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Chrysler's Jet Engine Car: The 1964 Turbine

Updated on January 8, 2011
1964 Chrysler Turbine
1964 Chrysler Turbine

The sixties produced not only the most radical and still awesome car designs, but also some of the most innovative cars. Take the Chevrolet Corvair, rear engine, flat six, a Porsche design style and America's only ever air-cooled production car with over 1.5 million made. Yet, another car company, Chrysler, had a even more radical concept:

A car with a small, jet-like, turbine engine. A car engine that could run on gas,kerosene or diesel.

A project that began in the Fifties and culminated into a near public release in its Turbine. The body was designed by Ghia of Italy (they would design so many American cars including the 91-94 Mercury Capri) and its design reflected the Jet Age that so many other cars of that time did (like the 1962-3 Ford T-Bird). But, the Turbine truly was revolutionary. The auto industry had a lot of buzz around it and when Chrysler produced 55 of them ( as test vehicles) car magazines had them on the covers. Listening to the car was exactly like a small jet engine with its whine. As time would reveal, the public seemed to love them, yet Chrysler held back in making it a production car. They averaged about 15 mpg in town and 20 mpg on the highway. They did produce excessive amounts of thermal heat and the costs to produce them was high for that time when a Mustang cost $2000 new. They had far few parts than your standard engine, but the parts were costly, should they fail.

By the time the 1964 Turbine was released, it was Chrysler's 3rd generation turbine and nearly all of the problems were solved. The 1964 engine had the following specs:

  • 30 horsepower at 3,600 rpm (output shaft speed); 425 lb-ft of torque at zero rpm!
  • Weight: 410 lb - 25 inches long, 25.5 inches wide, 27.5 inches tall (without accessories, which make the overall length 35 inches).
  • Compressor: centrifugal, single-stage compressor with 4:1 pressure ratio, 80% efficiency, 2.2 lb/sec air flow
  • First stage turbine: axial, single-stage, 87% efficiency, inlet temperature 1,700 degrees F.
  • Second-stage turbine: axial, single-stage, 84% efficiency, max speed 45,700 rpm
  • Regenerator: dual rotating disks, 90% effectiveness, 22 rpm max speed
  • Burner: single can, reverse flow, 95% efficiency
  • Maximum gas generator speed: 44,600 rpm
  • Maximum output speed, after reduction gears: 4,680 rpm
  • Exhaust temperature at full power: 500 degrees Farenheit.
  • Car weight: 4000 lbs

As the 60s turn into 70s, many things started to make it too costly. Fuel costs demanded economical engines that got 20-25 mpg, material costs rose and Chrysler itself, was failing and dying in red ink from loss of sales. All this time, the Turbine engine continued to be refined and by the time Chrysler had decided to make it available as a production car in 1981, it proved too late, as much of the funding for the engine was from the US government. The funding stopped with the 5th generation of the turbine engine in the 1981 Chrysler New Yorker (M-body) Turbine car that was ready to be tooled. There was no more design work to be accomplished, just tool and start production. The turbine engine was capable of 22mpg in the EPA test cycles.

The final turbine powered Chrysler Corporation vehicle was a 1980 Dodge Mirada, of which, one exists. Of the 55 1964 turbines, only 2, at most, exist that are still operational (Jay Leno has one). However, Chrysler did sell many of its turbine engines and it is still being built: in the M1 Tank!


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    • FGual profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      Thank you for this ride into memory lane. I remember so much advertising for this car, and how it made Chrysler a technology powerhouse. There was talk of turbine powered trucks, but the bottom line was a jet engine was impractical in stop and go driving. It was a beautiful car.

    • perrya profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Still is, just not that practical.

    • melpor profile image

      Melvin Porter 

      8 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Perrya, thanks for the look back. I remembered this car from the 60s. I have not heard anything about this car since that time. At the time it was a revolutionary design for a car engine.


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