If you want to learn more about this car then check out this book by Steve Lehto with a foreword by Jay Leno which is all about the history of this car.
As with GM’s EV1, these cars were sadly rounded up and destroyed after the experimental program ended, but what was created by Chrysler at the time was nothing short of spectacular, as is this article. So sit back, relax, spool up your recliner and let’s talk Turbine.
Not a fan of long reads? Watch my video version instead.
Given there was a war looming in Europe, Chrysler began researching turbine engines for use in aircraft in the late 1930’s. After the war, George Huebner, the lead engineer or the aircraft projects joined a small secret team within Chrysler that began working on turbine engine cars.
They were not the only ones working on this type of engine, both Rover and General Motors were also working on their own turbine cars, however Chrysler was way ahead of the game. The team managed to relatively quickly install the engine into a stock 1954 Plymouth Belvedere. They faced multiple challenges around keeping the car at the right temperatures and also with emissions. This was unveiled to the world on June 6th, 1954 in front of over 500 reporters at Chelsea Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan.
The company continued to improve on the overall engineering and design, filing a number of patents for their work in 1957 but not before taking a 1956 Plymouth with the engine on a 3,000 mile journey from New York to Los Angeles with only two minor, non engine related, repairs along the way. The engine still had issues in terms of mpg and practicality but they were improving things rapidly, the second generation engine prototype which was added to a 1959 Plymouth and achieved 19 mph instead of 13 mpg in the previous version.
In 1961, the company unveiled it’s third generation engine named the CR2A, which unlike the previous two was designed with a focus on production costs and methods, meaning that Chrysler were getting closer to mass producing the turbine car. This engine had 140 bhp and the acceleration lag was down from 9 seconds to just 1.5, it would also serve as its own torque converter.
After testing the engine in various vehicles including a Dodge Truck, they finally decided to design an all new vehicle and would lease the car to the 75 lucky members of the public at no cost to experiment with the cars in some real world testing.
The final, “production version”, truly is a unique looking car and looks like the exact picture of what someone in 1950 would think the 1990’s would look like. The car gets its nickname the “Englebird” because of designer Elwood Engel who worked at Chrysler Studios and designed the new car, he previously worked on the Ford Thunderbird, hence the name.
The famous Ghia in Italy were commissioned to hand build the final design which was then shipped to Chrysler to be fitted with the turbine engine, radio, wiring and transmission. During 1963 and 1964 a total of 50 were made for the public program to test the cars in the wild.
All of these were “Root-Beer” coloured, known as Turbine Bronze and were two door hard top coupes, featuring recessed headlights and tail lights both set in chrome. The car featured rear exhausts which were mounted at the center beside the tail lights and made to resemble a fighter jet, the car looked absolutely stunning.
The fighter jet styling continued inside the car, with a turbine style tunnel running through the center of the car to give the driver the impression that the engines exhaust ran directly through the middle of the car. The dashboard looked very sporting with three large pods showing the speedometer, tachometer and pyrometer, the car idles at 22,000 rpm so the tachometer looks very strange.
The Chrysler Turbine car was powered with the A-831 engine, the fourth generation version of their turbine engine which featured twin regenerators instead of a single top mounted heat exchanger. The engine was much lighter than a similar standard combustion engine, only weighing 410 lb and had 80% fewer parts than a standard combustion engine. The engine, like a jet engine, only had one spark plug and didn’t need antifreeze, a cooling system, a radiator, connecting rods, or crankshafts.
The engine would run on a variety of fuels, however leaded gas would damage it, so kerosine was better but Chrysler claimed the car would run on basically anything that burned including furnace oil and perfume to peanut and soybean oils. Famously the “Mexican President at the time, Adolfo López Mateos, ran one of the cars on tequila after Chrysler engineers confirmed that it would do so.”
The engine produced 130 bhp and idled between 18,000 and 22,000 rpm but would run at 60,000 rpm when travelling 120 mph. The engines generally require less maintenance, last longer, and start more easily in cold conditions. Although the production cost was never disclosed the engines were prohibitively expensive to produce and as such never entered mass production.
The user program ran from 1963 to 1966, where the 50 cars were lent to public test program members for three months at no cost, although the members had to pay for fuel and the program found some issues with the engines including 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.
Although the engines were found to be incredible durable but sadly this wasn’t enough to make up for the high production cost and the program was scrapped in 1966 with all but 9 of the cars destroyed, the nine remaining were given to museums for display and two ended up in private collection, most famously Jay Leno has one in his garage.
The car was an incredible show of innovation from General Motors but much like the EV1, it met an unfortunate fate and the end of the program. Let me know in the comments what you think of the Chrysler Turbine engine.