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Chrysler turbine engines and cars

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For decades, Chrysler worked on turbine engines, creating working prototypes which were shown to, and driven by, the public. It ended without fanfare, and was never picked up again - as far as we know. Click here for the main turbine information page.

Richard Benner, Jr., who supplied these photos, wrote: "Mike Eberhart (who works here at Chrysler St. Louis) is the guy who take the vehicle around for shows all over the U.S. He gives rides in the vehicles (I have ridden 3 times) and for anyone who says they did ride it it, if they did, they sign into a log that is kept here at the St. Louis Museum of Transportation, who owns the vehicle. Mike just has it on loan to work on and transport it. He did much of the work himself to get it running and in the condition it is in."

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The following is one of 55 cars built to test the concept, five for internal testing and 50 for use by the public. The body was styled by Elwood Engle, who had designed the Thunderbird, and built by Ghia. Chrysler engineers installed the engine and mechanical gear such as the automatic transmission (rear wheel drive) and electric windows. The cost for each car was $50,000 - about 50 times that of a good contemporary gasoline-powered car, but these were handmade.

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The fourth-generation 1961 engine had 130 horsepower (about the same as a current 2.0), with 20% of the parts of a piston engine, and the ability to run on just about any fuel: alcohol, cooking oil, kerosene, diesel, etc., with no warmup time needed. Highway mileage was good, but city mileage suffered from the 22,000 rpm idle speed and slow starts.

The turbine program had cost $120 million by the time it was cancelled, due partly to lack of funds for actually building the cars, and, reportedly, mostly because the government oversight people would not allow it while Chrysler was repaying government-backed loans. Most of the Ghia turbines were destroyed to comply with customs laws (no duties had been paid on them), with nine retained. This one was restored by Mike Eberhardt and still runs. It has received a number of awards, and the last we heard it still made the rounds of car shows.

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Note the turbine motif which was repeated throughout the styling, inside and out:

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The turbine itself. Chrysler wrote: "The present performance and economy of the Turbine are comparable to a conventional car with a standard V-8 engine. The engine will operate satisfactorily on diesel fuel, kerosene, unleaded gasoline, JP-4 (jet fuel), and mixtures thereof. And, even more interesting, it is possible to change from one of these fuels to another without any changes or adjustments to the engine."

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The inside and outside:

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Want to learn more? click here for the main turbine information page and Jim Benjaminson's history of the Plymouth turbine cars

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