The Chrysler Turbine Car and the American Spirit

Insert high-pitched whine here.

We didn’t invent the automobile. Hell, we didn’t invent the turbine either. But in the glory days of American engineering, when we conquered the moon and blew up entire tropical atolls, one country had the tenacity to loan 50 pre-production Chrysler Turbine Cars to the general public – the first turbine cars allowed into private hands. That they didn’t succeed isn’t the point. This is a country where a bunch of white guys with skinny ties and flattops can whip a slide rule around and make a ridiculous – nay, ludicrous car come to fruition and almost, almost succeed. This is America.

Overcoming such obstacles as 1700 F exhaust temperatures, heat exchanger efficiency, and warm-up times, the eggheads at the Pentastar company built a car that you could actually drive on the street without a PhD in thermodynamics. The tiny powerplant produced 100 HP but 425 ft-lbs of torque at 0 RPM, which meant you could liquefy your bias-plys without even using the exhaust gases. It ran on pretty much anything you could drain into the tank, and looked like a spacefaring GTX the distant year of 1992. Plus, the turbine required almost no maintenance, had a fraction of the moving parts of a reciprocating engine, and would last many times longer than a contemporary lump. All this with only good ol’ ‘Merican brainpower, pencils, and sliderules smoking from overuse.

Of course, seeing as how your Grandma’s Town & Country wasn’t moving its bloated mass around with a turbine last time you visited Florida, the promise of the Chrysler Turbine Car was dashed by the simple fact that at idle the damn thing idled at 22,500 RPM, at which point it consumed not a ton less than it did at full throttle. That means that the badass/practical balance was off by too much to be anything other than a neat exercise in the former. But Chrysler had the freedom to try, and freedom is the promise that’s made this country a great place to be a Hoon. USA! USA! has much more on the Turbine Car.

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