the Howmet, Heppenstall went on to race GT40s, F5000 and later, built his own Formula Super Vee, the Heppenstall P12.
In recent years, Heppenstall had returned to his roots and could be found racing his surprisingly quick Crosley Hot Shot at VSSCA events on the East Coast.