A Look Back: Chrysler’s Innovative Turbine Car

When you look back at the history of the automotive world, you’ll notice that one name stands out as one of the most innovative and unique. That name is Chrysler. It might surprise you to learn this, considering today’s limited lineup of vehicles offered under this brand. Still, with the ingenuity and history of taking risks, we might be witnessing a time when Chrysler is just getting ready to blow our minds once again. Your nearby Chrysler dealership could be where you find some of the most amazing designs and interesting cars in the future.

The Turbine Car is a Prime Example

Sometimes car brands grab hold of something unique and never seem to be able to let it go. In today’s market, the Mazda rotary engines used in the RX-series sports cars are a prime example of this. Back in the 1950s, Chrysler and the turbine engine would have been an example of the same ilk. Even though the release of a Plymouth Belvedere with a stable turbine engine under the hood in 1954 seemed innovative and shocking, the research that went into that model dates back much farther.

Automakers Turn to Supporting Military Efforts

The 1930s was a decade that showed the world on the brink of another war that would require all superpowers to be involved in ridding the world of the tyrannical force that Germany had been building under Adolf Hitler. During this decade, many automakers shifted gears and began to build and research equipment for the military rather than focusing on the cars they had built previously.

Chrysler began researching the use of gas turbine engines, but these would not have been for road-going vehicles but more likely for small aircraft that would battle it out in the skies above Europe.

The Right Man for the Job

One of the top engineers working on the gas turbine engine project was George Huebner. While he became famous for building nuclear missiles, he was instrumental in researching the feasibility of using a turbine engine to power a car once World War II had ended. This became an amazing investment by Chrysler and a project that Huebner led to show us how this engine could safely be inserted and used in a vehicle.

The result of this research was the Plymouth Belvedere that was showcased in 1954. The only difference between this model and a typical Belvedere was the turbine engine that had been added to the mix.

Another Plymouth with a turbine engine was driven by Huebner from New York City to Los Angeles a couple of years later, which gave Chrysler all the proof they needed to continue forward with this project.

Flattery in the Form of Copying

It wasn’t long before the engineers at Ford and GM noticed what Chrysler was doing and decided they needed to research gas turbine engines as well. GM released a concept car called the Firebird XP-21, which was more like a fighter jet without wings, but it was certainly an interesting turbine engine application. When your stiffest competition begins to copy what you’re doing, there’s a reason for it, and that was all Chrysler needed to continue working on this project.

A Fleet is Born

When the end of the 1950s arrived, so did an entire fleet of turbine-powered cars from the Chrysler brand family. This fleet of cars was paraded around the globe, going to every important automotive show to display the power and development of an engine that used turbines to give power to the vehicle it was in.

The Turbine Car is Realized

After the fleet was taken from show to show, the Chrysler team decided it was time to build a specifically made car for this engine. Former Ford stylist, Elwood Engel, was tapped for this job. He was the main stylist for the Ford Thunderbird at the time and would build a car worthy of this new and interesting engine.

In 1963, the first Turbine Car was brought to the Essex House in New York City to show the world that a special model using this amazing engine was finally available.

This new Chrysler product was going to be an exclusive vehicle that would only be offered in 50 models to start with. None of these cars were slated to be sold but rather loaned and tested to give people an idea of what it would be like to have a turbine car.

Power and Fuel for the Turbine Car

This new car that was offered in the 1960s delivered 130 horsepower and 425 lb.-ft. Of torque. Of course, being a turbine engine, the RPMs were much higher than that of a typical car engine, with the max power reached at 36,000 RPM. This engine used fewer parts, which would make it easier to maintain, but it did take an eight-step process to start the engine.

Strangely, the engine of the turbine car was capable of running on multiple fuels. If desired, these fuels included diesel, kerosene, JP-4 jet fuel, peanut oil, and even perfume or tequila. The perfume had more to do with changing the way the exhaust gas smelled, but the engine was made to operate on pretty much any type of flammable liquid that a driver decided to put into the tank.

What Does this Tell Us About Chrysler?

The Turbine Car is just one example of the amazing creativity and willingness to take risks that have always been part of the Chrysler brand. You could find new and unique models being offered at your local Chrysler dealership in the next few years. Will this brand be one of the first to fully embrace an alternative fuel that hasn’t been thought of yet? With successful projects that spanned decades, such as the Turbine Car, it’s easy to see that Chrysler is a team that has the willingness to find out just how far they can go with a project and then take it a step further.

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