Shortly after Tesla unveiled its second-generation Roadster in 2017, CEO Elon Musk teased that the car could be outfitted with rocket engines to improve performance.
While there is no indication that Tesla is actually working on such a system, The Drive recently learned that Ferrari has developed a system that uses thrusters to improve the performance of a road vehicle (both cars and motorcycles) and has a patent registered for the system.
A search of the United States Patent and Trademark Office revealed that Ferrari has at least two patents for the powerplant system, both filed on December 23, 2019.
In its patents, Ferrari refers to the engines as “pushers” and describes two types. One uses compressed air stored in a tank on board the vehicle, while another uses small impulse jets powered by the same fuel that powers the car’s normal engine. The idea is that the impulse jets are used when there isn’t enough compressed air, which the patents, by the way, require it to be stored at 10,000 to 13,000psi. The patents describe using recovered braking energy or an external source to refill the air tank.
Design of gas thrusters in Ferrari patent
The attached diagrams show the thrusters mounted on the front and rear of the vehicle, on its roof and underbody and on each side. The patents mention that the thrusters can be used to aid in acceleration, but also help stabilize a vehicle in an emergency situation, such as an uncontrolled slide or skid. They can also help slow the vehicle if used in front, according to the patents.
Another option is to use the thrusters to help with track handling. The engine on the roof presses the vehicle onto the road surface, increasing traction. Similarly, the powerplant could be positioned under the vehicle to create a ground effect and thus increase downforce as well.
In Ferrari’s patents, each engine actually consists of five nozzles of different sizes. Such a design means that a constant pressure can be supplied as the compressed air is consumed and the pressure in the tank decreases. The small jet is used when the tank is full and progressively larger jets are used as the air runs out.
While patents are certainly not indicative of production intent, it’s interesting that Ferrari engineers have explored the idea of using thrusters to improve performance and appear to have devised a system that sounds a lot more plausible than rockets to a car to buckle.