With its distinctive Turbine Bronze paint and black vinyl top, Chrysler's Ghia-bodied Turbine Car was a head-turner. To many, its exterior design language echoed that of Ford's Thunderbird. This should come as no surprise given that both were designed by Elwood P. Engel who had moved from Dearborn to Highland Park in 1961 after having designed the 1961-1963 third-generation T-Bird.
On May 15, 1962 Chrysler announced the limited-production build of 55 cars, incuding five prototypes. These would be lent out to 203 drivers for three-month test drives over a period spanning more than two years. Only 46 cars went to the general public. Two were held by Chrysler for marketing and dealer programs while two were stars of the Chrysler pavilion at he the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. According to Chrysler's records, the first was provided to Richard Viaha of Chicago, Illinois, on October 29, 1963 and the last was driven by Patricia Anderson, also of Chicago, who returned her Turbine Car back to Chrysler on January 28, 1966. Over the term of the program the 203 fam-ilies traveled more than 1.1 million miles.
To this day, the Chrysler Turbine Car consumer test drive remains one of the largest such programs ever undertaken by an automotive manufacturer. (It has been estimated that it cost Chrysler $50,000 to build each car owing to the expensive Ghia-sourced bodies. Converted to 2013 dollars, their cost today would be $385,385. And this doesn't factor in the program development costs spanning back to just after the end of the Second World War when gas turbine engines were finding their way into America's first jets.)
While the 1962-1966 Chrysler Ghia Turbine Cars are the best known of the program, starting in 1954, Chrysler installed prototype turbine car engines in a variety of Plymouth and Dodge vehicles. The first was a 1954 Plymouth Sport Coupe which sported a 100-horsepower gas turbine engine and is credited with being the first automotive gas turbine engine that solved two of its most challenging problems--high fuel consumption and scorching exhaust gas. The development of a revolutionary heat exchanger or as it would become known, a regenerator, addressed both issues. It extracted heat from the hot exhaust gases and transferred this energy to air coming into the engine's compressor.
Chrysler's turbine engines were capable of burning almost anything combustible from jet fuel to distilled spirits. But the high levels of lead present in gasoline blends of the mid-fifties was harmful to parts of the engine. Unleaded "white" gasoline was far better suited for use in these early gas turbine engines.
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