Turbine (tur-bin) n.: a machine or motor driven by a wheel that is turned by the pressure of air, steam, water or gas.
Chrysler began to research the turbine as an alternative to the piston engine in 1945. The turbine engines were smaller in physical size, weighed less, had less moving parts, multiplied torque and were very quiet while operating. In a turbine engine, a spinning wheel compresses air and forces it into a chamber while virtually anything flammable (alcohol, jet fuel, unleaded gas, peanut oil, perfume, used oil, even Jack Daniels!) is also sprayed into the chamber. The mixture is ignited and the hot gases are directed to two turbine wheels. One is used to power engine accessories, while the second stage turbine is used to power a conventional transmission which only has one high forward gear and reverse. Exhaust is directed to a regenerator before exiting through the 10" exhaust pipe.
In 1963, Chrysler unveiled 55 of the unique Turbine Cars with their bodies designed by Chrysler and built by Gia of Italy. The engines were built in Chrysler's turbine lab and the cars were put together on a small Detroit assembly line. Five cars were used for testing by the Chrysler engineering department. Fifty Turbine Cars were released to lucky individuals in the general public who won a chance to use one for several months, after which time, they were expected to return the car to Chrysler with a detailed evaluation of their experience with it.
All told, from early 1963 until early 1966, 203 people were selected to test the Turbine cars on a rotating basis. Of those people, most raved about the Turbine's smooth and quiet operation, start-up reliability and little or no maintenance. The only complaint was high fuel consumption at idle. Now remember, this is a turbine engine.....the engine idle speed is 22,500 RPM!! Small wonder it would use excessive fuel to idle.
The turbine theme is carried out throughout the car's design, including the "Turbine Bronze" interior and exterior. Up front, the headlights are surrounded by non-functional jet engine air intakes.
The Turbine Car's rear looks like a jet fighter plane with the back-up lights housed in turbine pods. It is all very big and futuristic, with lots of chrome and curves. The hood and deck lid are aluminum.
Under the Turbine Car's hood, well....there's not much to look at. No matter, because it's not the kind of thing you'd want to work on in your backyard anyway!
Incidently, that first stage turbine mentioned earlier provides the power steering and power brakes (not vacuum as we know them). Power windows were also included as standard equipment.
Service breakdowns were always very minor and were mostly attributed to driver misuse rather than part failure. The 50 Turbine Cars racked up more than a million miles before retirement.
In the trunk, two batteries reside. The original batteries were vented units, so Chrysler rigged two harnesses, each with six small hoses with push-on rubber plugs at each end. One end was attached to the battery vents; the other end was attached to holes that were made in the trunk floor and the battery fumes were thus routed out of the trunk!
The car's interior wasn't lacking in turbine details either. The front and rear bucket seats are plushly upholstered in beautiful "Turbine Bronze" leather as are the interior panels. Carpet and headliner are also this color.
There is a lot of chrome trim to brighten things up and it's as comfortable to sit in as it is cozy. The only creature comfort missing here is A/C.
Running the entire length of the center of the passenger compartment is a round brushed aluminum shaft, which serves as the console, with turbine fins at the front.
The dash is clean and quite functional with a huge triple gauge cluster mounted at eye-level behind the steering wheel. The speedometer is a 120 MPH unit; and check out that tachometer....it maxes out at 60,000 RPM!!
The Turbine Car shown in this story is one of nine left in the world. It resides in the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, MO and it is the only one that is currently running and accessible to the public. Chrysler Corporation currently owns three of the Turbine Cars.
Mike Eberhardt of St. Louis is responsible for making the parts to restore this Turbine Car mechanically and getting it in running condition. Mike started working on the car in 1987 and it was finally running in the Summer of 1993.
It was restored cosmetically in its original Turbine Bronze in 1985 by Mann's Body Shop in Festus, MO. Even though the Chrysler Turbine Car is 35 years old, it still looks like a futuristic design today!
Many thanks to Mike for allowing me to sit in and photograph the Turbine Car.
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