To know that something as retro-futuristic as the Chrysler Turbine Car is now 50 years old is to feel old, but also to recognize that a lot of the promise of the 1960s never really came to be. Actually, all three of the domestic American automakers had turbine research projects. GM’s Firebird cars from the Motorama had turbine power and Ford even sold over the road tractors with turbines. Still, Chrysler was the only company to actually put turbine powered cars in the hands of regular consumers, albeit in limited fashion.
The Turbine Car was designed by Chuck Mashigan at the direction of Chrysler design head Elwood P. Engel, based on a design that Mashigan had executed while both designers were still at Ford. Chrysler only built a total of 55 cars (the bodies were made by Ghia in Italy and final assembly took place in Detroit) and 46 of them were loaned to people who were chosen from over 30,000 who applied for an expenses paid (except for fuel and the turbines would run on just about anything liquid and flammable – the president of Mexico used tequila for his test drive). After the program was ended, all but 7 were crushed. Chrysler still owns two, having sold one of theirs to Jay Leno.
Until recently, if you were in Michigan you could see three Turbine Cars on public display, one at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum, one at the Henry Ford Museum, and one at the Gilmore Museum (on loan from the Detroit Historical Museum), but due to low attendance Chrysler has closed the WPC Museum to the public. Fortunately, we’ve been to the Chrysler Museum a few times since starting Cars In Depth so we have stereo 3D photos of both cars. It’s nice to have shots of both displays. The Chrysler Museum’s Turbine Car has the hood down, while the Gilmore’s display has the hood up so you can see the turbine engine in its natural habitat. For a better look at the engine, the WPC Museum’s display has both a complete spare engine and an exploded one showing the turbine fans and other internal parts. For a more complete look at the Chrysler Turbine Car, check out Hemming’s blog.