1950s and 1960s Chrysler Turbine Concept Cars

Chrysler Turbine Car
One of the two 1962 Dodge Darts with a turbine engine showed marked mileage improvements over Chrysler's 1950s gas turbine experiments.
One of the two 1962 Dodge Darts with a turbine engine showed marked mileage improvements over Chrysler's 1950s gas turbine experiments.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The Chrysler Turbine Car of the 1960s had been in development since the 1950s, when Chrysler went through three versions of turbine engines.

The third such engine, the CR2A, was fitted to a quartet of 1962-model hardtop coupes -- two Dodge Darts and a pair of Plymouth Furys -- that preceded the Turbine Car. One of the Turbo Darts, as they were called, traveled from New York to Los Angeles on a durability run scoring better fuel economy than the piston-powered "control" car traveling with it and taking less time than the 1956 Turbine Special.

The 1962 turbines were also shown at various Dodge and Chrysler-Plymouth dealers, and even went to Europe for track demonstrations at Montlhery in France and Silverstone in England. Buoyed by the uniformly favorable reaction to all this, Chrysler decided to build 50 turbine-powered passenger cars for consumer evaluation.

The result was the now-famous bronze hardtop, unveiled in May 1963. It was designed expressly for the consumer program by Elwood Engel, who had replaced Virgil Exner as head of Chrysler Styling two years before.

Engel had come over from Ford after working on the 1961-63 Thunderbird, and his work on that car was clearly evident here. In fact, the resemblance was so strong that some referred to the Turbine Car as the "Engelbird."

Of course, there were many differences even apart from the powerplant. At 110 inches, Turbine Car wheelbase was three inches trimmer than the T-Bird's, and styling was unique at each end. The front was simple, if unfortunately blunt, but the back was wild, with deep "boomerang" cavities holding large, angled taillights astride backup lamps in big "turbine-styled" housings.

Headlamp bezels and wheel-cover centers had a similar rotary-blade motif. All the "consumer cars" wore a black vinyl roof covering to contrast with the "Turbine bronze" paint.

Test driver George Stecher with one of the famous bronze 1963 Turbine Cars and the turbine engines Chrysler had developed to that point.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Interiors were also done in bronze, and offered seating for four on individual vinyl-covered seats, plus a full-length cylindrically shaped center console. Other amenities included power steering, brakes, and windows, plus modified TorqueFlite automatic transmission, radio, air conditioning, and appropriate instruments like tachometer and turbine-inlet temperature gauge.

Under the hood sat Chrysler's latest fourth-generation gas turbine, designated A-831. Its chief innovations were constantly variable first-stage turbine vanes, again controlled by throttle position, and twin regenerators rotating in vertical planes, one on each side of a central burner.

Smaller and lighter than the CR2A, the A-831 was also quieter and more responsive, with throttle lag reduced to 1.0-1.5 seconds. Maximum-output engine speed after gear reduction was 4680 rpm, versus the CR2A's 5360. Horsepower was down 10, to 130, but torque went from 375 to a mighty 425 pounds-feet.

In other respects, the Turbine Car was utterly conventional, though its TorqueFlite automatic had no torque converter (it wasn't needed), and there was "Unibody" construction per Chrysler practice.

Because of the small number involved, the 50 "production" Turbine Cars plus the five prototypes (three of which differed in roof/paint schemes) were contracted to Ghia in Italy, which could build them for less money than Chrysler.

Go to the next page for more on how the Chrysler Turbine cars performed.

For more on concept cars and the production models they forecast, check out: