Car: Chrysler Turbine, 1963

Chrysler’s Turbine project was the most glamorous rolling experiment ever conducted on American roads. The only car ever series-produced with a gas-turbine “jet” engine, the real-life test program went as smoothly as the power delivery from its vibration-free power unit.

1963 Chrysler Turbine
In this period image, two of the 55 Chrysler Turbines built show their salient features, although the real whirr of excitement was under the hood.

Selling the car to the public was deemed too risky, so Chrysler loaned examples for free, for three-month trial periods, to a wide spectrum of American drivers. Rather than install the fourth-generation engine in a standard Chrysler, a unique model was designed in-house. The bodies were built by Italian coachbuilder Ghia and power units fitted in Detroit. The Turbine was a fourseater hardtop with little of the jet-age gimmickry of most Chrysler/Ghia show cars.

1963 Chrysler Turbine
1963 Chrysler Turbine

The speed of the engine was reduced to a maximum of 4,680rpm in daily driving use and the power was delivered to the wheels via a lightly modified automatic gearbox. The engine could burn any fuel, including diesel, kerosene, alcohol, or vegetable fat.

1963 car Chrysler Turbine
1963 car Chrysler Turbine

The test cars proved remarkably reliable, with only 5 percent of the total test time lost to breakdowns, and oil changes unnecessary. Downsides included patchy running at high altitudes and the vacuum cleaner-like noise. But the biggest problem was the unacceptably high level of nitrogen oxide emissions. After the program ended in September 1966, 46 Turbines were scrapped; today, three working cars survive. Chrysler’s financial troubles meant the Turbine adventure was never repeated.

“With no carburetor, you don’t pump the throttle as you would for other cars of the era. Acceleration is progressive and oh-sosmooth, but it’s not terribly quick. Drivers will marvel at the sound rather than the forward thrust.”

Todd Lassa, Motor Trend Magazine, 2007

Video: Model of the car Chrysler Turbine

Specification: Model of the car Chrysler Turbine

PLACE OF ORIGIN: Detroit, Michigan, and Turin, Italy
HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: gas turbine
LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: two-door, four-seater hardtop coupé
TOP SPEED: unknown