When the U-2 spy plane was up and flying in the mid-1950s, the U.S. learned something the hard way: the Russians could still track it despite its high altitude. The solution? Make it fly faster. The CIA took the U-2 to Lockheed’s facility in Burbank, CA and told the engineers it needed to be fast enough to escape detection. Lockheed responded with the A-12. This would not have been possible without Buick.
As Hot Rod magazine relates, Frank Kurtis (himself a pivotal figure in post-war car culture) was approached by Lockheed to develop a “start cart” for the new plane. Kurtis chose a Buick motor because of the Dynaflow transmission, which had a super-smooth coupling that “was critical to spinning the Pratt & Whitney J58 turbine engines up to 3,200–4,500 rpm without breaking the coupler shaft.”
Altogether, Kurtis built 30 start carts in his Glendale, CA facility. The engines were placed side-by-side and the “Dynaflow output shafts were tied together with an 11 1/2-inch cogged Gilmer belt to a 90-degree drive that splined into the bottom of the Blackbirds’ turbines.” Eventually, when the Buick resources dried up, Kurtis’ son Arlen was commissioned to repower the carts with 330-horsepower 454 big-block Chevrolet marine engines mated to TH350 transmissions.
You can read all about it plus see more pictures in Hot Rod‘s blog.