Saturday, July 7, 2012

1962 Chrysler Turbine

This experimental family sedan had 
a production run of 55 cars.....

and a very surprising connection to 
the strength of the American military today

This is a short story of how how a bold but failed experiment can yield fantastic results in the long run.

In 1962, turbine technology was relatively new. The Huey helicopter made famous in Vietnam hadn't flown yet, and the turbine showed great promise...but wasn't entirely trusted yet.

Modern turbine engine

And the interest in turbines wasn't limited to the air. 

Many auto companies were experimenting with turbine engines, some with more success than others. 

Ford actually ran a fleet of successful big rigs powered by modified helicopter engines, and Isuzu saw great success with a ceramic turbine-powered family car. The Isuzu never left a test track, but you gotta give them points for trying.

On to Chrysler....

Chrysler never really intended to put their 1962 Turbine sedan into production. They, like everyone else, had already discovered the downside of turbine power in a road going car.

You see, turbine engines make a lot of sense in aircraft. They produce reliable, steady power. They can run on any type of fuel. 

1962 Chrysler Generation 3

And most importantly, there is very little wear during operation, due to the small amount of actual moving parts. This is a very appealing prospect....especially for the military, where reliability counts most.

But cars are a different matter....

In a car, however, the story changes somewhat. 

The turbine sounds like a giant vacuum cleaner. 

The exhaust can melt pavement. They don't get very good gas mileage. 

The biggest killer of turbine-powered cars, though was the production cost.

Chrysler estimated that - and this is shown to you in today's money - that it cost them 350,000 dollars to build the Turbine sedan. Each.

And, of course, that wasn't gonna to speak.

The Turbines that were built were given out to ordinary families around Detroit for a two-year test program. 

The cars turned out to be remarkably easy to operate and extremely stable. They could run on gas, diesel, kerosene, vegetable oil....even rum. And although they were slightly different to drive than a V-8 powered car, they proved to almost impossible to break. 

After the test program was finished, most Turbines were crushed....but their legacy wasn't.

Heavy metal

In the late 70s, Chrysler Defense was sold to General Dynamics, and the 4th-Generation turbine engine was developed into the Honeywell AGT1500. 

The engine in the 1962 Turbine would now power the greatest main battle tank to ever stalk enemy territory....the M1A Abrams. 

And in case you are wondering, the Abrams was designed around that turbine. It's the whole reason the tank is incredibly fast and reliable.

Take that!

The finest tank to ever hit the battlefield has roots in a car that was never made. 

So now you know that sometimes even the best experiments that fail can lead to something truly great.


Anonymous said...

the 1981 mirada is the look alike of the 2nd attempt of turbine car by Chrysler was moving forward till they went bankrupt in 1980 new management of Chrysler never did this great past again but jay Leno has a 1962 turbine in his collection tho.

Anonymous said...

i really enjoyed reading your story it reminds me of the time i was young and saw those cars as the way of the future,, funny hey!