The Chrysler Turbine Car remains one of the most intriguing chapters in automotive history. Manufactured by Chrysler from 1963 to 1964, this experimental two-door hardtop coupe featured a turbine engine, cutting-edge design by Carrozzeria Ghia and an array of advanced features. In this article, we delve into the fascinating story of the Chrysler Turbine Car, from its development to its limited production and subsequent user program.
Chrysler’s turbine engine program began in the late 1930s but gained momentum in the 1950s. The company produced prototypes that successfully completed long-distance journeys in the following decades. The culmination of this research was the A-831 turbine engines, which powered the Ghia-designed Turbine Cars. These engines were notable for their ability to operate on various fuels, require less maintenance, and offer increased durability compared to traditional piston engines, albeit at a higher production cost.
The Chrysler Turbine Car showcased a sleek design, thanks to the styling efforts of Elwood Engel and the Chrysler studios. The bodywork, crafted by Carrozzeria Ghia in Italy, boasted a distinctive metallic paint called “turbine bronze,” reminiscent of the color of root beer. Beyond its striking appearance, the Turbine Car incorporated power brakes, power steering, and a TorqueFlite transmission, emphasizing its modernity and convenience.
Following the production of five prototypes, Chrysler initiated a user program from October 1963 to January 1966, offering 50 Turbine Cars to the public for testing. A total of 203 drivers in 133 cities across the United States participated in the program, collectively accumulating over one million miles (1.6 million km). This initiative provided valuable insights into the cars’ performance, revealing both advantages and areas for improvement.
The user program highlighted several benefits of the turbine engines, including their remarkable durability, smooth operation, and relatively low maintenance requirements. However, drivers encountered challenges such as a complicated starting procedure, underwhelming acceleration, and below-average fuel economy and noise levels. These observations shaped Chrysler’s understanding of the Turbine Car’s potential and guided subsequent developments in automotive technology.
Upon the conclusion of the user program in 1966, Chrysler reclaimed most of the cars, ultimately destroying all but nine. Two cars remained with Chrysler, while six found their way into museums across the United States. Notably, one Chrysler Turbine Car now belongs to comedian Jay Leno, serving as a testament to this remarkable era in automotive engineering. Chrysler’s turbine engine program ultimately ceased in 1979 due to emission regulation compliance, fuel economy concerns, and loan conditions from the government.
The Hagerty Drivers Foundation produced a documentary that provides a comprehensive account of the Chrysler Turbine Car’s development, featuring insights from engineers, mechanics, and renowned historians like . The documentary also sheds light on efforts by modern turbine manufacturer Williams International to assist original Chrysler engineers in preserving Jay Leno’s Turbine Car, one of the last running examples from the user program. Furthermore, the inclusion of the Turbine Car in the National Historic Vehicle Register ensures its documented history will be preserved in perpetuity within the Library of Congress.