Coolest car in the world

Or at least I thought so when I was a kid. The 1963 Chrysler Turbine.

As a kid, I was a junior car-nut. And I was just crazy about this car – I thought it was absolutely the future, come to reality right in front of us. They built about 50 of them in 1963, and gave them out to various owners to drive. I seem to recall that it was a lease program, because I’d been following the program since I was a kid… and when Chrysler announced they were going to do this, I was all over my Dad to try to get in on the program.

Revell even had a model kit of the car, and you bet I built one. They were amazing cars, could run on anything that would burn and that you could get through a hose. Everything from fuel oil to lighter fluid. When they took a couple to Europe, as a publicity stunt, they had one in Paris running on Chanel #5. You did have to adjust the combustor (burner) for the fuel type if you were going to run it consistently on one type of fuel. They would start in any weather, as long as the battery had enough oomph to get the engine spun. They used an ordinary Torqueflite automatic transmission, but with a big gear-reduction unit in front of it. 22,000 RPM down to 800. Imagine that.

And all this reminiscing has been brought back because of this article in Jay Leno’s Garage:

What’s cool about this is that Jay has now posted a video about the car. He takes it for a DRIVE!  Talk about feeling like a kid again!

The interesting thing is that the engines would have been good for at least 200,000 miles without a teardown, even though Chrysler elected to use plain sliding bearings instead of aircraft-style roller bearings. Think of how long it would have lasted with roller bearings, and with modern ceramics instead of the materials they used back then.

You may or may not have known that Chrysler had been experimenting with them up until the mid-70’s. They were at the last signature release point before full production on a car that was as big as a ’65 Imperial, but would get at least 22 and likely 25, miles per gallon.

What was one of the high points of all the time I spent working in gas stations as a mechanic is the day I got to see and touch one, and speak with the owner. It was about 1976, and one of the turbine cars that was in Idaho was being driven by the owner down to California to be put into a museum. I saw it coming in, and I yelled, “this one’s mine…” and ran out.

Here’s a link to what I saw rolling in…

The interesting thing is, I may have put gas in this particular car.

I was talking to the gal, and was saying, “Holey COW! A TURBINE! I’ve been following the program since I was a little kid! I thought I’d never in my lifetime see one! Thank you for coming in!” And she was real kind, told me some interesting things about hers. I offered to get her some kerosene for it from the back, that we kept 50 gallons there all the time. She said no, that she routinely ran it on half and half regular gas and diesel. She could always depend on getting fuel that way. She said that she always used this mix of leaded gas (pretty much all there was, then) and diesel in the car and never had a single problem with it. She said she typically got about 20 MPG, which was pretty good for a car about the shape and size and 2/3 the weight of a ’62 Thunderbird.

One of the funny things she said that in the cold Idaho winters the Turbine would always start right up, and she’d have a warm interior in about three minutes – much to the annoyance of her husband, who always had to work to get his truck started in the same weather, and then he’d freeze for about half an hour, waiting for the heater in his pickup to get even a little bit warm.

I knew there were some stories about acceleration lag, so I asked her about it. She said that as long as you knew about it, it wasn’t a problem. She’d just put the accelerator about 1/4 of the way down and hold it back with the brakes when getting ready to pull out into traffic; and then when her chance came, she’d slam the gas and be able to pull in just fine like any other car. She did say it was really tempting to speed with it because it was always so darn smooth. It would hum along the highway at 80 or so just real easy.

I watched as she pulled out and disappeared into the distance … at least until I got yelled at for standing around.

So there are some more memories for posterity.


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