It Could Have Been the Greatest Car in the World

August, 2000 

An unfinished story.......a true story.

     Once upon a time, over fifty years ago, a group of automobile engineers came together to build a dream. Their idea was to build an automobile engine based on the latest available technology- believe it or not- aircraft technology. They wanted to create an engine stronger and more reliable than any engine ever made, an engine with fewer moving parts and greater horsepower, able to run on a wide range of fuels, and as maintenance free as possible. And so they did it.
     They based their engine upon the idea of compressing air, heating it, and then forcing the expanded gasses through a nozzle towards a series of rotating blades. A turbine motor-- a jet engine under the hood of an automobile. A turbine engine with 70% of the weight, 80% fewer moving parts,  90% less maintenance and 100% of the power of a V-8 piston engine. And they did it.
     They wanted their turbine engine to run on a multitude of fuels: gasoline, alcohol, diesel fuel, kerosene, home heating oil, jet fuel and so on. They did it. As a joke, one of the engineers tried running the engine on tequila. It worked. The chief engineer on this project said, "Any fuel that can flow through a tube and burns with air-- can power this engine." An incredible benefit came along with this engine. If high octane gasoline, kerosene or alcohol were used to power the turbine--- hydrocarbon and carbon-monoxide emission levels were NEGLIGIBLE as compared to the most efficient piston engines ever made. The amount of air passing through the engine was more than enough to burn off the impurities of the fuel. Nearly ZERO harmful emissions! Other benefits- it was air cooled-- no radiator or anti freeze-- instant starting/ no warm up-- even on the coldest winter days- and instant heat for the passengers.
      Ten years had passed from the day in 1953 when the first prototype drove through the Detroit streets. In fact, there were six generations of their turbine engine during those years, each one more powerful, more efficient, and less expensive than the last. Fuel mileage was nearly equal to a comparably powered piston engine. It was quieter than a piston engine. It had none of the vibration associated with a piston engine-- drivers and passengers would emphatically state that riding in the car gave the sensation of "powerfully coasting." The engineers were ready for the next step.
      In 1963 they built 55 prototype cars with the turbine engine and sent 50 of them out across the country-- to be driven and maintained by average motorists for three months at a time. There were 30,000 applications made by people who wanted to try this amazing car. Nearly everyone who drove it wanted to buy one. The company that made this revolutionary engine very nearly put it into mass production three years later, putting it into a car body that they designed specifically for it. Unfortunately, due to government regulations, and a fear that the public was not ready for the car, (Ralph Nader had just written the book, "Unsafe at any speed"- an "expose' about automotive safety), the turbine engine never made it into mass production.
     The company that made this turbine car kept up development work until 1981, when funding for the project finally stopped. This, in my opinion, is the greatest automotive shame of the twentieth century. If only..... if only.....
     The automaker (Chrysler Corporation) is still around, but the turbine engine (for now) is a memory. If you are a car enthusiast (like me) you know most of this story already. What you may NOT know--- is what model of car was slated to get the turbine engine. The car really did go into production (with a piston engine) and if you are as old as I am, you have seen a lot of them. What you could have seen-- what might have been --was the 1966 Dodge "Turbine" Charger.

As Paul Harvey would say, "And now you know the rest of the story"

Neil

P.S. you can find lots of pictures of the 1963/1964 Chrysler Ghia Turbine
car, and an engineering manual for it at:
http://www.turbinecar.com
It's a real beauty.... even today!