Saturday, September 05, 2015

Chrysler's Turbine Car - New York World's Fair

The 1964 New York World's Fair's "Transportation Zone" had three extra-special exhibits - everybody who is cool remembers the amazing "Futurama" at the General Motors pavilion, and Ford's "Magic Skyway" (created by Walt Disney and his Imagineers). But Chrysler had a pavilion too, and it was pretty great! I feel like I could have spent half a day (or more) just at those three pavilions. If you are building a time machine in your garage, please make a note of that.

So what's with the photo of the car? Why, it's is a fabulous TURBINE CAR from Chrysler! No pistons cranking away here; instead there was a turbine turning at 44,500 revolutions per minute. It supposedly sounded like a large vacuum cleaner. According to Wikipedia, 55 units were built between 1962 and 1964, with a body designed by Ghia of Turin, Italy. 

The engine could run on anything from peanut oil to tequila to Chanel No. 5 - just don't put leaded gasoline in it (which would leave damaging deposits). The turbine car ran incredibly smoothly, and was mechanically very reliable - there were rumors that the exhaust was so hot that it would melt asphalt, but that was untrue. The cars had power windows, bucket seats, and a dash lit by electroluminescent panels. Due to their carefully hand-built nature, they would have cost over $380,000 in 2015 dollars! Presumably that cost would have gone way way down if they had ever gone into regular production.

Unfortunately, the turbine car concept never caught on, in spite of the fact that it felt like "tomorrow's transportation - today". Once Chrysler's test program ended, they destroyed 46 of the cars (ouch!). Of the nine remaining cars, six had their engines removed, and the lifeless corpses were donated to museums. Of the three remaining operational examples, one is in a museum, while the other two are in private hands. Jay Leno has one as part of his incredible car collection! I'm sure that after this post goes up, he will call me and invite me to go for a ride. I am sitting by my phone as you read this.

If you are at all interested in the turbine car, I strongly recommend watching an episode of Jay's YouTube show, "Jay Leno's Garage" (I watch lots of his videos); it is all about his personal turbine car! It is informative and entertaining - and really, what more could you want out of life?


I hope you have enjoyed your visit to the Chrysler Pavilion at the New York World's Fair.


Nanook said...


I figured you'd mention one of the three operating vehicles as being a part of Jay Leno's collection. Way back when these images would have been new, I had a scale model of the turbine car. Probably 1/25 scale - about 8" long. It's long gone, now.

Thanks, Major, for sharing these great images predicting what the future of personal transportation might have been.

TokyoMagic! said...

And why aren't we all driving around in turbine cars today? Did the oil companies have something to do with these never catching on? Were they the ones spreading the rumors about melting asphalt? I'm all questions today.

Irene said...

I agree - why didn't these go into production? Just like the Tucker, did the big, bad oil companies put the kabash (don't you love that word?) on it? Yes, Jay should give you a ride. I know I'm going to watch his YouTube video :) Tomorrow's future today really didn't pan out - besides energy efficient cars like these our transportation system should include monorails in more than just a handful of cities.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I can't help wondering who owns the OTHER privately-owned turbine car? All I know is that it isn't me. I've seen those models that you mentioned, and think they are super cool. Do they ever turn up on eBay?

TokyoMagic!, I know, it's like "Tucker: A Man and His Dream"! Speaking of that, I saw an original Tucker car (one of only 47) at a nearby auto museum just a few weeks ago. I do wonder about the dumb stories about the hot exhaust, since it is apparently actually cooler than the exhaust from an internal combustion engine.

Major Pepperidge said...

Irene, ha ha, great minds think alike! I think there were actually a number of reasons; gas mileage was not great, Chrysler started going through some financial difficulties, the turbine engine wasn't as powerful as a big V8, and the manufacture of the turbine cars was very expensive. Plus, the public is wary of anything new or different.

Dean Finder said...

I'd figure that you'd have a hard time selling people on a "turbine" engine. It sounds dangerous. Like the rumors of the exhaust melting pavement, I could imagine people saying that the engine could explode send shrapnel through the air. You'd also have a hard time finding a local mechanic to work on it. Though today, it's difficult for anyone but the dealers to work on any car.
Jay Leno mentions the Wankel rotary engine as another technology that just didn't take off for similar reasons. People tend to stick with the most common technology that does the job.

Tom said...

I love this car! We need to bring this back. Heck with the Prius or the Volt or whatever, we need THIS car back in production. And keep the styling just the way it is. Only make it fly. Or at least have a wifi hotspot built in. Great pics! Thanks for sharing this gem!

Mike said...

My father worked for Chrysler at the time and designed the front grill of the Turbine.

Major Pepperidge said...

Dean Finder, I agree with you, people don’t like change. And it I have to admit that the car DOES sound weird! Still, I love everything about it. You mentioned the Wankel rotary engine… I still remember going to the L.A. Auto Show in the 1970’s, and there was a gigantic (10 feet tall maybe? Bigger? I was a little kid so it looked huge) moving cut-away model of a rotary engine, it was the coolest thing ever. I stared at it for so long that my dad had to drag me away. Also…. Jay just did a recent video featuring some guy’s Mazda RX3 with a Wankel, and that thing seems to have some real power!

Tom, I know, I would absolutely love this car; the coolness factor is beyond measure. Of course it would be way out of my price range, but I can dare to dream.

E Michael Gannon, that is amazing! I would imagine that he must have worked on lots of other great projects as well, but to have been involved in the turbine car… wow.

Anonymous said...

So many great cars at the Worlds Fair. Ford's Mustang, GM's concept cars, Chryslers Turbine. I even saw James Bond 007's Aston Martin from Goldfinger at the Fair.
Dennis Levittown, L.I., NY

Floyd M Riley said...

In 1964, I was ten years old and some family members and I went to the World's Fair in New York. We visited the Chrysler exhibit and this car was on display. Before the demonstration was over, they selected a member from the audience to receive a ride in the car which drove around a track. I don't recall how I was selected, ( by ticket or some other method), but I do remember winning the ride. That was a big deal for a ten year old! I kept the book and accompanying brochures about the car for years!

Floyd M Riley said...

This picture brings back wonderful memories for me. In 1964, I was 10 years old and my sister and I wert on a family excursion to the World's Fair in New York. While there, we visited the Chrysler exhibition and were fortunate enough to observe the presentation related to the turbine automobile. The exhibit included a free ride to select individuals seated in the audience. I do not remember how the lucky persons were chosen, whether by ticket or some other method, but I do know that I was one of the winners! As such, I and a few others, were rewarded by sitting in the rear of the car as it made its trek around the track of the exhibit. It was awesome. All eyes were on us! I kept the related brochures and booklet for many years. They always brought a smile to my face when I would come across them while rummaging through storage boxes.