The Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 is one of the most famous engines of the 20th century and almost certainly the most famous of the Second World War – what a lot of people don’t know is that a version of the Merlin called the Meteor was developed for use in tanks, and it proved so successful it fundamentally changed the direction of British tank design.
The first examples of the Rolls-Royce Meteor were actually Merlins that had been recovered from crashed aircraft. They couldn’t be reused for flight but many of them were still fully functional after a rebuild, as many of these accidents had been runway incidents, gear up landings, or runway overruns.
It was clear that for use in tanks the Merlin would need to be significantly simplified, so the supercharger was removed along with the reduction gear. The direction of the engine’s rotation needed to be flipped as tank gearboxes worked in the opposite direction to propellers, this was achieved with new cams and a few other relatively minor changes.
Running on low octane pool petrol without the benefit of forced induction the Meteor was still capable of 550 to 650+ bhp – a stark increase over the somewhat underpowered engines frequently used in tanks at the time.
The first tests took place in September 1941 in England, a Crusader tank was modified to take a Meteor engine and it proved so fast the test team had trouble timing it – the tank was achieving speeds of over 50 miles per hour (80 km/h). This was an unheard of speed for a tank at the time and it certainly proved the concept.
Over the course of WW2 and in the years after, the Rolls-Royce Meteor engine was used in a variety of armoured vehicles including the Cromwell, the Challenger, the Avenger, the Comet, the Centurion, the Charioteer, the Tortoise (an experimental assault tank), the Caernarvon (used to train crews for Conqueror), and the Conqueror – a post war heavy tank.
Above Image: A Cromwell tank powered by a Rolls-Royce Meteor engine showcasing its speed during an inspection. Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museums.
With a swept capacity of 27 litres (1648 cu. in.) and up to 650 bhp at 2,400 bhp the Meteor proved longer lived than the Merlin it was a based on, remaining in production until the mid-1960s.
Surviving Meteors are now popular collector’s pieces due to the remarkable history, and many of them remain in running and serviceable condition.
The Rolls-Royce Meteor engine you see here is currently listed for sale with Vintage & Prestige Classic Cars with an asking price of £28,000 or approximately $37,000 USD. If you’d like to read more about it or enquire about buying it you can click here red button below to visit the listing.
Images courtesy of Vintage & Prestige Classic Cars
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