The Bronze Blowtorch: The story of Chrysler's jet-powered car

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Ever heard of the Chrysler Turbine car?! That's right....TURBINE car.

It’s #ThrowbackThursday here at Bustard Chrysler in Waterloo and we wanted to tell you more about Chrysler’s little known foray into Turbine engine development!

Instead of being powered by a traditional internal combustion engine, the Chrysler Turbine car is powered by a gas turbine, similar to the engines in planes and helicopters.

Why a turbine? Turbines have a higher power-to-weight ratio and relatively few moving parts versus an internal combustion engine. Because they have few moving parts, turbine engines are very low maintenance. Turbines can run on almost anything flammable and produce substantial torque. In fact, back in the ‘60s, the president of Mexico cruised around in a Chrysler turbine car powered by tequila. That’s right – tequila!

So how does it work? Basically, pressurized gas spins the turbine and makes the engine go. Heat from burning fuel expands the air and the resultant high speed rush of hot air spins the turbine at a whopping 40, 000 RPM. Once the turbine is running, it is very efficient and reliable. Due to its unique construction, the engine does not require a cooling system, antifreeze, a radiator, bearings, crankshafts, or connecting rods. Besides tequila, Turbine cars can run on pretty much anything flammable – from diesel and kerosene, to peanut oil and perfume!

Chrysler partnered with Ghia in Italy to produce 50 of these “Bronze Blowtorches” to be trialed by 203 drivers in the mid-1960s.  Only nine remain today, some of which belong to private collectors (most notably Jay Leno), and the rest of which are in museums throughout the United States.

So what stopped turbine cars from going into full-scale production? Fuel economy wasn’t a big issue yet, so there wasn’t really a need for a vehicle that ran off alternative fuels. Fuels that the Turbine cars could burn, like kerosene and diesel, weren’t commonly available. Without a strong mechanical support network, it would be difficult to find a mechanic familiar with the service and repair of these unique vehicles. These bronze beauties had a number of issues, requiring expensive equipment to contain the 500 degree exhaust. Sluggish throttle response was inevitable because the engine needed to reach 40, 0000 RPM to produce full power. In addition, the one and a half second lag from first pressing the throttle would certainly be considered dangerous by today’s standards. Split seconds matter when it comes to avoiding an accident!

Overall, the Turbine car was a pretty cool piece of Chrysler history and makes for an interesting story, but it was never going to become a car for the masses. If you want to learn more, check out this episode of Jay Leno's Garage, where Jay shows us his beloved Bronze Blowtorch!
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