Chrysler Turbine Car
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|Chrysler Turbine Car|
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door coupe|
|Engine||Chrysler A831 gas turbine|
|Wheelbase||110 in (2,794 mm)|
|Length||201.6 in (5,121 mm)|
|Width||72.9 in (1,852 mm)|
|Height||53.5 in (1,359 mm) (loaded)|
Chrysler Turbine Cars are automobiles powered by gas turbine engines that Chrysler made from 1962-1964. Bodies for the Chrysler Turbine were made by Ghia in Turin, Italy, with final assembly taking place in a small plant in Detroit, Michigan, USA. After a period of testing, the vehicles were reclaimed by Chrysler; all but nine were destroyed.
The Chrysler Turbine Car was the first and only consumer test ever conducted of gas turbine-powered cars. Of the total 55 units built (5 prototypes and 50 "production" cars), most were scrapped at the end of a trial period, with only nine remaining in museums and private collections. Though Chrysler's turbine engine project was terminated in 1977, the Turbine Car was the high point of a three decade project to perfect the engine for practical use.
Chrysler began researching turbine engines in the late 1930s, led largely by engineer George Huebner, who was one of a group of engineers who started exploring the idea of powering a car with a turbine after the end of World War II. Other members of the secretive Chrysler Research team that worked on automotive turbines included engineers Bud Mann and Sam B. Williams. After continually improving their turbine design, and most notably engineering a solution to heat exchanging-related problems in the form of a regenerator, the team's efforts reached an early state of maturity when they mated a turbine to a stock 1954 Plymouth Belvedere. Chrysler proceeded to test the Belvedere, and claimed that its turbine engine contained 20% fewer parts and weighed 200 pounds (91 kg) less than comparable conventional piston engines. The company publicly unveiled the Belvedere at its Chelsea Proving Grounds on June 16, 1954, in front of over 500 members of the press.
On March 23, 1956, Chrysler unveiled its next turbine car, a 1956 Plymouth, which Huebner drove 3,020 miles (4,860 km) on a four-day trip from New York City to Los Angeles. The success of the coast-to-coast journey led Chrysler to double the size of the turbine program and move it from Highland Park to a more spacious facility on Greenfield Road in Detroit. The program began producing numerous patent applications from 1957, in no small part due to the contributions of metallurgist Amedee Roy and engineer Giovanni Savonuzzi. The next iteration of the Chrysler turbine engine was placed into a 1959 Plymouth, which averaged 19 miles per US gallon (12 L/100 km; 23 mpg‑imp) on a trip from Detroit to New York City.
After Chrysler named former accountant Lynn Townsend as its new president in 1961, the company unveiled its next, third-generation turbine engine on February 28, 1961, which it mated to a variety of vehicles, including a 1960 Dodge truck and the Chrysler Turboflite concept car. Further refined third-generation turbines were installed into a 1962 Dodge and a Plymouth Fury that were also driven across the country, although after arriving in Los Angeles on this occasion Huebner spent two hours giving members of the media rides in a turbine-powered car. By February 1962, Chrysler had barnstormed its fleet of turbine cars to its dealers across North America, as well as in Europe and Mexico, ultimately visiting 90 cities, giving almost 14,000 people rides, and being seen by millions more. The third-generation turbine program ended at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1962, where Chrysler displayed its current turbine-powered fleet, but shortly before the show had announced its forthcoming fourth-generation turbine engine and its plans to put it in a limited run of 50–75 cars that would be loaned to the public at no cost in late 1963.
The fourth-generation Chrysler turbine engine runs at up to 44,500 revolutions per minute, and could operate using diesel fuel, unleaded gasoline, kerosene, JP-4 jet fuel, and even vegetable oil. Chrysler claimed "the turbine could gulp everything from peanut oil to Chanel No. 5." The President of Mexico, Adolfo López Mateos, tested this theory by running one of the first cars—successfully—on tequila, after Chrysler engineers confirmed that the car would operate successfully.
The turbine car had some operational and aesthetic drawbacks. While the jet-airplane-like sound of its engine was admired by some observers, it was unexpected to consumers accustomed to the sound of piston engines. High altitudes caused problems for the combined starter-generator. Additionally, failing to follow the correct start-up procedure would cause the engine to stall; some drivers thought they could warm up the engine similar to the way they did with a conventional piston engine. They would press the accelerator pedal to the floor before the engine had reached proper temperature. Instead of warming the engine, the excess fuel slowed the turbine down and resulted in the opposite of the desired effect. Doing this, however, did not do any permanent damage to the engine. In fact, it was possible to apply full throttle immediately after starting the engine without much fear of excessive wear. The engines were remarkably durable considering how fragile turbine engines are when compared to internal combustion piston engines. It is not known how many testers made the mistake of using the leaded pump gas of the era; the tetraethyl lead left debilitating deposits within the engine. It was the one flammable liquid Chrysler recommended not be used; it was also by far the easiest fuel to obtain. Even so, more than 1.1 million test miles were accumulated by the 50 cars given to the public, and operational downtime stood at 4%.
The bodies and interiors were crafted by Ghia in Italy. The mostly completed bodies were shipped to Chrysler's Greenfield Avenue turbine research center in Detroit for final assembly. Between the expensive Ghia bodies and the cost of the engine, each car may have cost as much as $50,000 to build, equivalent to $386,000 in 2016. A total of 50 "production" Turbine Cars were built between October 1963 and October 1964, plus five prototypes (three of which differed in roof/paint schemes). As each body was finished and shipped to Detroit, Chrysler employees installed the gas turbine engines, Torqueflite transmissions, and electrical components to prepare the cars for use by the 203 motorists – 23 of them women – who were chosen to test them throughout the country.
The Turbine Car is a two-door hardtop coupe with four individual bucket seats, power steering, power brakes, and power windows. Its most prominent design features are two large horizontal taillights and nozzles (back-up lights) mounted inside a very heavy chrome sculptured bumper. Up front, the single headlamps are mounted in chrome nacelles with a turbine styling theme which is carried through to the center console and the hubcaps. Even the tires were specially made with small turbine vanes molded into the white sidewalls. The body is finished in reddish-brown "Frostfire Metallic" paint, later renamed "Turbine Bronze" and made available on production automobiles. The roof is covered in black vinyl, and the interior features bronze-colored "English calfskin" leather upholstery with plush-cut pile bronze-colored carpet. Front suspension is upper and lower wishbones with coil springs and shock absorbers.
The dashboard is lit using electroluminescent panels in the gauge pods and on a call-out strip across the dash. This system did not use bulbs; instead, an inverter and transformer raised the battery voltage to over 100 volts AC and passed that high voltage through special plastic layers, causing the gauges to glow with a blue-green light. Instead of a water temperature gauge, the Chrysler Turbine has a Turbine Inlet temperature gauge with numbers 500, 1,000, 1,500, and 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The car itself was designed in the Chrysler studios under the direction of Elwood Engel, who had worked for the Ford Motor Company before his move to Chrysler. The designer credited with the actual look of the car was Charles Mashigan, who designed a two-seat show car called the Typhoon; this car was displayed at the 1964 World's Fair in New York City. Engel used many older Ford styling themes. The rear taillight/bumper assembly was copied directly (with revisions) from a 1958 Ford styling study called the "La Galaxie". He used none of the themes associated with his 1964 Imperial. Due to its passing resemblance to the Ford Thunderbird that Engel had previously designed, the car is occasionally referred to as the "Englebird".
Suspension did not follow Chrysler's ubiquitous independent front longitudinal torsion bar system of the time, but rather featured contemporary designs using independent front suspension with a coil spring at each wheel. Rear suspension was more typical of Chrysler, with leaf springs and direct-acting shock absorbers.
After Chrysler finished the user program and other public displays of the cars, 46 of them were destroyed. 45 of the destroyed Turbines were burned and crushed at a scrap yard south of Detroit, while the other was destroyed at Chrysler's Chelsea Proving Grounds. A widely circulated explanation was that this was done to avoid a stiff tariff on the imported Ghia bodies, but Steve Lehto notes that this has been "largely discredited". The destruction of the cars was also in line with the automobile industry's practice of not selling non-production or prototype cars to the public, and Lehto opines that it was also informed by public relations concerns harbored by Chrysler related to the potential difficult of keeping the cars running and fears that owners would replace the turbine engines with piston engines. According to a Chrysler executive who was quoted in Look, "Our main objective is research, and we did not want turbines turning up on used car lots." This practice was also later used by General Motors with its EV1, when it terminated the program and destroyed the majority of the cars in 2003.
Of the remaining nine cars, six had the engines de-activated and then they were donated to museums around the country. Chrysler retained three operational turbine cars for historical reasons. One turbine car that is functional is owned by the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, and it appears at car shows around the United States from time to time.
Only two Chrysler Turbine Cars are in the hands of private collectors: One was purchased by private automobile collector Frank Kleptz of Terre Haute, Indiana and is functional. Kleptz's Turbine Car was originally donated to the former Harrah museum in Nevada and then purchased by Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan before finally being sold to Kleptz at the 1989 Antique Automobile Club of America Fall Meet at Hershey, Pennsylvania. The second one is owned by comedian and television host Jay Leno, who purchased one of the three Chrysler Turbine Cars which had been originally retained by Chrysler. Leno wrote that
- Most were destroyed by Chrysler for tax and liability reasons, which is a shame, because to this day everyone who rides in a Turbine says, "Whoa, this feels like the future!" You turn the key and there's a big woosh and a complete absence of vibration... I think it's the most collectible American car—it was so different. Most of all, the Chrysler Turbine is a reminder that all the cool stuff used to be made in the U.S. I hope it will be again.
Surviving examples, location and operational status
- #991211 - Museum of Transportation, St. Louis, Missouri – Active
- #991225 - Gilmore Car Museum, Hickory Corners, Michigan – Inactive
- #991230 - Walter P. Chrysler Museum, Auburn Hills, Michigan – Active
- #991231 - Private Collection in Terre Haute, Indiana – Active
- #991234 - Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan – Inactive
- #991242 - Jay Leno's Private Collection in Burbank, California – Active
- #991244 - Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, Los Angeles, California – Inactive
- #991245 - Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. – Inactive
- #991247 - Walter P. Chrysler Museum, Auburn Hills, Michigan – Active
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- Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2017.
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- "Chrysler's Jet Age Turbine Car Narrowly Missed Production". Petrolicious. July 29, 2013. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
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- Rubin, Neal (3 August 2009). "Jay Leno gets rare Chrysler, author gets plug for book". The Detroit News. Retrieved 2012-04-02.
- Leno, Jay. "Jay Leno Drives One of the Last Chrysler Turbines". Popular Mechanics, April 2011. Hearst Communication, Inc. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
- Lehto 2010, p. 93
- "Where Are They Now?". TurbineCar.com. 29 April 2013.
- Lehto, Steve (2010). Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. ISBN 978-1-56976-549-4.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chrysler Turbine Car.|
- "Chrysler turbine program history from a user's view" at turbinecar.com
- A film clip Sentinels. Building Rushed on Radar Defense, 1956/04/09 (1956) "Arctic Sentinels. Building Rushed on Radar Defense, 1956/04/09 (1956)" is available at the Internet Archive Chrysler turbine test car crossed country, arrived in Los Angeles