Powered by a jet engine, the Chrysler turbine car could run on perfume or tequila
The Chrysler Corporation began researching gas turbine engines in the 1930s, but on-road vehicles were not on the list of potential applications.
Executive engineer George Huebner, the man who would become famous for building nuclear missiles, was among the select group of employees who worked on this secret aircraft-focused project. But, before he had such dark ideas, he began to research the feasibility of powering a car with one of these powertrains. Shortly after WWII, Chrysler became interested in automotive applications which led to a separate project and naturally management chose Huebnerled to lead it.
After years of innovative work, the research team built a stable prototype. It made its public debut on June 16, 1954, under the hood of an otherwise stocked Plymouth Belvedere. Two years later, the second generation turbine was installed in another Plymouth driven by the famous engineer from New York to Los Angeles.
By this time people were taking notice and the enthusiasm for gas turbines was at an all time high. Ford and GM were working on similar designs, and the latter automaker even released a crazy concept called the Firebird XP-21, which looked like a fighter jet on wheels.
At Chrysler, development continued with the introduction of the third iteration of the engine. It was used on more of the company’s existing models, and by the late 1950s an entire turbine fleet was on display at all of the major auto shows around the world.
In the early 1960s, when the fourth generation turbine unit was completed, management decided to stop experimenting with existing models and create a new car around it. The design was passed down to former Ford stylist Elwood Engel whose portfolio includes the Ford Thunderbird. He envisioned an all-new car that would rival both the aforementioned model and the Chevrolet Corvette – in terms of looks, at least.
This vision came true in 1963 when the groundbreaking vehicle dubbed the uninspiring Turbine Car was unveiled at the Essex House Hotel in New York City. Chrysler has announced a limited production run of 50 units that could not be purchased but would instead be loaned out to the general public to test its practicality.
The hardtop coupe looked good, exuded luxury, and received a positive response. Its bodywork was handcrafted, assembled and painted in Italy by renowned design studio Carrozzeria Ghia, then shipped back to Detroit, where the powertrain and electronics were installed. From headlights to hubcaps and dashboard gauges, it was a collection of turbine-inspired shapes that culminated with a pair of huge exhaust tips protruding from its rear end.
The A-831 delivered 130 hp (97 kW) at 36,000 rpm with 425 lb-ft (576 Nm) of torque directed to the rear wheels via a TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission. The innovative powertrain – which required a meticulous eight-step procedure to start – used a spark plug and around 80% fewer parts than a conventional piston unit, making it inherently more durable and easier to maintain. .
Apart from that, another major advantage was its ability to run on multiple fuels, such as unleaded gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and JP-4 jet fuel. According to the manufacturer, it could also burn a variety of flammable liquids like oven, peanut or soybean oils. Plus, if those who loaned out the car didn’t like the smell of its exhaust, they could pour a few ounces of perfume into the tank, as one of the automaker’s representatives demonstrated during a press gala in Paris.
Another famous example of the use of an unusual liquid as fuel comes from former Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos. The story goes that after consulting with Chrysler engineers, he emptied several bottles of tequila into the tank and drove the car without encountering any problems.
Nonetheless, the kryptonite of the multi-purpose engine was leaded gasoline. It was able to burn the fuel, but the lead additive left deposits that would eventually damage its internal components, so people who ended up driving the vehicles were advised against using this type of gasoline in any way. circumstance.
The fifty cars initially announced were manufactured from 1963 to 1964. They were identical in all respects, including the metallic paint called Turbine Bronze. Chrysler gave them to people free of charge for three months, provided they keep a journal and provide detailed comments before returning the car. The user program ran from 1963 to 1966, with a total of 302 people participating. He helped engineers identify a range of issues with the turbine engine, including poor fuel consumption or starter malfunction at high altitude.
While the gas turbine project continued for another decade without major breakthroughs, most of these impressive cars were destroyed by Chrysler shortly after the user program ended. The company has kept two of them, six were delivered to various museums and one belongs to Jay Leno.
Not quite a production car, nor a typical concept, the Turbine Car was as close as ordinary people could drive a jet engine powered vehicle on public roads and one of the coolest cars ever made in the United States. United States.
We recommend that you watch the episode of Jay Leno’s Garage which you can find below if you want to learn more about this fascinating car and hear the daring sound of the jet as it starts up.