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Chrysler Turbine Car

Updated on June 15, 2016

1963 Chrysler Turbine Car - The Beginning

The Chrysler Corporation built the Chrysler Turbine car in a small plant in Detroit, Michigan in 1963. Chrysler had long been interested in building a practical turbine-powered car. Turbine power of course, was not a new idea as wind turbines have been around forever. Turbine power in a car was new however, as the engine would have to generate its own wind to drive the engine. This was accomplished by drawing air in through a compressor, heating it to form a hot gas and directing that gas against turbine wheels.

Years of intense development

Ten years of intense development brought a turbine engine that could run on diesel fuel, unleaded gasoline, kerosene or JP-4 jet fuel and had a fifth as many moving parts as a normal piston engine. The turbine engine was also smoother, quieter and more vibration-free than its more standard counterpart.

1963 Chrysler Turbine Car Front View
1963 Chrysler Turbine Car Front View

It also required less maintenance, beginning with no need for a conventional tune-up. In fact, it was possible to apply full throttle immediately after starting the engine without much fear of excessive wear. The engines were remarkably durable considering how fragile turbine engines normally are when compared to regular piston engines. Fifty cars were given to the public and more than one million test miles were driven. During that time, the operational downtime stood at only about 4%.

Other differences between the turbine engine and piston engines was the fact that there were no pistons, no valve gear and only one spark plug, used for igniting the fuel in the combustion chamber. Its simplicity offered the potential for long life and because no combustion contaminants entered the engine oil, no oil changes were considered necessary. Its power turbine was connected, without a torque converter, to a pretty standard TorqueFlite automatic transmission. The controls were similar to those of a normal car, however, one difference was "Idle" instead of "Neutral" on the console and the addition of a turbine inlet temperature gauge to the instrument panel. This reported the temperature at the first stage turbine wheel. The Chrysler Turbine car also had no radiator, so there was no need for water or anti-freeze. The car started easily, even in extreme cold weather, and once it was running, it reached full operating temperature almost immediately, so it could be driven at maximum power without warm-up.

1963 Chrysler Turbine Car Side View
1963 Chrysler Turbine Car Side View
1963 Chrysler Turbine Car Rear View
1963 Chrysler Turbine Car Rear View

Chrysler Turbine Car

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The 1963 Chrysler Turbine's engine generated 130 bhp and featured a fully stainless steel exhaust system. Chrysler utilized flat exits in an attempt to spread the exhaust gases thinly, cooling them further, so that the vehicle could stand in traffic without risking damage to following traffic. Highway mileage was good, but city mileage suffered from the 22,000 rpm idle speed and slow starts. The suspension used wasn’t Chrysler's normal torsion bar system, but instead featured contemporary designs using independent front suspension with a coil spring at each wheel. Rear suspension consisted of leaf springs and direct-acting shock absorbers.

The turbine car sounded like a giant vacuum cleaner that took some getting used to, since most people were more comfortable with the sound of a large American V8. The bodies and interiors were hand crafted by Ghia of Italy. A total of 50 "production" Chrysler Turbine Cars were built between October 1963 and October 1964 all as four-passenger (four individual bucket seats) two-door hardtops with a very different metallic bronze color and black vinyl top. The turbine car came with power steering, power brakes, and power windows. Once built, 200 motorists were chosen to test them.

Elwood Engel oversaw the design and development of the turbine cars, which created a striking appearance then as well as today.

After Chrysler finished the user program and other public displays of the cars, most of them were destroyed. Of the remaining cars, some had their engines deactivated before being donated to museums around the country. Chrysler retained three operational turbine cars for historical reasons and comedian Jay Leno, owns one of them.

Jay Leno's 1963 Chrysler Turbine Car


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    • John Janiszewski profile image

      John Janiszewski 6 years ago from Flushing, Michigan

      Turbine engines are very simple mechanical devices however they do generate large amounts of heat. The parts tend to be expensive also since often times the materials used in the hot section are made of exotic materials.

    • vietnamvet68 profile image

      vietnamvet68 7 years ago from New York State

      Intresting, thisis one i never even heard of before. I didn't even know it was out there.