Chrysler has always been an innovator in the car industry. Nothing, however, captured the imagination of the driving public and the spirit of the 1960’s space-age as the turbine car.
The Chrysler turbine car was produced by Chrysler, from 1963 to 1964. Its body was made by the Italian design studio Ghia, and Chrysler completed its assembly in Detroit. Surprisingly, the Chrysler turbine engine program, that produced the turbine car, began during the late 1930s and created multiple prototypes that successfully completed numerous long-distance trips in the 1950s and early 1960s.
After the conclusion of the user program in 1966, Chrysler reclaimed all 46 of the cars and destroyed all but nine of them. Seven are located in museums- the Detroit Historical Museum, The Smithsonian, Peterson Automotive Museum, Walter P. Chrysler Museum, Henry Ford Museum and Museum of Transportation. Two operational cars are also part of the private car collections of Jay Leno and Frank Kleptz. See video link below for Jay Leno's Garage:
Chrysler began researching turbine engines for aviation applications. After World War II, George Huebner was part of a group of engineers who began exploring the idea of powering a car with a turbine. The concept intrigued them, largely because turbine engines have fewer moving parts than their piston-powered counterparts and can run on a variety of fuels.
After improving their turbine design, most notably by engineering a regenerator to resolve an issue with heat exchange, the Chrysler team mated a turbine to a 1954 Plymouth Belvedere. Heating and cooling and emissions and exhaust were among the principal engineering challenges which faced the turbine engine. Chrysler tested the Belvedere, claiming that its turbine engine contained 20% fewer parts and weighed 200 lbs. less than comparable, conventional piston engines. On June 16, 1954, the company publicly unveiled the turbine-powered Belvedere at its Chelsea Proving Grounds.
Chrysler unveiled its next turbine car, a 1956 Plymouth, on March 23, 1956. Huebner drove it 3,020 miles on a four-day trip from New York City to Los Angeles.
On Feb. 28, 1961, the company unveiled its third-generation turbine engine, the CR2A. The CR2A was designed with an eye on costs and production methods. It generated 140 horsepower, had an acceleration lag of only 1.5 seconds.
The fourth generation turbine car was powered by the A-831, Chrysler's fourth-generation turbine engine. This 410 lb.engine used twin regenerators instead of a single top cover-mounted heat exchanger. The turbine was similar to a jet engine, since it had only one spark plug and about 80% fewer parts than a typical automotive piston engine. Due to their construction, the engines did not require antifreeze, a cooling system, a radiator, connecting rods, or a crankshaft.
Exploded View of the A-831 Turbine Engine
The A-831 could operate on diesel fuel, unleaded gasoline, kerosene, and JP-4 jet fuel. According to Chrysler, it could burn a variety of unusual fuels ranging from furnace oil and perfume to peanut and soybean oils.
The engine produced 130 bhp. at 36,000 rpm., 425 lb/ft of torque, and idled between 18,000 and 22,000 rpm. At idle, its exhaust did not exceed 180 °F. When driven at 120 mph., the turbine ran at its maximum of 60,000 rpm. The A-831's compressor and had a pressure ratio of 4:1 and had an efficiency of 80%. Its combustor operated at 95% efficiency.
Compared to conventional piston engines, turbine engines generally require less maintenance, last longer, and start more easily in cold conditions. The A-831 started properly at temperatures as low as −20 °F. The first car to receive an A-831 was a Plymouth Fury. In this Ghia-built turbine car, the engine had a 0-60 mph. time of about 12 seconds- not exactly fast by today's standards. Due to the exotic materials and strict tolerances needed to build the engines and the investment casting method with which they were made, the A-831s were very expensive to produce and Chrysler never disclosed their actual cost.
The Turbine Car was designed in the Chrysler studios under the direction of Elwood Engel, who had worked for Ford before moving to Chrysler. Due to its resemblance to the Engel-designed Ford Thunderbird, the car is occasionally called the "Englebird.” According to Huebner, the design was intended to compete with the Corvette in addition to the Thunderbird.
Building an individual car may have cost as much as $55,000 (equivalent to $453,000 in 2020. The bodies themselves cost about $20,000 (equivalent to $165,000 in 2020), although Chrysler never revealed the cost of each turbine engine.
The first five cars were completed in early 1962 as prototypes used for troubleshooting; each was slightly different from the others, varying in exterior color, interior upholstery, and roof material.
The car body was finished in a metallic, root beer-colored paint known as turbine bronze and its dashboard was dominated by a speedometer, a tachometer and a pyrometer.
Two of the cars gave rides to visitors at the 1964 New York World's Fair, and another went on a worldwide tour.
The user program helped identify a variety of problems with the cars, including a starter malfunction at high altitudes, difficulty in mastering the unusual eight-step starting procedure (which, for some users, resulted in engine damage), and the cars' relatively unimpressive acceleration. Nonetheless, the turbine engines were remarkably durable in comparison to contemporary piston engines. The most-cited advantages of the turbine engine, according to the participants' interviews, were its smooth and vibration-free operation, reduced maintenance requirements, and ease of starting in different conditions; the most-common complaints concerned its slow acceleration, sub-par fuel economy, and relatively high noise level.
Chrysler's development of turbine engines continued from the late 1960s into the 1970s, resulting in the creation of fifth, sixth and seventh generation engines. The turbines ultimately failed to meet government emissions regulations and an October 1967Dept. of Commerce report concluded that the turbine engine was "unsuited to automobiles."
One Chrysler turbine car appeared in the 1964 film,The Lively Set, painted white with blue racing stripes.