by Graeme Ogg
In terms of smoothness, simplicity and durability, the gas turbine seems to offer several advantages over the complex and inherently self-destructive reciprocating engine, and Chrysler began investigating its potential for automotive use before World War II. Like Rover, they gained some useful experience in designing and producing a turboprop aircraft engine, then in the early 50s they went back to looking at car applications. Development engines were fitted to various standard Plymouth and Dodge cars and light trucks and extensively tested, including coast-to-coast endurance runs. Some of these cars went round the country on “Consumer Reaction Tours” and gave demonstrations. There was also the inevitable futuristic “Turboflite” show car. Given the satisfactory performance of these prototypes, and the considerable interest they aroused, in 1962 Chrysler decided to build a batch of cars for public evaluation.
The attractive 2-door 4-seater hardtop was styled by Elwood Engel, recently poached from Ford and busy applying the Continental/Thunderbird look to Chrysler products. This explains the striking similarity of the car's side profile to the restyled '64 T-Bird, including the chrome waistline and a softened version of the trademark roof. The front end had distinctive ”turbine inlet” headlamp surrounds, which were a foot ahead of the lower bumper so one hopes they were shock-absorbent. The back end was the wildest bit. The bodies were hand-shaped by Ghia in Italy (the steel, glass and trimmings being supplied from the States) and assembled in Detroit. Apart from a few dashboard switches they shared nothing with any other Chrysler car. The 4th-generation engine with twin ceramic heat exchangers gave 133 bhp. With a hefty 425 lbs/ft of torque at zero revs it hardly needed a gearbox but got a 3 speed auto without torque converter. Two huge ducts, each about a foot wide by 4” deep, took the exhaust to the tailpipes, which would happily fry the surrounding vegetation at idle. The chassis was conventional, with front wishbones and coils and rear leaf springs. In all 55 cars were built, all painted in “Turbine Bronze”.
From some 30,000 applicants Chrysler selected 203 drivers in 48 States and over the next two years they each had a Turbine for 3 months to use as everyday transport. Some of them managed almost 15,000 miles during their tenure. Engineers and VIPs worldwide also got demonstration rides. When the President of Mexico asked for a test drive, they put a couple of gallons of tequila in the tank. And just to prove a rather expensive point, somebody got one running on Chanel No.5. The 12 mpg consumption was criticised, but for a fully-equipped, near-4000 lb “personal luxury” car with power everything it wasn't bad for its time, and in test runs it matched the mileage of the full-size “chase cars”. And it ran on cheaper fuel. There were some grumbles about 0-60 taking 12 seconds, but drivers who learned to rev to 40,000 rpm against the brake, then let go, could halve that time.
Not surprisingly for an all-new car, there were some minor teething troubles, but the engines themselves proved extremely reliable and low-maintenance, and after 2 years Chrysler were very satisfied with the results. Serious plans were made for offering a turbine option on production cars, but equally serious doubts remained. Manufacture was expensive, and the ceramic heat exchangers were potentially fragile. The engine was good, but not the quantum leap that would make other manufacturers switch overnight – and unless they did, oil companies might be reluctant to put suitable fuel on the forecourt. Future mileage and emissions standards might be difficult to meet. Chrysler decided to terminate this experiment. As the expensive Italian-made bodies were classed as temporary imports, 40 of them were sent to the crusher to avoid hefty Customs duties. Some went to museums (with their engines removed) and a couple were rescued to do the rounds of car shows. Chrysler still carried on developing and refining their engines, and as late as 1980 they reportedly had a full-size turbine car production-ready. But just around then they had a very public flirtation with bankruptcy. End of story.
There is a nice Yat Ming 1:18 model, but of course I wanted a 1/43, so was pleased to see New Ray include it in their “Street Cruiser” range of mainly 50s and 60s Yanks. In MAR 168 Dick Brown described these as “fantasy models”. Well, not quite fantasy, they are all recognisable cars (just) but I know what he means. The basic bodies range from OK to frankly poor even for cheap toys. Scale varies, and the add-on chrome detailing is fairly rough. The Turbine is probably one of the better ones. The main body details, including that complex rear end, are quite well done and the interior is simple but accurate enough. But like every other New Ray, they made it a convertible (quite pretty, in its way, but it never existed). Do they have a pattern-maker who can't do roofs, or what? I also thought they had played fast and loose with the proportions, but length, width and height scale out quite consistently at 1/45. It's the tiny wheels and excessively narrow track which give the wrong impression. That, and the absence of a chunky vinyl roof. So it's not a hopeless case, and very few brain cells were involved in figuring out the remedy.
Problem No.1 - You really need the windscreen frame in place to build the roof on to it (resting on the sun visors), but the screen and frame are all one piece, which means working with the glass exposed to damage.
Problem No. 2 – For some bizarre reason New Ray coated the lower fifth of the screen with silver paint. Above that, and set far too high, are moulded-in wipers. The drastic answer was to remove the silver paint and the wipers with fairly coarse sandpaper. Then 800 grade. Then 1200 grade. Then T-Cut. Then plastic polish. (You'll note I'm getting the hang of these short sentences now. A nice digestible snippet each time. Before you. Nod off. Again). The resulting clear screen was protected with lens tissue taped in place while I built up the roof from thin-rolled cake icing, coated with a finely-ground mixture of marzipan and seedless raisins for that vinyl effect. A bit messy to work with, but interesting. I could get a taste for it.
I kept the original wheels, but the tyres are from a Detail Cars BMW 502. Somebody at a swapmeet was flogging them at 3 for £10, so they were worth getting just for the wheels and various chromed fittings. The tyres were a slightly loose fit but a smear of epoxy took care of that. Widening the front track just needed a longer axle and a bit of grooving on the floor to sort out the ride height. At the back, those wheel spats are 4mm thick, and the model room echoed like the Dental Surgery from Hell as I ground away inside the body to bring the tyres further out to the sides.
Next problem - another grille with less than half the required number of bars. The surface was ground down and new plastic ribbing fitted and chromed.
The “Turbine Bronze” colour is hard to pin down. In some pictures it looks brick red, in others it is a russet metallic. I have seen the Yat Ming described as “orange” but when you see it, it isn't really. I went for Vauxhall/Opel Bright Copper. On solid grey primer it tends toward chestnut, and on white primer it gets a bit brassy. I compromised with a light dusting of white primer and got a fair mid-tone but can't claim it is the correct shade. Ford Aztec Bronze is similar but the grain is over-scale and too sparkly. The bronze used on Fiat Puntos is another possibility.
I protected the screen inside and out with Humbrol Maskol before spraying, but forgot to coat the quarter lights, which were totally chewed up by the paint and had to be cut out and replaced.
Humbrol “Polished Aluminium” went on the lower body. The vinyl is a single ply of Kleenex applied on clear varnish, trimmed when dry and painted satin black with the excess dabbed off with a cotton bud to bring up the texture. I started detailing with Bare Metal's “Ultra-Bright Chrome”, but it seems to suffer the fragility and unpredictable adhesion of the dreaded black variety. I switched to matt aluminium, which is less “tinselly”.
I hope the photos show the end product is a bit more faithful to the original car. If you are an Internet user, for further reading key “chrysler turbine” (in quotes) or +chrysler+turbine into a search engine, or go direct to www.allpar.com/mopar/turbine.html for a history of Chrysler's turbine programme. If you fancy doing the conversion, you will find a reproduction of the original owner manual at www.turbinecar.com/turbook/turbook.html . The front page has a nice side view line drawing. Edit the picture down to 87% (or print it off then photocopy at 87%) and you have a decent template for the roof, and for judging the tire size and ride height. Or you could just order a 1:18 Yat Ming on-line and save yourself a lot of trouble.
Graeme Ogg adapts existing models to recreate icons of Chrysler history.
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