Imagine for a moment if our vehicles could be powered by turbine engines like those that enable jets to fly. All of those horses, a ferocious soundtrack and instantaneous throttle response! How exciting, right? Well, the technology has been tested several times in the past — but with less than impressive results. We’re looking at you, Chrylser, and your Turbine car...
In the Sixties, the space race was well and truly on and everyone was trying to capitalise on it — Chrysler was no different, but their jet engine car of 1963 sure was. It looked like it had come from another galaxy; designed by Elwood Engel and handmade by Italian design studio Ghia, the long and low two-door hardtop coupe featured sleek styling incorporating deep “boomerang” cavities holding large, angled taillights astride reverse lights in big “turbine-styled” housings — it scored heavily for its aesthetics but those expecting it to mimic the roar or performance of a jet were deeply disappointed. When it was cranked, it made a high-pitched whine followed by a whooshing noise and sounded more like a giant vacuum cleaner. Chrysler claimed its A-831 engine was more efficient and less harmful to the environment than many V8s of the day and also able to be driven using anything from petrol to perfume! It was truly revolutionary compared to the tried-and-true piston engines, but it wasn’t without its problems. Of the 50 prototypes of the Turbine car that were released to members of the public for a two-year evaluation period, there were reports that it set grass on fire and melted the road due to the sheer heat the engine was generating! What’s more, the 130bhp car was cumbersome to operate and failing to follow the correct start-up procedure would cause it to stall. It was also not as efficient as it was claimed to be (it idled at 22,000rpm, chugging back gallons of fuel in the process...), and although emissions were lower, it emitted a lot of nitrogen oxide. Worse was its performance; throttle response was very poor indeed with it taking 12 seconds to reach 100kph (this could be cut by half if the car was “brake torqued” by holding the brakes and revving the turbine to an ear-splitting 50,000rpm which wasn’t recommended...). Another major issue was cost; you could get a car with a V8 making similar power back then for $5,000 while the Turbine car would have set you back three times as much.
Accepting it was a flop, Chrysler destroyed all but a handful of the cars with the few survivors donated to museums or ending up in the hands of private collectors.
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