The Turbine Car
The Turbine Car
Posted on August 18, 2016
Let's not make this any more difficult than it needs to be and just cover the fact that yes, the development of turbine cars was an exercise in automotive development that is traceable, in its most advanced and practical attempts, to the 1950s.
Chrysler itself went through 3 versions of turbine engines, finally arriving at the CR2A, which was fitted to the quartet of the 1962 model hardtop coupes, specifically to two Dodge Darts and two Plymouth Furys.
The question you might be asking yourself is: "If there were working turbine cars in the 1960s why aren't I driving one now?"
So begins a story of intrigue the likes of which could be embellished enough that it might fit a James Bond movie plot of the same period.
Still, let's get a clarification in here before we move too much into the specifics, shall we? When we say 'turbine car' we are referring to a gas turbine (or sometimes called a combustion turbine), which is a type of internal combustion engine that is designed with an upstream is rotating compressor coupled to a downstream turbine, fit with a combustion chamber in between the two.
Resembling a steam power plant, the process uses air instead of water, pushing fresh atmospheric air through a compressor which forces out higher pressure. Fuel is sprayed into the pressurized air which in turn combusts to generate high-temperature flow, entering the turbine, where the air expands and contributes to the shaft work output. Most of the engines of this sort at the time were electric generators, and prior to the development in cars were used in aircraft, trains, ships, and even tanks.
Curiously enough, the fundamental components of the turbine can be, if in a retrospective sense, traced to the Hero's Engine, or aeolipile, which used a simple bladeless radial steam turbine to spin when water below was heated. Named for Hero of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician and engineer who lived from 10 - 70 AD.
Still, as much as this could turn into a history lesson, let's not allow ourselves to get too far off subject.
Chrysler (some nearly 1900 years after Hero's death) continued where many others had failed, which, arguably, can be attributed through early investigation by Robert Kafka and Robert Engerstein of Carney Associates in 1946. This lead to working prototypes being shown off by competitors and like-minded innovators alike only a few years later, among them - you guessed it - Chrysler.
Chrysler's foray into turbine vehicles wouldn't stop specifically with their original prototype Darts and Furys, in fact, attempts and suggestions continued well into the 90s.
Only 55 of the Chrysler Turbine Cars were built, and these days you might only get to see them in automobile museums or if you happen to catch Jay Leno on one of the days he chooses to take out his, one of the few that is still running fine on the road today. Who has had this to say about the Chrysler Turbine Car:
"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."
But why was the Turbine Car so impressive? Well, among the interesting facts that surround it, the fourth-generation engine offered 44,500 revolutions per minute, could operate on unleaded gasoline, diesel fuel, JP-4 jet fuel, kerosene, vegetable oil, and Chrysler went so far as to state that, conceivably, it would run on anything from peanut oil to Chanel No.5. This prompted the President of Mexico, Adolfo López Mateos to test this by running one on tequila - successfully, we might want to add.
With all of the interesting features that followed the Turbine Car, there were, of course, some complications, which included a loud sound reminiscent of a vacuum cleaner, and some altitude-starter issues. This was coupled with a recognized problem that stemmed from a driver's inattention or failure to complete start-up instructions which lead to stalling.
Over the course of the public trials, the 50 vehicles accumulated more than 1 million test miles, with less downtime than 4%, a number well within reason.
The story has no real happy ending, with 46 of the models being destroyed from what Chrysler referred to as a need to avoid stuff tariff, and expensive development costs. We know that Jay Leno has one of them and of the eight remaining, six had engines de-activated and donated to museums around the country. One of the six went on to be purchased by Frank Kleptz, who acquired it through the Harrah Museum in Nevada.
While there are tons of myths surrounding the Chrysler Turbine Car, there are some facts that are hard to ignore that support Chrysler decision. Among them, the fact that the cost for a V-8 car in those days was around $US 5,000, whereas the cost for the Turbine Car would have run you up to somewhere in the vicinity of $US 16,000, it was also a particularly inefficient car, despite its claims for fuel versatility. Chrysler poured a significant budget into the Turbine Car, with seven generations of test engines and vehicles to match, it came down to price more than politics of idealism that shelved this impressive piece of technology.