The turbocharger, that magical device that breathes power into automobile, airplane and heavy-duty truck engines, has just turned 100 years old. To celebrate the occasion the April 6-9 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway will host a special display of turbo-enhanced sports cars.

Patented by a Swiss engineer in 1905, the innovative system uses the pressure of the engine's exhaust to spin a turbine, which in turn causes a compressor to pump a high volume of air into the cylinders. This forced air results in more powerful explosions, which translates into more horsepower.

In short, a turbocharger makes a small engine act like a big engine, but without the added weight and gas consumption.

Turbos were first put to practical use just after World War I, when experiments with military aircraft showed the devices could substantially increase a plane's altitude. Applications to marine engines and locomotives soon followed. In the early 1960s, General Motors and other companies began their on-again/off-again love affairs with turbocharging-sometimes with great results, sometimes with lessons learned the hard way.

Highlights from the turbocharger's evolution:

1962-'63 Oldsmobile Jetfire: Oldsmobile brought the first turbocharged passenger car engine to market in its Cutlass F-85 coupes and convertibles. The aluminum-block 215-cubic-inch V-8 Jetfire with turbocharger produced one horsepower per cubic inch, but the American public wasn't ready to pay the several hundred dollar premium. Only 9,607 were sold during two years.

1962-'66 Chevrolet Corvair: Just a few months behind the Jetfire, Chevrolet released a turbocharged version of its rear-engine, air-cooled Corvair. With 150 horsepower from 145 cubic inches, the horizontally-opposed six-cylinder turbo engine turned two-door coupes and convertibles into "Monza Spyders." Chevy sold nearly 50,000 copies of its high-tech powerplant during the five model years it was offered.

1976-'79 Porsche 930: The 930 Turbo, a high-performance version of Porsche's popular 911 coupe, was imported to the United States from 1976 through 1979. During that time, the horizontally-opposed, air-cooled six-cylinder engine grew from 3.0 to 3.3 liters, and the 930 was generally considered to be the fastest car sold in this country. With 234 horsepower in its debut year, the 930 was capable of 4.9-second zero-to-60 times.

1978-'87 Buick Regal and Grand National/GNX: With close to 90,000 sold during a 10-year span, Buick's Regal line represents the most successful and well-received turbocharged offering in the American market. The turbocharged 3.8-liter V-6 started life in 1978 as a 150-horsepower option for the Regal Sport Coupe. By 1987, the performance package had evolved into the solid black, 300-horsepower Grand National GNX.

1980-'81 Pontiac Firebird: In 1980, Pontiac brought to market the first turbocharged V-8 engine since the 1962 Olds Jetfire. Available on either Formula or Trans Am models, the blown 4.9-liter V-8 generated 210 horsepower and was the only powertrain a customer could order with the 5,700 1980 Indy Pace Car commemorative editions. Car and Driver magazine recorded a zero-to-60 time of 8.2 seconds in a turbo Trans Am.

1984-'95 Dodge: Although it seldom receives due credit, Dodge instigated a performance revolution with its line of turbocharged 2.2-liter and 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines, starting with its 142-horsepower Daytona model in 1984. At the end of this first run (corporate marketers determined V-6 engines were more appealing), Dodge's turbo fours were putting out 224 horses.

1984-'86 Ford Mustang SVO: Ford offered a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder Mustang in 1979 and '80, but that first generation of blown powerplants quickly gained a reputation for poor reliability. A Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) model was introduced in 1984 with 185 horsepower from its redesigned turbo four and a range of high-tech performance equipment never before seen on a Mustang-four-wheel disc brakes, 16-inch alloy wheels, Koni adjustable shocks and an unusual bi-plane rear spoiler. Although it sounds slow today, enthusiasts were blown away by the SVO's 7.5-second zero-to-60 time and race track prowess.

1989 Pontiac Firebird 20th Anniversary Trans Am: Pontiac gave the Trans Am a facelift for its 20th birthday, along with a limited edition turbo model that doubled as an Indy 500 Pace Car replica. Approximately 1,500 of the all-white anniversary cars were built, each equipped with the same turbocharged 3.8-liter, 250-horsepower V-6 previously used in the Buick Grand National.

1991-'93 GMC Syclone/Typhoon: General Motors had invested a lot of time and money in its turbocharged V-6 program, but the company had very few mid-size, rear-drive cars to benefit from such a powerplant. The question "what about a really fast truck?" resulted in the 1991 Syclone pickup and 1992-'93 Typhoon SUV, each fitted with a 280-horsepower, 4.3-liter turbocharged V-6 and all-wheel drive. Magazines reported zero-to-60 times in the low five-second range.

2002-present Subaru WRX/STi: Equipped with the all-wheel-drive system that brought Subaru worldwide rally acclaim, the WRX found a hungry U.S. market after several years of sales in Europe and Japan. The 2.0-liter turbocharged, horizontally-opposed four-cylinder cranked out 227 horsepower. True rally fans could get closer to the real thing by buying the STi with a 2.5-liter, 300-horsepower engine. Either way, performance measurements put the Subaru on par with V-8 muscle cars.

2002-'05 Dodge SRT-4: With a sticker in the $20,000 range this front-wheel drive, Neon-based road rocket was the biggest performance bargain of the 21st century (so far). Dodge rated its 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder at 215 horsepower, which was enough to burn off zero-to-60 times in less than six seconds.

The Food Lion AutoFair display will illustrate the story of the turbocharger with an example car from each decade, plus a look at what the aftermarket industry offers enthusiasts today.

Other special attractions coming to the Food Lion AutoFair include the "Monster Garage" flying car, the Tornado Attack Vehicle, a Navy Osprey airplane capable of vertical takeoffs and landings, crazy motorcycle stunts in the Globe of Death, a race car that runs on renewable biodiesel fuel, unusual vehicles from the Lane Motor Museum and the amazing Amphicar.

Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For more information, contact the speedway events department at 704-455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.