A History Lesson for Students in Mechanic Programs: Why the Revolutionary Chrysler Turbine Failed

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The Chrysler Turbine took inspiration from jet engines

Have you ever wondered what it might be like if cars were powered by the same technology as jet engines? Well, it did happen. In 1963, Chrysler released 50 prototypes of a car equipped with a turbine engine. This car, known as the Chrysler Turbine, was released to the public for a two-year evaluation period. During this time, families in the United States got to test and cruise around in cars that sounded like airplanes.

The Turbine was truly revolutionary for its age. In comparison to piston engines, the turbine engine under the then-futuristic vehicle’s hood was smaller, lighter, more reliable, generated fewer vibrations, and was made of fewer parts. Unfortunately, it never managed to take off into mass production. Why? Keep reading to find out!

Chrysler’s Turbine Engines Went Through Seven Generations of Improvements

By the time Chrysler released the Turbine, the engine inside of it was already on its fourth generation. The entire project started almost two decades earlier in 1945 when engineers at Chrysler initially began toying with the idea of putting a jet engine in a car. 1953 then saw the launch of the very first turbine powered car, and Chrysler performed an experimental drive from New York City to Los Angeles with a turbine-powered Plymouth in 1956.

The tested Chrysler Turbine—which finally made it onto roads, albeit in a limited capacity—pioneered the impressive technology, which the company proudly demonstrated to consumers. You can hear and see it for yourself in this short clip Chrysler created at the time:

All in all, Chrysler developed a total of seven generations of the turbine engine over the course of a quarter century. After the Turbine’s evaluation period, the main aims with the following three generations were to increase fuel efficiency and improve production costs.

Things looked promising. The car could run on any flammable substance—including Chanel no. 5—and its performance specs were comparable to V8 engines of the time. However, failure to find sufficient solutions to prominent concerns prevented the vehicle from ever reaching the mass market.

Mass Production of the Turbine Did Not Seem Financially Viable

One of the biggest problems Chrysler faced with regards to its turbine engines was their incredibly high cost of production. Professionals with careers in the auto industry may know that unusual manufacturing processes can drive up the costs of cars. Because specialized processes are required to build turbine engines, this presented a big obstacle. It would have cost too much for Chrysler to build a specialized factory, and building engines by hand would have meant that a Chrysler Turbine would cost around $16,000 whereas standard V8 engines were going for $5,000. Given these figures, Chrysler had reason to question the financial viability of mass production.

Pros in Automotive Careers Know Bad Fuel Efficiency and Emissions Don’t Bode Well

Besides their high price tag, Chrysler’s turbine-powered cars also had a number of other problems that made the company hesitant to leap into mass production. A big problem that testers of the Turbine brought up was that of fuel consumption. Any engine turning at a high number of revolutions per minute consumes a lot of fuel, and the Turbine turned at 22,000 rpm while idling. This meant the engine was particularly inefficient. It was also a problem that couldn’t easily be fixed.

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The Turbine consumed a lot of fuel

Additionally, Chrysler’s turbine engines also produced a high output of polluting nitrogen oxides, which regulatory agencies didn’t like. Moreover, drivers of the Turbine had also noted a lack of instantaneous response upon application of the throttle. All of these reasons left Chrysler in a tough position. These reasons helped contribute to the fact that grads of a mechanic program don’t see turbine-powered cars on the road today.

Conditions Tied to a Loan From the Government Finally Shut Down the Project

Even with all of these challenges, Chrysler did want to persist in the end, announcing ambitions to release a turbine-powered New Yorker in 1981. However, the project was shut down due to a governmental decision in 1979. At the time, the company was in a shaky financial position. It had invested a lot of money into developing and perfecting its turbine engines, and it was in need of a loan from the government. The loan was granted, but under the condition that Chrysler would stop its turbine program. That final decision put an end to Chrysler’s turbine-powered cars.

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