In the 1960s, automakers were experimenting with all sorts of things. Some wanted to use space-age materials for interior design, while others became obsessed with the racetrack. Some tried hard to coax more power out of their engines, and others experimented with all-new theories–some worked (such as the independent rear suspension on the Corvette), and others did not (the “For Desert Only” switch on Ramblers). Chrysler, meanwhile, worked tirelessly to blow everybody out of the water with their newest idea–a turbine-powered car.
The Turbine was, as automotive lab rats go, a very intriguing car. The idea itself had been kicked around Chrysler’s engineering department for quite some time, as the Turbine was far from the first of Chrysler’s attempts to make the turbine-powered engine a reality. In the early part of 1964, Chrysler built 55 Turbines, all of which were identical. Each was painted Turbine Bronze with a matching leather interior. Five of them were prototypes, and the others were sent out to potential customers, who were basically test subjects.
The Turbine ended up being Chrysler’s most visible turbine-engine experiment. One particular hallmark is the car’s shape–it’s a typical interpretation of the Detroit “longer, wider, lower” mantra, but the themes explored through the headlights, taillights, and front/rear fascias give a feeling of being thrust into the future. The conventional interior, though, was designed for the people of the day. Under the hood, though, was a completely different animal. Thanks to the turbine engine design, Chrysler’s new ride only had 60 moving parts under the hood, giving the car a better chance at good reliability. Another hallmark of the turbine engine was its ability to run on pretty much any liquid with a modicum of flammability–diesel, gasoline, alcoholic fluids, turpentine, aerosol, or propane, to name a few. In fact, the President of Mexico ran one of them on tequila, thus proving Chrysler’s claim in quite a fashion.
The engine itself was capable of 0ver 40,000 revolutions per minute–more than five times the redline of a normal car. The engine itself was the true centerpiece of the car’s intentions. This engine also had a lot of truly innovational environmental intentions. Because the turbine ran hotter and more efficiently than a reciprocating engine, it produced very little carbon monoxide or unburnt hydrocarbons. They also ran smoother than a typical full-size car, and because no contaminants could potentially enter the engine oil, the engines required no oil changes. Performance, though, was comparably a bit lacking. The turbine engine only produced 130hp, and in a big car such as the Turbine, acceleration wasn’t a strong point in high temperatures. It did produce a huge amount of torque (425 lbs-ft) almost instantaneously, so these were perfectly capable on trips. The engine, not surprisingly, sounded a bit like a vacuum cleaner, which didn’t really help its appeal at first (as customers weren’t quite accustomed to a noise like that out of a car engine). There were issues with starting it (as operation was not similar), but during the time that these were on the road, only a 4% failure rate resulted–astounding for a science experiment, and even more amazing considering the combined mileage of the cars built was over one million.
Each vehicle was given to a member of the public as a sort of “guinea pig” test for a certain period of time, and then returned. The cars were mostly crushed, with 9 left afterwards–3 of them, though, were left operational, and are owned by Chrysler’s museum division. Italian coachbuilder Ghia was responsible for the bodywork, and the interiors were done in-house. Of the three remaining cars, one is owned by the Henry Ford museum, and the other two are in collectors’ hands–Jay Leno has one, and collector Frank Kleptz owns the other. Despite their failure as automotive propulsion, Chrysler perservered through the decade, and the M1 Abrams tank eventually adopted the turbine engine as its choice propulsion.