WINGED WARRIORS/NATIONAL B-BODY OWNERS ASSOCIATION
2003 FALL MEET AT ST LOUIS
PRIVATE INTERVIEW WITH AL BRADSHAW
by David Patik and Sue George
Al Bradshaw, who worked on Chrysler's famous Turbine car project was a special guest at Rich Bolzenius's home during the St Louis Assembly Plant Reunion. Some of Al's job responsibilities on the Turbine project were to train the Turbine car users how to drive the car and to chase after the cars and solve any problems and make any repairs needed. David and I were fortunate to spend some time alone with Al as he reminisced with us about his experiences. Following is some of the information Al shared with us during this time:
At Chrysler, Al Bradshaw's official title was Regional Training Manager, and part of this responsibilities were to train dealer mechanics, factory field reps and district managers, call on dealers for warranty and customer relations, and provide government fleet account training. Once in a while, he would train assembly plant people, but only if something new was causing problems.
The typical day at that time involved scheduling training classes, getting instructors in the right spots, enrollment, and getting equipment. The concept of training in the 1960s and 1970s was by deploying Mobile Training Units to different regions. Everything was kept in a storage warehouse near where Al lived. He had a Dodge van and drove it with the training supplies to his geographical area. In the 1980s Chrysler changed to Zone Training Centers and those centers actually had a building. Trainers would only go out mobile to hold classes if it was more than 150 miles from the Zone Training Center. The dealers were expected to send their employees to the Zone Training/Regional Training Centers if they were located less than 150 miles from one.
Some dealers were lax about sending their employees to training. About 1988, Chrysler developed the Five-Star Dealer Program, emphasizing quality, so customers could identify competent dealers with good ethics, training history and good sales history. The Five-Star Program is in effect to this day. It was the natural progression of improvement in the automobile industry. Some dealers would bicker about their Five-Star scores because dealers were in different categories depending on their size, city, county, etc.
Al was born in Peoria, Illinois. He attended the University of Minnesota but never finished college because of his interest in cars. Al was a street racer in Minnesota when he was young and he also worked at a small Dodge dealership. In 1957, without a job, he moved to California. Someone recommended he go see Ak Miller, one of the old original street racers in California, who along with Wally Parks started NHRA. Soon he went to work for Ak in a race car shop. They did engine swaps, putting Oldsmobile engines in El Caminos, Chrysler engines in dragsters, Olds engines in 1955-57 Thunderbirds to make street racers, etc. He said he didn't make much money but had a great time!
One of his last customers was Nathan Ostich, a physician and surgeon in east Los Angeles. Ostich had a Chrysler 300-B and Chrysler 300-C he liked to race. Ostich made a speed run on Bonneville with a Henry J that had a Chrysler Hemi with a Harley motorcycle engine running the blower! The officials disqualified it because it was considered two engines. He didn't make the world land speed record though that was the doctor's goal. At that time in 1958, the record was held by Malcolm Cambell at 394 or 396 mph.
The doctor wanted to use a jet-engine car and everyone thought he was crazy, but some admitted it could be possible. No one had ever run a pure jet engine in a car before...what would happen? Would it just run in circles and then blow up? And then, where to get a jet engine?
Al had a friend in the military and bought the wing pod off of a B-36 high-altitude engine and had it shipped to Ak Miller's parking lot. An 18-wheeler brought the GE J47 jet engine. The doctor then assembled a volunteer crew to assemble this car consisting of Ray Brock (publisher of Hot Rod magazine), Ak Miller (actor), and Al Bradshaw, who was the only paid man on the project. Al quit working for Ak Miller to go to work for the doctor. In return, the doctor did complete medical work on Al and his family.
The car was built from a tube chassis from scratch, and ended up as a 28 foot long "needle" dubbed the Flying Caduceus. It was the first jet powered car, was red with black trim and still exists today in the Reno Museum of Transportation.
So how did the car do at Bonneville? For Al's first tests with the car, the Salt Flats were in bad shape because of bad weather. The dry lake is actually clay that is like talcum powder. When sun shines on it, osmosis leads to evaporation which leads to a brine of the surface of the lake. Salt can be very smooth--but it can also sometimes be very rough. So they only did minor tests with the car. Too much air was going into the engine and not enough was going out, which caused the air ducts to collapse. Air Force tractors were used to move the car around.
The car could no longer be run. They had to take the engine apart to remove all the fiberglass residue in the engine. The Salt Flats run from late August until early September because that's when conditions are optimum. You can only reserve a week at the Flats, with no exceptions and you have to reserve at least a year in advance. So now Al was out of business for a year. The doctor was unmarried and ran a private practice. He used to tell Al, 'Some guys drink, some guys smoke, some guys chase women. I race cars.' At this time in 1960, the doctor was 51-52 years old.
Al rebuilt the air ducts and in 1961, they went back to Bonneville. Unfortunately, the car crashed at 331 mph. The left front wheel bearing failed and caused moderate damage to the car. That was the end of racing for 1961.
In 1962, the car was rebuilt. This time, it reached a speed of 373 mph. But now it had abnormal handling problems. Sometimes it would run straight, sometimes wig-waggling down the Flats. The car originally had a vertical stabilizer, but folks at Aerojet General (a big defense contractor) took it off to save weight, saying that it wasn't necessary anyway. Test pilots from Edwards Air Force Base said it was necessary, so the stabilizer was put back on. Now the problem was, the car couldn't go 400 mph as needed. It seemed 373 mph was the limit. The record at this time was 396 mph, so the car's speed wasn't good enough to break the record. They were all stymied....why couldn't this jet powered car go 435-445 mph?
Craig Breedlove, at this time, was using tricycle wheels and he was running in the high 370 mph range. Suddenly Al realized a mammoth mistake was made in the wind tunnel on their model. The mistake was they didn't allow for "air pumping" on the wheels. The boundary layer of air around a wheel at speeds of 350+ mph made an actual 12" wide tire become a 24" wide tire! Result: they didn't have enough power to push through that air. Breedlove broke the record at about 405 mph. So Al's solution was to put a more powerful engine in or enclose the wheels.
Enclosing the wheels would make the car too heavy. Only a rocket engine would be strong enough. He didn't want to kill the doctor since you couldn't shut off a rocket engine! So the men abandoned the project and sent the car to Reno (then known as Harrah's museum) where it still sits on display.
In 1963, Al went to work at a big Chrysler dealership in Whittier, California and got a job as Technical Training Instructor. He was always in training. Shortly thereafter, Chrysler developed the Turbine car project. Their goal was to built fifty Turbine cars, allow 200 consumers to drive one for ninety days each and they could go anywhere in the continental United States.
In the fall of 1964, Chrysler promoted Al to Kansas City as Training Coordinator. There were six Training Coordinators and they were in charge of being all contact between the Turbine car users and Chrysler and maintaining the Turbine cars. The program ran from Halloween 1963 until Halloween 1965, during which time users drove the Turbine cars a total of one million-one hundred thousand plus miles!
The Turbine cars had Ghia-built bodies from Italy and they were painted in Italy. The drive train, instrument panel, etc., were built in Greenfield, Michigan at a pre-production plant. At the end of the Turbine car program, some of the cars were shipped to New York for the World's Fair and used for publicity. It was reported that 300,000 people drove the cars at the fairgrounds! All but six of the Turbine cars were scrapped.
Al's responsibility in the program was to keep the users happy with their Turbine loaner. It was most important to keep the corporate image looking good.
In case you're wondering, the cost of the Turbine car project has never been divulged by Chrysler. But the cars did come extremely close to being production cars.
Al told us: "A lot of them were wrecked. A lot of times it was minor stuff, some major but mostly minor stuff, and one of the reasons was that the car always had a crowd around it. Any place you parked it, it was like fly paper...it drew a crowd of people and confusion. And then the neighbor would come over and they'd say, 'Well, drive it.' And they were totally unfamiliar. And the car was in unfamiliar territory and then they'd get so busy talking to people, they'd back it into a parking meter or back it into a light pole.
Fixing them when they got wrecked was a problem, too, because they're a very special body. The hood is aluminum, the deck lid is aluminum, very hard to work with. Being hand-built, the hood off of one wouldn't fit another one. It might come close but they were different. And being aluminum, they were very hard to work on. So we had to find special body shops, a lot of times it would be a foreign car dealership or somebody that just sold Lamborghinis or Ferraris or something like that, to get the bodywork done.
We carried the paint. Each one of us had a stock of paint in our satchel that we had where we could lay our hands on it. And I remember I had to put a windshield in one and they shipped me three windshields and broke all three of them before I got them! And these windshields were packed like you wouldn't believe. And windshields are four grand a copy!
We never totaled any of them from an accident, which is amazing because we put one million, one hundred thousand miles on them in a two-year period. That was with fifty cars. We had the special little emblems and stuff like that either in our stock or in Detroit. We had extra pieces, so there was hardly anything that we couldn't replace if we had to.
There were fifty production cars like this one [the Turbine car that belongs to the Missouri Transportation Museum] and eight prototypes that Chrysler built. There's actually eight or nine Turbine cars around and I think there's only five of the original Ghia cars of which this is one of. And I think Chrysler has three in Detroit and I think at least two of them are prototypes.
In the end, the Turbine cars were crushed. Fact is, there's a video of them being crushed by Chrysler. It was heartbreaking. They were brought in on a temporary visa so they didn't have to pay import tax on them and we were never told how much each of these cars cost. I have no idea, I mean, I could envision a half a million dollars apiece, but I have no idea what they cost. But they were brought in. So they wouldn't have to pay tax on them, they were brought in on a temporary visa, some kind of an import research visa, and they were required by law to scrap them at the end or pay tax on them. Well, I think the tax would have been real bad on them, plus there were no parts, there was nothing left. They knew they would become highly sought-after collector pieces that would just be scattered around the country with broken engines and disrepair and they couldn't take care of them, no way to fix them.
Chrysler wanted to continue with the Turbine project but they just couldn't reach it. It was like the hare and the carrot. Every time they'd make advances toward production, and the car came very close to being a production car, but every time they'd reach for that carrot, the carrot got moved a little bit. The fuel mileage on the car was in the 13-14 mpg range which was not bad for the age, but to make it a good saleable piece, it needed to be up in the 17, 18, 19 mpg range which would have made it very attractive. They needed to get a little more response because it's a lot like driving a turbo car, it has a lag in the acceleration. And that was all new in those days. Now people would probably tolerate it a lot better, having driven turbo cars. But in those days, nobody had a lag. I mean, they scorched tires almost every time they went.
So they wanted to raise the temperature. The way to get efficiency out of the engine was to raise the temperature. They needed to go up, they thought, about 400 degrees. But the turbine wheels are the vulnerable parts. The turbine wheel, at that point, was operating at 1,800 degrees fine, but running at 44,000 more rpms and if you raise the temperature 400 degrees, it was going to disintegrate. No metal technology existed at the time that would hold up to those temperatures or rpms. So they entered into a contract with Owens Corning at the last to try to develop a glass turbine wheel, which they thought if they could develop it, it would have been applicable to airplanes and everything else. It was totally fruitless....they had a ceramic turbine wheel, and they could not come up with anything that was better than anything they were using.
I ran into a guy by the name of Bunker, who was the district manager out in Nebraska, and I think I ran into him in North Platte one night. This Hemi Charger was sitting in front of this cheap motel out there and I saw the Kansas dealer plate on it and I knew it had to be his own office people. So I went up and knocked on his door. He had never met me, and I found out what room he was in. I went up there and he was sitting in there doing his paperwork and I walked up and he says, 'Can I help you?' And I said, 'Is that your Charger out there?' 'Yeah.' I said, 'I've got one of those things--that's the worst piece of junk I've ever owned!' I really unloaded on this poor guy. And he was like, 'Oh, Oh, Oh....' and I finally introduced myself.
In those years, my training center was in Kansas City in Independence. And we operated out of the training center because the six guys that chased these [Turbine] cars were the training coordinators for service training for the geographical area that we lived in. Now this was in addition to our normal job, we chased these things. And the end result was that I had a lot of extra room in my training center. And Zone Office--we called them Regional Offices then--had a whole bunch of Superbirds that they couldn't sell. So they were putting the district managers in them and running them a thousand or twelve hundred miles and then parking them and selling them as "used" and putting them on the forms as "program cars" . And they had them sitting in my training center at $1,900 apiece and couldn't get rid of them. When I think of that now...well, it's amazing but of course that's what makes things collectible."
SUE'S NOTE: Al spent a couple hours speaking to the club members at the St Louis Fall Meet in September 2003 at St Louis. I taped the speech in its entirety and have transcribed it here:
AL BRADSHAW SPEECH AT 2003 WINGED WARRIORS/NBOA FALL MEET
Chrysler got the bright idea a few years ago that they were going to do something with the Turbine cars. And I said, 'Well, I kind of worked on those rascals a little bit.' So I thought you'd kind of like to hear some of the inside story about what went on behind the scenes on those rascals. You know, it was quite an experiment they did and I hope you all got the chance to see the car out there at the track today and maybe some of you got to hear it run. They've done a marvelous job here with one of the last few remaining cars of the test car fleet.
But I wanted to just kind of give you the inside story, you know, there's been a lot of literature. And you know what literature is, that's folded BS! But there's been a lot of literature printed on the Turbine cars and some of you probably already got some of these books, there's this book, and there's this book and there's this book [holding up different books written on the Turbine car] and they're all good books. If you want your choice, you want the green one. If you're collecting you'll still find there's quite a few of them out there floating around. And it's got the best history of all of the Turbine books because it lists all the users and who they were and what they did and everything else. It was kind of the last one of the series of the books.
So anyhow, there's been a lot written in the books, in fact, I thought I'd give you a little inside story about what happened behind the scenes to keep those cars running, and what we went through to make them run and to keep the corporation looking good. I'll give you just a little bit of history, though I'm not going to get into the technology. I'm not going to get into how many rpms it went and how much this or how much that or what the pressure rate was. You can read about all of that and a lot of you probably know more about that than I do because you studied this recently and I haven't studied for a long time.
Anyhow, Chrysler started to experiment with the Turbine program in 1954 with the first Plymouth....a 1954 Plymouth. Then they had a couple of '55s they ran around with, they had a couple of '58s that ran back and forth across country. And then they did a Dodge truck in 1961. And then in 1963, they announced that they were going to give fifty cars away to consumers to drive for ninety days. And it was a remarkable program. It was a unique program that no one ever had done before and no one has ever done since and it would be totally impossible to do today. These were prototype cars and they were given to the consumers, you and I and the little old lady and the little old man and young kids and everything, to drive as their own vehicles for ninety days. And that would be impossible today. Could you imagine giving fifty prototype Vipers to consumers today?! And these cars cost a lot more than any Viper ever thought of costing. And you can imagine that the press would be following those cars every inch of the way and the first time one sputtered or somebody got hurt with one or something happened, there'd be a lawsuit out the wazoo! So as a result of that, it was a unique program that no one has ever done before and no one could ever do today...it would just be totally impossible.
Now when we announced in the press in 1963 that we were going to release these cars to the public, oh, did we get letters! Thirty thousand people wrote a letter and said, 'Give me one! I'd like to have one of those cars.' And they ranged from a twelve year old boy to an eighty four, eighty six year old guy. The kid wrote and said, 'Give one to my Grandpa.' Our grandkids haven't ever done anything like that for me but...anyhow, we got a thirty thousand flood of letters saying give me a car. Now I want to explain just a little bit that these people that wrote that letter probably weren't your average Joe. They were probably type A personalities who had a reason that they wanted a car and they were going to grab the bull by the horns. So we had a mixture of people like you would not believe driving these cars. And the users ranged from twenty one years old to seventy four. And they were a real cross mixture of people and a little bit more type A personalities than you would normally see in a group of people like this.
But what do we do at that point? How do we decide who gets one of these cars to drive? Well, it was almost a mathematical computation. We went to our accounting company and said, 'You keep track of them. We don't know what to do with them.' So they gave them to the accounting firm and said, 'Why don't you file them by the city, and by the kind of car the person is driving.' And that was the key to the pool of the people that were given the cars. What city they lived in and what make, model and year of car they were driving. And somebody at Chrysler, it was probably a real wizard, decided that when we decided to give these cars away, they were going to go 60% to Chrysler drivers and 40% to other makes, and other makes included imports. Now I have no idea how they decided that but that was the decision they made.
And some of these people were pretty colorful people. When we decided to deliver one of these experimental cars, and I should mention that there were fifty Ghia-bodied cars built, just like the car that was out here, that's one of the cars. There were actually five or eight prototypes, depending on who you talk to that were built here in the United States, but the actual user cars were the fifty Ghia-built special bodied cars. And the fifty cars were going to be dispersed to people over a two-year period and they were going to give two hundred people a chance to drive one of these cars for ninety days as their own vehicle. Now when we went to deliver a car, our public relations people picked the city. They decided, 'Well, we're going to start off in Chicago. That's a big city. We'll get the hoopla going. We'll get a big press review. We'll get a lot of cameras grinding.' So they delivered the first car in Chicago. But the reason they did these delivers was to get a good mix geographically across the country under all driving conditions and second, obviously they could take advantage of the public relations that they could generate by going into major market cities So the PR people would decide what city the car went into and the accounting firm would tell us the next car driver should be driving a two year old Chevrolet or they should be driving a Chrysler product, a three year old Plymouth or whatever it might be to get a mix of market people represented.
And they would go to this file cabinet in their office and they'd say, 'OK, we're going to deliver a car in Chicago. The next car should be given to somebody who drives a two year old Plymouth.' So they'd go to the file cabinet and they'd dig out two year old Plymouths and if there was only one person in there, they got the car. If there was six people in there, they drew them out of a hat and I mean, believe me, if they hadn't just shot their mother or robbed a bank, they got the car. We did not cull hardly anybody. I do not know of a single person that was culled. I know of a few that could have been or should have been culled, but we did not, to my knowledge, cull anybody out of the program. So that's the way they were decided to be delivered.
Well, they delivered the first car in Chicago. And they delivered the next two or three in the Midwest. And then you might say the stuff hit the fan because this first delivery was in October of 1963 and cold weather set in about shortly thereafter in Chicago and they found out that, oh, they don't start very good! They have a little trouble starting, this oil gets thick when it gets cold and the batteries get cooler when it's cold. And they said, 'We got a great idea. We'll ship the ones that are ready to California and they can do them all'...for a while, until we figure out what we're going to do.
So I happened to be in Los Angeles at the time. I was a relatively new hire at that point, just fell off the turnip truck and I needed a job out there and we were in the Turbine business overnight! Because about the next four or five deliveries were made in Los Angeles and the southern states and around the country and so we got Turbine cars coming out our ears overnight. And boy, they were a lot of fun!
I can only remember the very first car that we delivered within the Los Angeles proper, got along pretty good with that one. The second one went to a guy by the name of Max Bailey in San Diego. Max was a nice guy and he liked to go to the drag races, so he took the car out to the drag races. I don't think Max raced the car. I don't think that had anything to do with it, but Max was headed home that afternoon and for some reason or the other, the car quit. And Max being a very nice guy who didn't want to jeopardize Chrysler's reputation with this thing sitting along side the interstate, so he's waving to the people that saw him at the drag strip when they went by, you know, not wanting to say, 'Can I have a ride.' He's waving and somebody finally felt sorry for him and came back and got him. So we get this phone call that Max's car is down and it's sitting on the interstate and we don't know what's wrong with it. It ended up at Carl Burger Dodge and the guy I was working with at the time in Los Angeles said, 'Hey Al, let's go fix the Turbine car. I guess we can do it.' So we went down there to San Diego and that is our first engine failure, to tell you the truth. Now we've launched about six or seven cars at this point, we've already got one that's in pretty bad shape.
I can remember Al Wilson and I went down to look at this car and he said, 'Try to start it.' So I tried to start it and he's looking up the tailpipe and it's blowing black smoke out. And he's a gray-haired guy and he comes down and says, 'I don't think it started.' And I said, 'I don't think so either.' And he said, 'Why don't you look up the tailpipe?' And I said, 'I don't think so, Al.' Anyway, we immediately transported the car to Los Angeles, back to the training center in Los Angeles and we called Detroit and said, 'We think we need a new engine.' 'Well, you can't need an engine.' 'Well, we do think we need an engine.' To make a long story short, we needed an engine bad and they air-freighted an engine to us. That was another thing, the engines were in a big wooden box, about yah big, and they weighed, I don't know--about five, six, seven hundred pounds. We could only fly engines into major airports because we had to have a big cargo plane carry it. And so they shipped one into LA and we boogied over to the airport and we get the engine. We worked day and night and we changed the engine in this car. You change the engine by dropping the K-frame and the engine and the front wheels and everything out the bottom. And we stuffed the new engine in there and we lighted it up and it runs and sounds wonderful. [From left to right in photo: Mike Eberhardt maintains the Museum of Transportation Turbine car; Al Bradshaw; Rich Bolzenius; James Hylton NASCAR driver. The Turbine car sits behind the gentlemen.]
We'd worked about twenty hours straight now and we were kind of woozie. And the guy I started working with out there, he had training on the cars. I didn't have any training. I just fell off the turnip truck. So at this point he says, 'Lets go match it.' I'd heard of torching cars but I didn't know what matching was! And matching is a Turbine terminology that they used to adjust the nozzles and the vanes in the engine to reach maximum proportions. It's a tune-up done by a couple of 10-32 screws on the top of the engine, on the actuator arm and you got a big pyrometer and you plug it in the engine in three or four different places and measure the temperature. We're in the parking lot at the training center in Los Angeles. It was a big parking lot at that time--we were wealthy in those days! We don't have big parking lots anymore. Anyhow at that point, we're going to match this engine, which is an all-new thing to me. So this Wilson, who is like a pretty nice gray haired--he'd make a helluva nice shoe salesman or maybe a dentist--he's going to show me how to match this engine. Well, we plugged all this stuff in and he's nearsighted so he gets his glasses up on his forehead like this. And he's bent down in the front seat and he's got the pyrometer laying on the floor and he's dialing it in, and I have no idea what this guy is doing--and at this point he says, 'Step on it!' So I stabbed the foot feed and the car goes Graaaahhhhh! I looked at Al and I said, 'I don't think that sounded very good.' 'Oh, it's okay,' he says, 'Don't worry about it. Hit it again!' Graaahhhh! He says, 'Try it one more time!' Well, needless to say, that time it really made a lot of racket. So at this point I said, 'I think we'd better call somebody, Al.' He said, 'Yeah, I think so too.' So he called Detroit and said, 'This thing is making strange, strange noises.' And of course Detroit didn't believe us. Detroit has a thing, see, if you live in Detroit there's a couple things you gotta understand. You don't believe anybody. I mean whenever you told them Volare and Aspen fenders were rusting out--'Nah, that could never happen!' Six pack Holley carburetors and the cars were all fumbling and stumbling--'Never happen!' So they said, 'You couldn't need an engine.' We said, 'It's making terrible sounds, guys.'
So they said, 'Okay. Well, take the air cleaner off.' So we take the air cleaner off and there's aluminum shavings down in the impeller of the turbine and I said, 'That ain't right.' So they decided: maybe you do need an engine! That was our first lesson.
I want to tell you, problems and failures were expected in this program. I mean, you put fifty prototype totally untested type of engineering phenomenon's on the road like these things, we expected problems. They were unknown, that was the big problem. We didn't know what the problems were going to be.
So right away they shipped us another engine and right then was our first lesson: never start an engine without priming the oil pump. Now how many race cars have you put together and you learned that the hard way probably sometime, too, or wished you had done it? But we cranked that thing out to 12,000-14,000 rpm a couple times and it never had any oil pressure and when it finally did it went on up to 22,000 rpm and I'm sure the bearings were already gone at that point. So from that point on, we said never start an engine without priming the oil system, so that was lesson number one.
And lesson number two was: I learned how to match a turbine engine and you do it by adjusting all the nozzles and vanes so that it reaches maximum performance and maximum temperature without overheating.
Well, all of those people that got the cars, we had wonderful people. Ninety-nine percent of these people were marvelous people, even though we drug them out of the sack. There were some kind of colorful people, let's put it that way. A couple I'll relate to you a little later on. And there's a bummer or two in there that should have never gotten a car to begin with. And we may talk about them as long as we can turn the camera off!
I'll tell you a story about a guy in Oklahoma City--we always
delivered in fear. When we delivered the car the first time in the major market,
it was an event. Our PR people moved into town a week before, they contacted all
the newspapers, all the media, all the magazines, all the politicians, all the
local people who had any influence, were all invited to a press delivery
breakfast. And we'd deliver the car, a corporate executive came in and he'd come
in his stripes just like he worked for General Motors, and he'd make a big
speech about what a wonderful thing this car was and blah, blah, blah, and then
we'd pass out a press kit to the press, by that time we had plied them with some
screwdrivers and things like that and at this point we hoped they were in our
camp and then we'd assure them they would have a chance to drive a car, because
we had brought three or four other cars in at the same time, so they'd each have
a chance to drive it and hopefully not run over anybody with it, hit no curbs or
anything like that.
And so, it was a big deal. And in the analogy of this thing, the user--we called these people who get the cars "users"--and when the user got the car, we passed the keys, we shook his hand, we said, 'La-di-dah' to him and at that point, we would turn the podium over to the user.
And the press could ask him any questions, you know...'How did you get the car? What do you think of it? Do you know how to drive it?' And I always went in the night before and taught them how to drive and that could be an experience, too, but at any rate, they were welcome at free-will to answer any questions.
Well, we had this guy down in Oklahoma City, he was an old guy, he was a dead-ringer for the Kentucky [Fried Chicken] Colonel--could have been his double. He drove a Ford and his wife was a typical "Ford Housewife" who wore a feed sack dress and her hair done up in a bun and she following him around. And as a result, Arthur talked like Senator Claghorn and he looked just exactly like the Kentucky Colonel, I mean, he had the little goatee, he was retired, he was nearly 70 years old if I remember right. So Arthur had been given lessons on the car and we're now at the biggest hotel in Oklahoma City, we're less than two blocks away from the state capitol--it's right down the street. We have politicians in the audience and they said, 'Mr. Forester, what kind of fuel have they told you to use?' And he said, 'Oh, fellas, this car will run on anything, you know. They tell me I could even burn tequila in it. But I'm probably going to burn kerosene and diesel fuel, but mostly kerosene because they said it's the best thing.' And he said, 'You know what the best part of that is? I'll tell you what...them rotten thievin' bastard politicians aren't going to get anymore money from me for gas taxes! The governor is a skunk and the politicians are all skunks and everyone.....'
And we were looking for the book and the PR guy was just having a heart attack. And we were having a hard time getting Mr. Forester to shut up. And the day job to that at that time was the Charger Turbine program and then I ended up being Iacocca's PR guy in later years. Dave was a super guy and he got the podium back [from Mr. Forester] and he grabbed the mic away and he said, 'I want you people to understand, that's Mr. Forester's opinion.'
But Arthur was a trip a minute, let me tell ya, he really was. Anyway, we had the top executive make a speech, the PR guys were there with all their bells and whistles and their best-dressed, and our responsibility was to bring the cars and make sure they ran and make sure they didn't smoke and make sure they didn't quit and everything like that. So we were behind the scenes of what they called the Turbine Service--they called us the Turbine Service Coordinators and there were six of us across the country. And believe me, our job number one was to keep the cars running. Keep the cars running was number one. Number two was to keep the corporation's image as good as we possibly could under any and all conditions.
Once in a while that led to a little devious behavior on the part of the Turbine Coordinator. Uh, we might be inclined to "fudge" the knowledge a little bit once in a while when something was going on with the cars. But we did have a wonderful time. It was a tremendous job for two years, and our job was to keep them running and to keep the corporate image up, shuffle, prep, maintain, we did all the engineering updates, we did all the maintenance and service and repairs. The owner or user could not even add a quart of oil without calling us first. And in the glove box of each car was a card that says: If you're in this car in the United States and you have a problem, you call Al Bradshaw in Kansas City. Or you call Boyd Palmer in Chicago. Or you call Al Wilson in Los Angeles.
The six Service Coordinators were training center managers--Service Training Center Managers. We were region training managers, so this was an add-on duty to us but it was a good plan. There was a reason Chrysler did that. First we were dispersed geographically across the country and we could twist wrenches, you know. And the second thing was that if the cars had ever went into production, we would have been the people who had the responsibility of training dealer people, the dealer technicians, the dealer sales force, plant technicians and things like that because that's our job. Our job was to manage service training for the whole corporation throughout the United States. And so this was kind of an added thing but it was a good plan because the cars did come very close to being production cars and we would have been ready then, we had first hand experience--a lot of it--to get in there and get the job done. So it was a good plan.
So we were on call 24/7, anywhere, any time....I had the six Midwestern states, but we shared territories. If we had a car go down in Los Vegas and I was available and Al [Wilson] was busy, I'd zip to Las Vegas. And believe me, zip we did! We zipped day and night across the country. I had Turbine parts stored in my basement. I had tires and pieces stacked in my garage. I had them all labeled. I had a standing order with Yellow Cab in Kansas City and they would pick up anything from my house and I had this all marked and boxed, my wife was my shipping clerk. And they would ship it to me, they would take it down to Emery Air Freight in Kansas City at the airport and they'd ship it to me anyplace in the United States, so in just six or eight hours I could almost get any part, any place, any time.
It was an interesting program. In addition to that, we taught the drivers how to drive the car, we did exit interviews, some of them when we picked the car back up--PR and corporate people usually did that, but once in a while we would get forced into that. We did a lot of public relations speaking in the meantime because the program had uncanny identification with the public. Chrysler did the greatest job of PR and it's a thing that you've never seen before and you'll probably never see again. I could not get on an airplane and sit down in the seat and mention Chrysler without somebody saying, 'What about those Turbine cars?' And then when they found out we were involved with the Turbine cars, then the questions just started flying.
And I have kind of an interesting side line to that....because everybody wants to be a player. And almost everybody, when you sat down and started talking about the cars, they'd say, 'Oh, I've read about those cars and my preacher, or my school superintendent, or my brother-in-law's mother-in-law's sister had one of those cars.' And it was always kind of interesting and I'd feed out rope and pretty soon I'd say, 'What color was it?' Because all of these cars were painted exactly the same color as the one you saw today. They were all Turbine Bronze, all the production cars were Turbine Bronze. And they'd say, 'Oh, green. Oh, it was blue.' And I'd say, 'Gee, that must have been a lot of fun.' But it was a large percentage of people proved that they wanted to be a participant, they wanted to continue to talk about it.
We fixed cars in strange places! I can relate fixing a car in a parking lot in front of the courthouse in Refugio, Texas. And I fixed cars in gas stations. I fixed cars on barrels in coal mines. I fixed cars in just about any place you can possibly imagine. We would not allow any dealer technicians to touch these cars without us being there supervising.. We did use dealer technicians under our direction to help us change engines or whatever we might want to do. And turn brake drums...we were always turning brake drums. You never heard of a Chrysler product having an out-of-round brake drum, have you? Well, we had them on the Turbine cars. With 10 x 2 ½" brakes, and they were a little under-braked anyhow and then not a lot of decel from the Turbine engine, and we were riding the brakes all the time on the Turbine cars. We did a lot of things. We chased cars day and night, just unbelievable.
And some of them were very legitimate failures, some of them were wrecks, some of them...the one in Refugio, Texas, the gal ran over a railroad crossing. They built the railroad crossings up down there like this and she went across there about 50 miles per hour and knocked the bottom off the engine. And I fixed that in the parking lot down there.
But we fixed cars and some were not legitimate failures. I had one bad, bad, bad weekend. I'd just come home on Friday night with the flu and I mean I was pooped. Saturday, I had promised to take my wife out for our anniversary dinner, she'd hired a babysitter to watch the kids and I didn't feel good. I said, 'You gotta call Allie and cancel. Can't go.' So I hung around there Saturday night, she'd already cancelled the babysitter. Sunday evening, I'm beginning to feel a little bit better and I decide, gee whiz, maybe I'll have some soup, and about that time, five o'clock in the evening the phone rings and it's a lady by the name of Helen who was a user from Omaha. And she said, 'I'm in an all-night Laundromat in Burlington, Kansas and the car won't run.' Now Burlington is down there in the middle of nowhere, south and west in eastern Kansas, and she's at a pay phone and she's got her two kids with her and she's a secretary at the Sac Air Force Base in Omaha and she has to get home and it's Sunday night, she's got to be to work tomorrow morning. So what do I do? I called the airline and made a reservation to get her from Kansas City to Omaha for her and her two kids and said, 'I'll be there.'
So I head down I-35, headed down to Burlington and I get down there about 40, 45 miles south of Overland Park, someplace along in there and I'm driving this Dart--I have no idea why I was driving a Dart, but I guess we were in a period of "cheapness" at that point--you didn't question what you got free! So I'm driving this goofy Dart and the alternator bolt came out of it and the fan belt came off. And I'm dead along the interstate, so I nurse it down to an old abandoned weigh station, happened to be a pay phone there. Ah, so I called my wife and I said, 'Hire the babysitter and come and get me.' So she said okay and I said, 'I'll call you back in a few minutes.' Well, in the meantime I scrounged around under the hood, I found the fan belt, it isn't broken, it just came off. And I tied the alternator over to the fender well and I got it on there tight enough to run and I called her back and said, 'Cancel the babysitter, I'm going again!' And she said, 'Would you make up your mind?!' 'Don't worry about it honey. I'll be home later.'
So I boogie on down to Burlington and I get about five, six miles north of Burlington and the Turbine car's sitting alongside the road. It's dark, there's no lights on and the car is just sitting there and I thought, 'Ooh, I'd better at least turn on the four-way flashers. I don't know what I'm going to do with the car, but I'm at least going to keep its lights on. So I turned the lights on to four-way flashers. While I'm in there I'm thinking, Hmmm......wonder if it would run. She said it wouldn't start. So I put it in park and started it right up! And I thought, 'She didn't have it in park.'
So I go on into Burlington and I'm just being as nice as I possibly can be, you know, and I loaded her and the kids in the car in the dark and we head back out, and I'm going to drive her to Kansas City if I have to and I said, 'Helen, did it just coast to the side of the road?' And she said, 'No, I stopped to change my shoes and I got in the trunk.' And I said, 'Did you put it in park?' 'I don't think so,' she said. So I said, 'I think we got it fixed.' We put Helen back in the car and I followed her up to Topeka and she went north on 75 and I went home and had a bowl of soup. And that was a typical day.
The next week was just pure hell but we won't get into that one at this point. I mean, it went downhill from there but those were the kind of surprises that came along. The unknowns I called them.
Where did I come from? You know, did I have these kinds of qualifications or did they just give me these [gold plated tool awards] instead of paychecks, see. We got gold tools, we didn't get any money. And Darts to drive! Well, actually I had just started with Chrysler in 1962-63, I had just hired into Chrysler corporation. But I'd known them for quite a long time. I had just come off a project--I was the co-builder of the first world land speed car that was powered by a jet engine. And I built this car for a doctor in east Los Angeles, it was called the Flying Caduceus and is still on display at the Reno museum. Ray Brock, who was the publisher of Motor Trend and Hot Rod magazines at the time, was a very good friend of mine. I was working as a technician for a fellow by the name of Ak Miller. Now Ak Milller is one of the old, old dry lakes racers from way back when, started the NHRA with Wally Parks and those guys and they were all a close-knit organization, all of those guys were buddies and I had the job with Ak Miller. We did a lot of engine swaps, we built Mille Miglia cars, we built Indy cars, we built Pikes Peak cars, and we would build anything for a dollar which is really what it boiled down to.
And I was building engines for a doctor in east Los Angeles for his Chrysler 300s and he turned out to be probably the best friend I ever had. It was a phenomenal relationship because he had just built a goofy car to run on the Salt Flats--a Henry J with a blown Chrysler with a blower powered by a Harley Davidson--and they disqualified it because it had two engines. So he said, 'I'll teach them, I'm going to break the land world speed record with a jet powered car,' and everybody thought he was crazy. But we knew he had money and we knew he was creative and we knew he had the fortitude to do it. So Ray Brock, Ak Miller and I built this car for this doctor in east Los Angeles and we didn't break the land world speed record, by the way. Breedlove finally eclipsed us. Craig used to hang around the shop when we were getting started.
But I had jet engine experience as a result of that. I had Chrysler experience. I had technology experience so Chrysler hired me to be a training instructor in their Los Angeles training center. And it was just natural when Turbines came along, I'd only been aboard about three months at that point, for me to work on the Turbine cars. So that's how it evolved. That's kind of where I came from and being part of the training group, that made sense, I was with Chrysler for 28 years. I retired in 1991. And 21 years we spent here in St Louis, the last 21 years in St Louis as regional training manager for the Midwest territory.
We had basically a high-tech car that we were servicing with low-tech equipment. Today you could do tremendous things with the Turbine car, electronically and things like that. I mean, this thing was a mechanically inclined or maybe mechanically handicapped beast at that point, and it was a real experience. It was a high visibility program. We had to keep the corporation's image up. As I said, we were pretty devious at times. We swapped engines, we changed everything we possibly could on them, it was just a tremendous experience, not without the surprises!
When you deal with 203 users who actually got the cars before we were done...they drove them one million-one hundred and eleven thousand miles in two years. The highest mileage cars were in the 14,000 mile range. But we had thirteen people that put between 12,000 and 14,000 miles on a car. And so they DID get used. And almost everybody who got one took a trip. You know, it was an ego trip for them to go show the car to their friends and the only requirement was they couldn't go outside the continental United States. They could go anyplace they wanted as long as they bought the fuel and they would hopefully tell us where they were going and when they were going so we could kind of be aware of where they were headed.
This was the kind of thing that brought us a lot of surprises. This Mr. Forester...my buddy down there in Oklahoma City, the Kentucky Colonel....he was from Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. And he said, 'Al, I'm going to go to Slippery Rock.' And I said, 'Arthur, I'll come down.' We had to see every car every thirty days to do maintenance service, a tune-up check, and do any engineering updates they wanted done on them. So I went down and checked the car over and he said he was going to Slippery Rock. 'Have a good trip, Arthur.'
About six o'clock on Saturday morning the phone rings and he says, 'Hello Al, this is Arthur.' 'Yeah, what's going on?' 'Well I wrecked the car.' And I said, 'Oooh, well, where are ya?' He said, 'Well, I'm in Chesterfield, Missouri. I was down here and I hit this guy.' I said, 'How bad did you hit him?' 'Well, the cops are here and it's kind of messed up pretty bad. They said I ran a red light or stop sign, but I don't think I did.' I said, 'Arthur, it doesn't make any difference. We'll just see if we can get you going here.' So I talked to the cop and I said, 'Is it drivable?' And he said, 'Well, yeah, it could be driven as long as he doesn't try to drive it at night. The headlight is all messed up and the front end is messed up.'
And I made the decision to send Arthur to Slippery Rock and I said, 'Arthur, when you get to Slippery Rock, call me and we'll make arrangements to have Bob Throckmore come out of Detroit and he'll arrange to get you a rental car and we'll get the car fixed.' And so Arthur went to Slippery Rock and we made arrangements for Bob Throckmore to go to Pittsburg and meet Arthur at the airport in Pittsburgh and they're going to swap cars. Arthur's going to get a rental car and we're going to fix the Turbine car and he's going to come back.
Now Bob is about six-three, he's bald, he's got one eye that's messed up because he lost it in a training accident when an air compressor blew up on him, and Arthur Forester looks like the Kentucky Colonel. Now they shouldn't be too hard to figure out who's who. So I'm telling these yardbirds over the phone, 'Now when you get there, Bob Throckmore is going to be on flight so-and-so coming out of Detroit.' They're going to meet on Saturday morning, and I said, 'He's going to be wearing a blue suit, carrying a Chrysler briefcase.' and I told Bob, 'Now Arthur Forester looks just like the Kentucky Colonel. And he's going to meet you.'
So I get a phone call, 'Al, this is Arthur. I can't find your man.' I said, 'Well have him paged, I'll call Detroit and make sure he got out ok, but have him paged.' So I get Arthur off the phone. Pretty soon I get call from Bob. 'Al, I've looked all over and I can't find the guy, What's he look like?' 'He looks just like the Kentucky Colonel, Bob. You can't miss him.' Pretty soon the phone rings and it's Forester again and he says, 'Al, I've had him paged and I can't find him anyplace.' And I said, 'Geez, it shouldn't be that hard. He's got a leather briefcase, he's got one eye messed up and he's bald headed and he's six-two or three tall.' And he says, 'Well, I'll be damned. He's standing here waiting to use the phone!' It was just one thing after another.
It was also interesting when we delivered the car because we used to like to play with PR guys. I don't know how many of you have ever worked with PR guys, but they're nervous a lot. They're always worried about, is the program going to go the way we want it to go, are we going to look bad, are we going to get egg on our faces or something like that. And we had these guys Dave and John and they were great guys. And we're in Omaha and we're at a big press delivery for this Helen Saunders and we've got four cars there--three for the press and one for the delivery. We decided the car we were going to deliver needed to have a new gear box put on the front of it. So our supervisor out of Detroit came down and brought a gear box with him. We decided, he wasn't going to get in until about midnight, we're not going to work all night, so we're going to work on it first thing in the morning in the parking lot of the hotel. We've got this car all torn apart on the driveway of the hotel behind, kind of like you guys where you were doing the burnouts tonight, and we just couldn't pass up the chance of bringing Dave [PR guy] down there and saying, 'Look what happened to the car!' This was about an hour and a half before delivery and I thought that guy was going to swallow his pipe because we had his delivery car just scattered all over the driveway. We liked to play with him at times.
Another little sideline to that delivery, we had to do some TV interviews and things with the cars before we left town and there were a lot of politics involved at times, in those days at Chrysler particularly. And one of our V.P.s was a fellow by the name of Virgil Boyd. Virgil Boyd was raised out in Alliance, Nebraska and he was a native of Alliance. I don't know if you're aware of where Alliance is, but it's out west in Nebraska, out in sand hill country. And Alliance is what, 420 to 450 miles from Omaha. It's a long ride across there. And we had to go to Alliance because Virgil Boyd wanted us to use one car as a pace car in the SCCA race and put the other car in the dealership. Now the deal was the car was supposed to be four hours in the Chrysler/Plymouth dealership and four hours in the Dodge dealership. And we took two cars out there. We didn't get out of Omaha until about four o'clock in the afternoon and we got a loooong way to go. So we're honkin' across, I got Dave with me and I got Red Fox and John in the car behind me and we're going across Nebraska. And I mean, we're going across Nebraska! I'm running a little over 100 as the lead car and I'm mad because Fox isn't keeping up. I figured he was chicken. And then I found out when we stopped for dinner in Broken Bow that his car wouldn't run 105. I guess we needed to tune it up...we needed to match it, I suppose.
But finally we stopped at Broken Bow about nine o'clock at night for a sandwich and went on. And when we got out there, Fox fell out of that car like he'd had it and said, 'Oh, did you see that pig?' And I said, 'I didn't see any pig.' He said, 'We almost ran over a big pig out there!' And I don't know how the corporation would have looked at that! We did go and run across the country pretty wild at times.
They were like driving fly paper. And a lot of the cars were wrecked. We had a terrible time getting them fixed. The cars had an aluminum deck lid and an aluminum hood....bonnet they'd call it since it was an English car. And they were made by Ghia and the cars were extremely heavy for what they really are. The cars were heavy because the Italians use a lot of lead and finishing art and they were not a light weight car, which kind of hurt us on performance too. But on the other hand, we couldn't take the deck lid off of car seven and put it on car eleven because it might not fit, so we had a hard time. And anytime one got damaged, we had a terrible time getting it painted and fixed. And we did devious strange things. We had a favorite spot in Los Angeles to get the cars fixed. Across the Santa Anna freeway from Disneyland is a $39.95 paint shop called Heddings Auto Body and that's where we had the Turbine cars in Los Angeles fixed and painted. They had a guy that was a shop foreman there that worked in an exotic import dealership at one time and he knew how to work aluminum and he knew how to paint and he would patch and fix our Turbine cars at night in this $39.95 body shop. So we did strange things...we worked on them in strange places, but it was very rewarding when you finally got one fixed the right way.
Where were the major problems? There were problems with the Ghia body itself. The leather shrank, and they had flashers in the doors when you opened the doors and they never worked. The car had panel illuminescent lighting like the '66 Charger or the what-is-it, '61 Chrysler that had electroluminescent lighting on the dashes. And if you ever scratch one of those needles, then it doesn't light up anymore. We were working on the panel illuminescent lighting and the brakes, as I mentioned the brake problems, we had tire problems.
Goodyear made the tires and they were old polyester belted tires, you know, and they had cut into the sidewalls little fins. They had some guy up in Goodyear cutting the whitewalls down so there were fins around the whitewall tire but that made them subject to cracking and then the ozone in California, the tires just always looked terrible. So we were always scruffling around trying to find a good set of tires to put on the cars to put in a car show, the L.A. auto show or something like that.
The cars were like driving fly paper. Almost every one of them got wrecked in one way or another during its use. Part of that was the fact that there was always a crowd around the car. People would back them into a parking meter or they'd back it into a light pole or they'd let their neighbor drive the car and he'd be totally unfamiliar with it, strange things would happen. None of them were ever totaled. But some were damaged fairly bad.
Well, I guess I could tell you about my buddy out in Salt Lake City. We delivered a car to a fellow in Salt Lake City, he actually worked out at Hercules Power towards the Salt Flats. And we kiddingly said that he blew his job at the power company the day after we gave him the car. He was a bachelor and he set about traveling with the car. I guess he didn't have a lot of money because he lived in the back seat, I think. At least that's the way it looked, he had a bedroll in there and everything. My first encounter with him after we delivered the car, he'd had it maybe a short time, and I got a call from Detroit and they said the car is down at this brother-in-law's ranch west of Cheyenne. And this was Christmas Eve, so I guess I'll go to Cheyenne. So I get on the bird and I fly to Denver and I get on Frontier and I go up to Cheyenne and I rent a car and I drive out to this ranch which was quite a ways out, and the car is in the horse barn and they're right--it won't run. That was not the worst of it.
My buddy and his brother-in-law are about ¾ schnockered. So they were out there wanting to watch me fix this car and I'm crawling around on the ground in this horse barn among the....it wasn't straw! And I came to the conclusion the fuel nozzle was plugged. It had a fuel nozzle almost like a furnace but it was air injected and in this fuel nozzle were little bitty high-tech washers that spaced the clearance on the nozzle so you got the right spray pattern and we were forbidden to take them apart. But I didn't plan on going back. I wanted to get home for Christmas day if I could. So I took the fuel nozzle apart. I'm working on an orange crate in this barn and I'm bent over and I've got those washers laying out, you know. I've got this one over here, and this one here and this one here, and it's like working on a clock. And all at once, these two rascals get in a fight and they kick the orange crate over. And now I'm down there digging around in the straw for the washers, you know, and I finally got it put together and I took the keys in and gave them to his sister and I said, 'Don't let him drive it until he sobers up.' And I get back in my car and went back home, which was Christmas day.
Well, you kind of expect that kind of thing to happen. Then on New Year's eve I get a phone call and he's in Williams, Wyoming and it's at an International Harvester farm implement dealership. They had towed the car in and it's badly damaged. So I guess I'll go back out there on New Year's eve so I hop on the bird and I go west again and I go to Williams and that means you gotta fly into Sheridan and rent a car. I rented a Ford in Sheridan and I slide down there on glare ice and I find this car and he'd run it off the road and he's got the whole bottom of it tore up.. And in the meantime, in this week, it has been parked at his brother-in-law's ranch in Cheyenne and they have those down-winds that come through there sometimes in the winter, 100, 120 miles per hour...it took all the paint off the right side of the car, the windows, you can't see out of the right side of the car! I said, 'Bill, I'm going to do you a favor.' He asked, 'What's that?' I said, 'I'm going to buy you a bus ticket and send you home because I can't fix it.' So I did. I took him to Sheridan and I put him on the Greyhound and I sent him home with his sleeping bag and all his stuff. And to my knowledge, he's the only person who never got the car back.
Now I don't know that I can say we wouldn't have given him another car--we didn't have another car. They were all out on assignment. The second thing was we couldn't possibly have fixed that car within the time period. And I'm not so sure that's not the car that's over here. I think that car is the one that was over here today. But it was a mess when I saw it last time, I'll tell you, it was a pigpen inside and was almost demolished outside. So, as I said, we had some real colorful people.
Some of the other things we fought were fuel. You know, we said it'd burn anything, right? They used to actually tell the people this, the press people, 'Well, it will run on tequila.' Well, I don't know...I think it probably would stumble a little bit when it got down to the worm, at least. Fuel quality was pathetic because we were burning primarily kerosene. And you got to remember, in 1963 diesel was only available at truck stops. And then it was usually only diesel #2, the real heavy duty stuff. We could burn diesel #1 pretty decent, but we preferred kerosene. JP4 would have been great. I was telling some of the guys earlier in the meeting, it would've been great if we'd just given each user two barrels of JP4 and put it in their garage and let them use that. But they would buy kerosene wherever they could get it. And in those days. a lot of it was out of 55 gallon drums sitting in the corner of the wash rack of the grease station. And they were using it to scrub floors with, with the old sludge pump on it, you know.
So the guy would pull in and say, 'Can I buy 5 gallons of kerosene?' And the guy would say, 'Oh, that's a neat car!' 'Hey, Jack. Can I buy some kerosene?' 'Well yeah, we've got kerosene.' And they'd pour it in the car and 10 miles down the road the fuel filter is totally plugged up. We spent a lot of time chasing fuel filters. Plugged up fuel filters was a major problem just from the quality of fuel. It was just those kinds of things that took a lot of our time.
As I said, we expected to have failures in the engines, but they were unknown what they were going to be. We had some real serious failures and then we had a lot of accessory failures that went wrong. They had an air pump on them that helped spray in the fuel, in the igniter. The igniter ran full time and it had air injected through it to keep it cool and also to break up the fuel spray so it would burn cleaner and re-light immediately. And if the air pump got weak, the car would backfire, POOF!, out the tailpipe. And we told users: don't worry about it, it's minor and so if it went poof it was not a problem. But every once in a while, they'd go POOF and then once in a while they'd go BANG out the tailpipe. And we'd go, whoa, we'd better fix that one! And so we'd go get an air pump and put on it. It took about four hours to put one on.
There's a couple of stories about that. One of my favorites was
when we were in Little Rock--now you gotta remember this is 1963 and 1964--and
the race riots were going pretty strong around the country and there was a lot
of discrimination problems going on in the country. And we were downtown Little
Rock and I was getting ready to deliver a car. We had to rehab them all, they
had to be perfect when we gave them back out.
We had generally four or five days to get the car in top notch shape to get it three, four, five eight hundred miles down the road and get the other cars there and get them ready to drive and ready to deliver so we were on the fast track.
And so I had cleaned this car all up, we're in Little Rock Dodge which is an old dealership right downtown, brick building, service entrance across the sidewalk right here, you know, door right there. We got the car all ready to be delivered but I have an air pump coming in, my wife was sending me an air pump. And I knew it needed one because it was popping pretty bad. The car was sitting just inside the door, it was in the evening and the sun was starting to go down and these two little black boys came along and they saw that shiny back end on that car and said, 'Ooh, look at that! What is that? What am I lookin' at?' And I'm standing out there and I said, 'Well, that's the new Chrysler Turbine car and we're getting ready to deliver it and so forth.' And unbeknownst of me, about that time, the service manager decided he was going to start it. So these black boys are looking at their reflection in the rear bumper and they were admiring that pretty car and about that time it started and went Whooom, BAM! Their feet didn't touch the ground for a block. They thought they'd been shot. I had to laugh, it scared them to death.
Another story that is kind of lengthy, which almost got us in a lot of trouble...we delivered a car to a fellow named Horace Tully. Horace Tully was a Shell Oil gas station owner in Sacramento, California. Horace's wife was a secretary to the governor. So she used the car more than he did. He had to work, pump gas, wash cars, and so forth, it was a big station right there in Sacramento. So his wife used the car, drove it back and forth to the capitol and it got a lot of coverage, the car got a lot of exposure. I was gone to Chicago for a long period of time, four or five weeks I worked out of Chicago. This car was backfiring at times and they got their signals crossed. I really, to this day, don't know what happened. But the guy in Los Angeles told her to just keep driving it, that he'd come up and fix it when he got a chance and she thought he said park it until I get there. So she parked it in the Shell station in one of the stalls. And it sat apparently for a couple of weeks and didn't get worked on.
And I knew nothing about this, nobody seemed to know anything about it and all at once, the stuff hit the fan. She called Lynn Townsend [President of Chrysler]. These users had Lynn Townsend's home phone number. And she called Lynn Townsend and just unloaded on him about this car and it wouldn't run and so forth and so on. I was just coming back from Chicago and I'd driven all the way from Rock Springs, Wyoming to L.A. and I got home and I got home about four or five o'clock in the morning and I went to the office. I hadn't been there for five weeks. I go to the office and the phone is ringing, it was about 7:30 in the morning and it's a PR guy and he says, 'Who is messing around with our Turbine user in Sacramento?' I said, 'I have no idea what you're even talking about.' He says, 'You gotta get there. Somebody has to go up there and satisfy those people because they are mad!'
Come to find out, she had scheduled some kind of picnic or something and the car was going to be the centerpiece of the picnic and she was embarrassed because she couldn't take the car and she had to cancel it and the governor was going to be there and on and on...it was the biggest story you ever heard. So I hopped o the airplane, and I hadn't slept for two days almost, I hopped on the airplane and pushed out the old ladies that used to fly the old bird out to California, the old ladies that didn't have reservations. But anyhow, I get there and go out to the station. I get the car, load it on a Robertson Truckaway and send it to Los Angeles.
I was told, 'You WILL satisfy Mrs. Tully. I don't care what you have to do.' And that was the way it was, we spent money. I was probably the only guy that charged Chrysler for a suitcase! But a gal drove through my suitcase in a dealership and I had to have it to carry tools in so I charged it right up to them.
I went out and talked to Horace and I said, 'I need to talk to your wife.' He said, 'She won't talk to you. She is so mad, she's not talking to anybody from Chrysler.' And I said, 'I gotta talk to her.' So he said, 'Well, I'm going to go home about seven and you come out to the house.' And I said, 'I'll throw my hat in the door.' And finally I got to talk to her. I mean, it took a lot of talking. And I said, 'We're willing to do anything we need to do to make you happy.' So we gave her another car and we extended her use period and I've been told that they even paid for a party for her. But that was one of the tricky ones just over a little mix-up. You can understand those kinds of things happening.
What else happened on the cars? Well, we did have recalls in those days. We recalled the heater cores because they were subject to leaking gases in the car. That was a terrible thing to do. You think pulling evaporators was hard, you ought to try to pull one of those heater cores out of those things. The cars had some other things that were peculiar. If you ever look at that car over here, you can't tow it. And rollbacks weren't common in those days and wheel lifts weren't common. So we had to put on our card, that went in the glove box later, how to tow the car. You put a 4x4 under the front suspension and put chains on that so it wouldn't tear up the front bumper. So there were some things that were kind of surprising when we got into that..
Well, as far as the engine is concerned, and that's the most important part, what did we see happen to them? The downfall of a Turbine engine is hot starts. If you've ever worked on an aircraft engine, the downfall of a jet engine is a hot start. The pilot cranks the starter on, he watches the rpm come up and once it reaches a given rpm then he advances the throttle to put fuel in. And if you've got a situation where the engine doesn't light properly and it doesn't climb out of that hole....because the only way it knows to climb rpms is more fuel...and they'll melt themselves down. And they WILL melt themselves down! And if you've studied the books, you'll see that they have regenerators that bring hot air into cold to make them more efficient and those regenerators were stainless steel ribbon material and they would get saturated with fuel and catch fire and then it was 'Katy bar the door!'
And there were a couple of experiences with that. My favorite one was a fellow by the name of Bruce Stern in San Jose had the car. Bruce was kind of a neat guy, he was semi-retired, maybe in his upper 60s, he sold boxes of paper products, a pretty neat guy really. And he called one day and said, 'I got this problem' He didn't call me, he called Al Wilson. Al was working in L.A. 'I've got this problem, but I think they've got it put out.' Al said, 'What do you mean you think they've got it put out?' 'Well, the fire department,' he says, 'I think the fire department's got it out.' 'Well, what happened?' Now we always told the user: never try to start the car twice. If it didn't start on the first try, call us because we were afraid they would soak it up with fuel and set it on fire. Well, people didn't do that, you know, they just wanted to try it one more time and then they'd try it another time and by this time, the thing was dripping fuel. So at this point, this thing didn't start and he said, 'It started to smoke under the hood and I opened the hood and there was this hole in the side of the engine. That's when I took the wet rags and it burned my hand.' So I asked if he was ok. 'Yeah, I'm ok,' he said, 'Then I dumped a fire extinguisher in it and it still was burning me. Then I went to push it out of the garage and that's when I hurt my knee when I slipped.'
And boy, you talk about panic! The fire department has arrived and they have put dry powder everyplace, around the headlights it was full of dry powder, under the hood was full of dry powder, inside the car was full of dry powder. You've never seen such a white mess in your life! And of course, the car's pretty much smoked under the hood, the hood is burned and stuff like that, and the fire department did get it out. Well we gotta get that one outta there, so whoosh, we got that car outta there, got it down to L.A. and we had Hedding Auto Body paint the hood and paint the fender wells and the instrument panel, and put another engine in it. And that happened to be right at the time of the moon shots where they went to the moon and the moon shots and the moon men were the great thing, and my son had little moon men, you know, like little diecast soldiers except they were moon men. So I get this engine out of the car in L.A. and it's got this hole burned through the side and it's full of white powder and there's stalagmites and stalactites and melted metal and this white powder is in there and it looks like a moon shot. So I put two or three moon men in there and we packaged that engine up and sent it back to engineering. They really didn't appreciate that. They thought that was not very funny. They still talk about that...'Aren't you the guy that sent the moon men?' So we had a lot of fun.
I had the engine that went the most miles before they pulled it for engineering reasons at thirty-some thousand. I can't remember exactly. It was down in Texas and was still going strong but they were concerned about it and they wanted to upgrade it and put some new stuff in it. So we did pull that engine. And they sent me a "skunk" and I put it in and two weeks later I'm back down there because it was running terrible. And what happened on it was that the fuel shut-off solenoid leaked fuel and it dribbled in the burner and it smoked them all up inside. When a Turbine engine gets dirty inside, the performance really falls off, the vanes that direct the air, everything gets smoked up and they really go to pot. So Chrysler had learned that they needed to figure out a way to clean them. Well you know that old walnut shell routine they used to use in the old Oldsmobiles and stuff like that? They tried that and it just left a big mess, didn't do any good.
And they came up with a wonderful new solution to clean Turbine engines. And it was so unique and it was so new and it was so great they patented it. They patented it under the name CR107...Chrysler Research 107. And Chrysler Research 107 is a white powder and they would ship it in to us in a coffee can. And we would take the air cleaner off and we'd turn the coffee can upside down and put the engine up at high idle which is 22,500 rpm and then we would sift this white powder into the inducer and it would go in the engine and clean the inside of the engine and it really did a remarkably good job.
For a long time, they never told us what this was. They were very secretive, you know, because they really did think it might be applicable to airplane engines and all kinds of things. And it worked really good. But we heard from the grapevine that it was ammonium carbonate. And it's a quite readily available chemical.
And so I've got this car down in San Antonio and it's running like a pig and I put a new fuel shut-off valve on it to make it stop perking fuel in it after shut-down and I need to clean it and it's a holiday weekend and I'm not really hankerin' to sit around and wait for them to ship me a can of this goo. So I thought, I wonder if I can guy that locally? So I get on the phone to Thompson-Hayward Chemical Company, a local distributor in San Antonio, and I said, 'Do you have any CR107?' And he said, 'No, we don't stock it but I sell a lot of it.' And I said, 'Well, do you know where I could get some?' 'Yeah,' he said, 'I think I could get you some. How much do you need?' I said, 'I need a coffee can full.' He said, 'I'll call you back in a minute.'
So I'm at the dealership down there and the guys calls back and says, 'Yeah, you got to go out to this bakery. They've got a whole paper drum of it. They've got a big drum of it and they'll give you a can.' So I dispatched the district manager there; I said, 'Go get me some of this ammonium carbonate out at the cookie factory. While you're there, find out what they do with it.' So he does, and he comes back carrying this can and he says, 'It's free.' I said, 'Good. What do they do with it?' He says, 'They make animal crackers!' I said, 'What? Do they clean their ovens with it or something?' He said, 'No. They put it in the animal crackers. They go down the conveyers to go in the oven and they go whoop, like that. They expand immediately.' They use it as a baking powder in the animal crackers. I've never fed the kids animal crackers since!
We made a mechanical report on everything we ever did to a car. And that's the way we communicated with each other. We made a mechanical report, generally within 24 hours and it went to Detroit, and was immediately photocopied and sent back to all of us so everybody knew what was going on in every car across the country. In fact, I just got rid of all mine here a while back and had a record of everything that was ever done to every car. And as a result of that, we knew what was going on. So I'm going to be a good boy...I write on my mechanical report that this thing had a skunky leaky fuel valve on it, I had to clean the internal parts of the engine with some--CR107 was not available--so I obtained it locally. And I sent that to engineering and they had a FIT! 'What did he need to pour in there, you can't do that pouring that stuff in, that is wrong, what did he pour in?' So they called me, 'What are you pouring in the engine?' I said, 'It was ammonium carbonate.' 'Where did you get it?' I said, 'I got it from the cookie factory.' Oh boy. They didn't believe me and so then they got hold of Thompson-Hayward and they said, 'Yeah, it's exactly the same stuff. It's the right stuff.' They still didn't much appreciate what I'd done, but I told them, 'Well, if you'd have sent me a decent engine, I wouldn't have had to clean it to begin with.'
We got into a lot of strange stuff. One of the things was that oil could *coke in them after a shut-down. We were using transmission oil in the transmission pan to oil the engine. And that wasn't even good Dextron. After shut-down the heat on the Turbine wheel would go down the shaft and then coke in the bearings. And then the bearings would seize. Again, that's a problem that could be cured today with good synthetic oil--you wouldn't have even had this problem, see, but we went through it and we'd lose the seals on the bearings and then we'd get oil in the regenerator, then we'd have trouble. So it was those kind of things that we were getting into. A lot of these things wouldn't even exist in the cars today with what we could do.
*Coke: the extreme heat turned the oil into a solid carbon-like residue.
We had a six-cylinder distributor that ran the spark plug all the time, so that we could shut the fuel off in the coast and re-light when you reapplied the accelerator. Well, you could do that all electronically today. We wouldn't even bother with that thing.
What was the typical day like as a Turbine chaser, as we called ourselves. Well, there never was a typical day, never ever. By the way, every car was keyed identically, so we could come and go, pick them up anyplace, drop them off anyplace and never worry about keys because they were all identical. We never told the users that. But that goofy guy in Wyoming that I took the car away from figured that out. And when we delivered a second car in Wyoming to a fellow named Charles Cline in Cheyenne, this goofy guy showed up and drove if away one day!
But anyway, a typical day...I had a car in Houston that needed a 30-day service checkup , James Areon was driving it. I flew to Houston, flew into Hobby Airport, rented a car and went to the Holiday Inn downtown and checked in and the light's blinking on the phone. And it's my wife and she says, 'Christine Blondell in San Antonio is calling and she's in Refugio, Texas and she needs to talk to you.' So I call her and she says, 'I'm at the Trailways Bus Depot and I'm going back to San Antonio and the car is dead.' I said, 'What happened?' 'Well, I went over this railroad track, you know, and it made a lot of noise and now it's broken I think.' So I said, 'You go on and I'll go fix the car.' So I called Jim Areon and I said, 'I can't come tomorrow. I'm in town but I'm leaving.' So I go down to the desk and I check out. I think the guy thought I was a hot sheet artist. And he said, 'You didn't stay long.' And I said, 'No, I'm leaving town.' So I go take the rental car back and the guy looks at me like well, you didn't stay very long. So I go to Corpus, I rent a Chevrolet convertible, stay overnight in Corpus. I go out to Refugio, Texas the next morning and here's the car sitting in the courthouse parking lot and she'd knocked the whole bottom off the engine on the railroad tracks. So I got parts down there right away and fixed it in the gas station across the street. At the time I'm fixing the car, a guy comes from the courthouse and he says, 'Are you with the Turbine car?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And he says, 'I got a telephone call for you over at the courthouse.' And at that point, it was the car in Topeka with a plugged fuel filter. So I said, 'Well, I'll be there to fix the car.' So I drove the fixed car back to San Antonio and give it back to Christine. I get on the airplane and go to Kansas City--I don't even go home when I get to the airport--I get in my car and go to Topeka and I fix that car and I go back home. And the next morning I go back to Houston and start all over where I began at the beginning of the week. It was just that kind of thing over and over and over and over. It was excitement every day.
And in the middle of this, about 1966, towards the Turbine wind down, I had this stuff allover my garage and lost my house in a tornado in Kansas City. I'm chasing Turbine tires and stuff all over. I was moving out and moving into an apartment and trying to get things straightened out.
It was a wonderful program. You have never seen anything before like it and you'll never see anything again like it. You could never do anything like that today. It would be totally impossible. The PR was just fantastic on it, and it was just so well done, that I can't imagine anybody ever being able to duplicate anything like it. It was just something else.
Like I said, the first car was delivered in Chicago in October of '63. The last car was delivered in Chicago on October 28th of '65. It was picked up in January '65, it went right back to the original city. I forget, I think there were 123 different cities that cars were delivered in. The uses were from 21 years old to 74 years or 70-some years of age. They came from all walks of life. I think 13 to 15 percent of them were females. And as I said, we didn't cull very many. We took them as they came right out of the chute. And we met a lot of really nice people, it was a wonderful experience.
But where did they go from there? At the end of the program, they picked the cars up and they shuffled them to the New York World's Fair, which was going in 1965-66. A large percentage of the cars were warehoused at the World's Fair and they built a track to run the cars on and over 300,000 people had a chance to drive the car at the World's Fair.
And then at the end of the program, they put the cars on a college tour and took the cars around the United States and they showed them to college students and that was highly successful. At the beginning of the program, I should have mentioned, there were also shopping center displays. When we'd deliver like in big cities, Los Angeles, Chicago, we'd had cars on display in shopping centers on a podium with some college kids or some engineers to talk about the cars. And they would actually start the car every half hour or so and it was kind of fun to watch because the naysayers would come up and say, 'Yeah, it's just a prototype. They don't run that stuff, they just build it.' Then about that time, they'd go in and get the keys and start it up. 'Whoa, it runs!'
Then the sad part. When they got all done with the cars, they scrapped them. There were five that were retained like you see here from the Transportation Museum in St Louis. It surprised me that they got a car because they were privately owned at that time. One car went to Harrahs, Chrysler has three, I'm not sure how many are running of the prototypes. But this one here and one of the ones Chrysler has are running cars.
They did a world tour with one car going to twenty-three countries. It was an unbelievable public relations program. The cars were scrapped because they were brought to this country on a temporary visa of some kind, an import visa. But they would have had to pay taxes on the car and their decision was to scrap them.
And in retrospect, it was a good decision, from the standpoint of there was no support, there were no parts, there was no way Chrysler could have done anything to keep these cars running, and they would have been out there as over-priced collector cars that you can't drive.
So it probably was, in this perspective, a wise decision to scrap them. Some of you may have seen the video of them scrapping the cars, smashing them. It's kind of heartbreaking to see that after all the work we put in.
How close did it come to going into production? Very, very close. If you look at a 1966 Charger, it was a Turbine car. It was designed as a Turbine car. The first Charger I saw in Detroit had Turbine pyrometers and instrumentation in them. So the car was that close to being considered production.
Why didn't it go into production? It was not necessarily because of the fact that we had problems. We expected problems. By the end of the program most of those problems were pretty well behind us and pretty well resolved. And we didn't have very many people that were down for any period of time with a car that wouldn't run. But the carrot kept being moved away from the rabbit. Right in the time we were beginning to hear rumbles about clean air acts, we were beginning to hear about 1970 emission regulations and that kind of thing. And as a result of those kinds of things, we began to question: how are we going to meet emission standards, what kind of standards are we going to have to meet?
We needed to get a little more performance out of the car. We needed to get a little better gas mileage. The gas mileage ratings were anywhere from twelve to seventeen, depending on how you drove it. When I came out of Guthrie, Oklahoma that day I thought we didn't get very good gas mileage, but I got a couple of tickets!
The cars could have performed much better if we could have achieved 400 more degrees in the turbine wheel area. Now keep in mind, this turbine is running 44,610 rpm at wide open throttle. And it's operating almost continuously at up to 1,800 degree temperatures; 2,200 degrees upon peak acceleration. If we could have crowded several hundred degrees more in that area, we could have gained forty percent in performance and probably twenty, twenty-five percent in gasoline mileage. So they were in search of turbine wheel material that would stand those conditions. And they were unsuccessful. They even had a contract, which was somewhat funded by the federal government, to work with Corning Glass to try and develop ceramic turbine wheels and it turned out to be fruitless. They were unable to do that. So that really kind of put the cobash on it at that time.
Personally, I'm a little surprised....we see everyone talking about hybrid electric cars now....and it surprises me that someone hasn't tapped a small turbine engine to use on a turbine hybrid electric car because turbines work perfectly at a given rpm. If you could run one at a steady speed and tune it to that rpm, they are the most efficient, quietest, smoothest form of power there is. But I am not that kind of an engineer so I'm just retired now and I just fish for bass and don't worry about those kind so things.
QUESTIONS FROM MEMBERS:
Q: Did any of them have air conditioning?
A: No. They had a wonderful heater, though, because it was instantly warm. The minute you started the car the heater worked because it used hot air off the exhaust.
Q: What's in the coil in the front between the headlights right in the center?
A: There's an oil cooler. The big box in the front is all air cleaner. It used something like five or seven times as much air as a piston engine. And we had large Donaldson washable filters in those boxes. We had to clean those things. I don't know who designed that box, but he should have been shot! There's a million screws in it and it takes about an hour and a half to take it out and we had to clean those filters, wash them out, before we could do the match on the engine. We had to match them every thirty days to make sure how they were doing.
Q: It looks like there's some kind of reset box on the fender?
A: Yes, that reset box is a later addition so that if it doesn't start on the first try, the guy has to get out under the hood and flip it to try to keep it from overheating while he starts it.
Q: When are you going to write a book?
A: [Laughs] I don't think so. Some of you may know Mark Olsen up in Duluth, who is the son of one of the users. He had just turned sixteen when they got the car so he drove it a fair amount. He called me about a year ago, I frankly didn't know him, it was not my territory. And he gets me on the phone, and we're not that far apart because I live in the woods in northern Minnesota now. So Mark says, 'I finally caught up to you. I got to you through one of the guys who used to work for you down in Memphis and he gave me your home phone number. I'm a former Turbine user.' He runs a Turbine car website at: www.turbinecar.com. So he was trying to bend my ear, trying to get me to write a chapter on the Turbine car from the inside-out. I might do something like that someday, I don't know.
Q: Do you think Chrysler would like to put a stop to this, or is this just old stuff to them?
A: I have no idea. I imagine some people at Chrysler might have a hemorrhage if they saw this tape tonight! I have no idea what their feelings on that would be. And I probably don't really care either. I have to admit though, I had wonderful years at Chrysler. I was with Chrysler through thick and thin and we saw them from very good to very bad. They were always very good to work for. There were times you weren't sure the check was going to cash. Lee Iacocca definitely saved this corporation. I had a wonderful career with Chrysler...they were very good to me. I wouldn't change a bit of it. In the stable of cars, probably the only thing I would change is I wouldn't let those goofy field cars get away from me....my Hemi Cuda and my sixpack RoadRunner and all that good stuff that I needed to drive home because we wanted to play with it! And having been in racing, I loved the Hemi Cuda. It was a wonderful piece of machinery to me.
I have a favorite story about that. I had a Hemi Cuda in Kansas City, it must have been a '70 I'm sure, an orange Hemi Cuda with shaker, you know, the whole nine yards. I got the car to drive back and forth to home. Chrysler, in their wisdom, put their training center in Independence and I lived and all my staff lived in Overland Park. It's about as far across Kansas City as you can get. But we had a fair ride back and forth and I had this Hemi Cuda and it didn't have good enough oil pressure. I knew the oil pressure wasn't where it should be. I drove it about a thousand miles and I thought it's okay for running up and down the street, but it's never going to live if we don't get some oil pressure. So I send it down to Martin Gerber, I said pull the pan and I'll be down. We're going to look at the bearings, so we pulled all the bearings out and we precision-fit every bearing in it with a feeler gauge, not with plastigauge. We put some one-hundredths in it to bring it down a little or a half of one-hundredths or something, you know, and we got it all done and put it back together and it was not much better. We put an oil pump in it and it wasn't much better. I was getting kind of frustrated with it. And I can't remember what happened first....I guess the first thing was it broke the alternator bolt off in the right head, you know, where the alternator screws into the head, the bolt broke off. I thought, 'Oh man, now we gotta get in there and drill that thing out.' And I figured, it doesn't have any oil pressure, the bolt broke off--this piece of junk! And about that time, I thought, 'Well, I'm going to set the valves on it anyhow. I always hated a race car engine that didn't run right and I love to hear a Hemi--when they're right.
If you got the carburetors right, and I don't care what anybody says, you can make that thing idle and it will just sit there and go chuckledee, chuckledee, chuckledee. And it wouldn't do that. So I'm going to set the valves and I'm going to fix the carburetors, I'm going to get this thing tuned up the way it should be. And I go to set the valves and the rocker arms on the left head are dry. I got no oil up there! Now what do we do? Well, we start changing that out, and we find that the cylinder head hole isn't bored for the oil passage under the rocker stand! So now I need a cylinder head. And I got to thinking, you know, the bolt's broke off in the right head, the left head's got the hole not drilled, but if I switch them from here to there, they're going to be okay. So I put the left head on the right, the right head on the left, put the new bolt in for the alternator, left the old bolt broken off in the back of the other and hey, I got oil! Everything's looking good!
So then, I go to set the valves and the right head is puking oil, I mean, it's just spraying everyplace. And the rocker stand was misbroached and it had an egg-shaped hole where the rocker shaft went through it and the oil came right along it. So I put a new rocker stand on it, fixed the oil pressure, fixed the carb, tuned it up and it was a wonderful car from that point on.
Another funny story about this car, it was coming up for sale and Bill George, who was a Chrysler-Plymouth dealer in Kansas City, Kansas, called me and said, 'You got a Hemi Cuda over there for sale?' And I said, 'Yeah, it will be pretty quick.' He said, 'I'm going to send a guy over to look at that car and he's a good customer of mine and if he wants it, I'll buy it for him.' So I said okay. So he gave me the guy's name, I don't know who it was now, and he came over. And this guy comes walking in the training center and he's about my age [now]...coming up on 70 and he comes in and says, 'Hey, you gotta Hemi Cuda? I want to drive it.' So I gave him the keys to the Hemi Cuda and he goes out in front of the training center and he lights the tires up. And I go, whoa! I don't know about this one! Well, come to find out, he comes back and says, 'I'll take it. And I'll get Bill George to come and get it.' And then Bill George says, 'Oh yeah, he's got a whole collection. He's got a birdcage Mazerati, he's got a Kurtis car, he's got a whole garage full of stuff.'
I thought that was the end of the story for a long time, and
then about a year or two later, I went to Wichita to make a speech on the
Turbine cars--to the Wichita SAE, the aeronautical end of the SAE in Wichita at
Beech Aircraft--and a young fellow came up to me after the speech and he said,
'Were you in Kansas City at one time?' And I said, 'Yeah'. And he said, 'Did you
have an orange Hemi Cuda?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And he said, 'I got that car! I
run that car all the time. I only have one question....is it stock?' And I said,
'What do you mean, is it stock?' He says, 'We've campaigned it for several
years and we've never had the engine apart and we won't let anybody touch it
because we don't think it's stock. We've never lost a race with that car.' I
said, 'Well, it's stock. But never switch the cylinder heads because they
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