Monday, January 23, 2012
Alternative fuel vehicles are nothing new. Check out the 1963 Chrysler Turbine Car
This phenomenon isn’t new, however. Since the beginning of the automobile, engineers have tinkered with different types of propulsion. Production and concept cars have run on everything from alcohol to nuclear. And 50-years ago, Chrysler’s answer was the Turbine Car.
The point of this experiment was to get feedback about the revolutionary turbine power plant under the hood. Instead of the normal six or eight cylinder engine, a 130-hp (oh, and 420 lb-ft of torque at zero RPM) turbine provided the punch. The theory was that with less moving parts, the turbine engine would last longer than a conventional mill, and it could run on a wide variety of fuel choices. And generally speaking, all of this proved to be true.
Just getting to see a Turbine Car in 1963, not much less actually getting to drive one, had to be quite a thrill. With their unique, space-aged styling, and jet airplane soundtrack, they were unlike anything ever seen before. My dad said he saw one, and it was very memorable. He said it made plenty of noise and blew a lot of dust around with its exhaust.
Ultimately the 50 turbine cars were loaned to 203 different drivers in 133 cities. And for the most part, it was seen as a successful experiment. They proved to be reliable and versatile. Unfortunately, they were also expensive to build because of the alloys required to maintain cooler temperatures, and they burned a great deal of fuel (whatever that may be), especially at idle. But Chrysler continued to pursue turbine-powered vehicles well into the late 1970s.
But in spite of their best efforts, gasoline still emerges as the top fuel choice, even today. Will there ever be a more viable source than good, old fossil fuel? One thing’s for sure; manufacturers will never stop trying to figure that out.
The slideshow below shows various promotional photos of Turbine Cars, as well as some pictures I’ve taken of the cars in various museums. I’m also including an interesting, maybe a little bit depressing, YouTube video of the Turbine Cars being destroyed after their tenure was completed in 1964. I think you'll agree that this is all an interesting chapter in our automotive history.