Chrysler's Turbine Cars|
The american company Chrysler was one of the first auto-makers to experiment with the gas-turbine engine as a method of powering regular road-going cars.
From the very early 1950s through to the early 1980's the company experimented with gas-turbine technology and its potential as a powerplant for automotive use. The picture on the right (click it to enlarge) shows some of the engines that were developed by the company during this period.
The large round section on most engines is the rotating regenerator, a device that transfers heat from the exhaust gases to the air about to enter the combustion chambers. This is done to improve the engine's fuel-efficiency and to reduce the noise and heat levels released at the car's tailpipe.
While their 1965 model gathered a lot of publicity and media coverage, Chrysler actually produced their first road-going test vehicle back in 1954. This car was simply a standard 54 Plymouth, pulled off the assembly line and fitted with a specially made turboshaft engine.
The June 1956 edition of Popular Mechanics carried an article on the car in which it documented a coast-to-coast trip undertaken by Chrysler's George J. Huebner, Jr. At the time, Huebner was the Executive Engineer in charge of research at Chrysler and he is said to have taken a strong personal interest in the turbine development program.
The engine in this vehicle was a simple single-stage radial compressor with two axial-flow hot-wheels, one driving the compressor and the other driving a reduction gearbox connected to the car's driveshaft. A relatively small (compared to the later 1965 model) regenerator was used to improve fuel-economy and lower the temperature of the exhaust gasses -- which exited through a row nozzles built into the rear bumper.
In the period from 1950 to 1956, the company actually built over 50 gas-turbine engines designed for use in test cars although few of them actual clocked up any actual mileage.
On two occasions during the New York to Los Angeles trip in 1956 the car had to undergo major repairs: the first time when a bearing failed in the reduction gearbox and the second when the compressor intake casting cracked.
An average fuel consumption of 13-14 mpg using regular unleaded gasoline. The article claims that this would likely have improved to 18 mpg if the engine had been running on kerosene.
The hot-section turbines on this prototype vehicle cost $1,500 (1956 dollars!) each to manufacture but Chrysler was planning to reduce the cost to just $10 with mass-production. It seems that target was never met and the vehicle never made it to the assembly line.
Sleek, low and carrying a rear spoiler, the car was reportedly displayed at auto-shows but I've been unable to find any indications that it ever got as much exposure to the road as the 1954 Plymouth model. In fact it may have just been a concept mock-up.
Bearing none of the futuristic styling of the '61 concept car, the 1965 model again seemed to be not much more than a contemporary vehicle retrofitted with a gas-turbine engine.
A number of these vehicles were built and shipped to a select group of drivers in what appeared to be the final phase of pre-production testing.
Most of the reports published about these cars were very positive; drivers marvelling at the smoothness and ease of operation -- but ultimately it seems that Chrysler wasn't confident enough to commit to large-scale production.
Their fate was sealed in the 1970's when the fuel crisis and stringent emission control standards made it impossible for the gas-turbine engine to compete with rapidly evolving traditional internal combustion designs.
In the last two decades of the 20th century further advances in the area of electronic engine control systems further strengthened the position of the regular reciprocating 4-cycle auto engine against the fuel-hungry turbine.
Chrysler never did find a way to mass-produce the critical hot-section elements of the turbine engine at a reasonable cost either.
So, don't look for any manufacturer to roll-out a gas-turbine powered car for the masses any time soon.
Update: 11 June 2001:
If anyone has other links regarding the Chrysler turbine cars, I would appreciate it if they could send them to me.