By on November 22, 2009

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63 Comments on “Sunday Concours: The Destruction Of The Chrysler-Ghia Turbine Cars...”


  • avatar
    npbheights

    Looks like a good way to get rid of all of those leftover Chrysler Sebrings languishing on lots.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    One the same color as the one pictured was driven by a Chryco exec one weekend to my father’s marina. Unfortunately I didn’t get a ride in it but got to see it up close. I thought it looked a lot like the Thunderbird of that era. I still remember the large round exhaust in the center of the rear bumper.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Couldn’t watch the video. It’s a disgrace to destroy machinery like that.

    • 0 avatar
      UnclePete

      Agreed. I couldn’t watch it either.
       
      I remember seeing these at the 1964 Worlds Fair, as well as seeing a couple being driven on Long Island. Very cool car.

    • 0 avatar
      rpol35

      I triple that sentiment, I don’t like it either; that’s what bothered me about “Cash for Clunkers”.

      I went to the ’64 Worlds Fair when Iwas a kid and we actually encountered one of these cars driving the streets of Manhattan. I remember my father, an engineer, trying to explain to me how it was different from a conventionally powered car.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Ditto. I hate to see that kind of thing. Same with C4C. I visited a boneyard a few weeks ago, and couldn’t believe the vehicles that were scrapped! 

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      A damned shame.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    Ouch.  Previous to this I had only see the 30 second or so clip that has been posted everywhere else for a long time.

    I have to think the yard where that was done is now an environmental nightmare.  It looks like their method of draining the fuel from these cars was to tilt them sideways on the forklift with the fuel filler opening positioned more or less above a drum.  I think some of the fuel may have actually gone in the drum.  With that approach to safety, and torches being used everywhere to cut things out of the cars, it’s surprising that only one of them caught fire in the yard.   Or perhaps more of them did off-camera, since it did not seem to be of any concern to the workers.  Eventually someone comes along with a bucket of sand, which has little or no effect as the car is still burning when the camera cuts back to it later.

    The engines were all removed.  Wonder what happened to them.  They were made in Detroit so not subject to the customs duty issue. 

    I don’t think there was a clamor at the time to let people buy the cars as there was with the EV1.  As beautiful as the cars were, the experiment was a failure.  The cars suffered from throttle lag and abysmal city fuel economy, both of which relate to the need to develop very high RPM even at idle which is an inherent aspect of a turbine engine.

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel J. Stern

      The engines were made in Detroit, but the bodies and interiors were made in Italy by Ghia, and it would’ve cost real money to pay the import duties on them. Whether it would’ve been worthwhile is a question with a different answer depending on whether it’s asked of a Chrysler comptroller in 1965 or an enthusiast in 2009.

      More engines from these cars survived than did whole cars. Every now and then a writeup is done about one of the survivor cars, and pictures and descriptions of spare engines are usually included.

      It’s worth noting turbine engine development carried on at Chrysler, and the last turbine engines—made in the mid to late ’70s and installed in otherwise more or less conventional Chrysler vehicles—were said to give better driveability and performance than their strangulation-desmogged piston-engine counterparts.

    • 0 avatar
      starbird80

      The engines were all removed.  Wonder what happened to them.  They were made in Detroit so not subject to the customs duty issue. 

       
      At least some were put on display in automotive museums, sometimes in combination with a Turbine Car, sometimes as a standalone.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike66Chryslers

      Yep, the Turbine on display in the Peterson has a turbine “crate engine” sitting next to it on display.  The museums that received the Turbines were supposed to have their engines disabled by destroying critical parts, and they had to sign waivers stating that they wouldn’t attempt to swap-in the display engines to make the cars driveable again.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The cars suffered from throttle lag and abysmal city fuel economy, both of which relate to the need to develop very high RPM even at idle which is an inherent aspect of a turbine engine.
       
      I’ve wondered if both/either these or the rotary would see new life if partnered with a hybrid/electric powertrain.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    Far more difficult to watch than any C4C engine detonation. Those turbine cars were gorgeous and so far ahead of their time. At least a few survived but geez…

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    Painful to watch-they were really interesting cars.That video is as haunting as the Cat drives over 58 Plymouth scene in ‘Christine’.

  • avatar

    It’s a shame Chrysler didn’t put this car into production with a V-8 engine in place of the turbine in the test cars. Chrysler could have had its own Thunderbird.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    ‘Scuse me while I take a few moments to sob silently.  Even if the turbine engine was a bust, how bout those BEAUTIFUL bodies?

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    Edward, where is your evidence to support your assertion that the cars were destroyed to keep them out of the hands of enthusiasts, and that the (real and documented) import duties Chrysler didn’t want to pay were a “pretense”?

    • 0 avatar
      starbird80

      Possibly from the Wikipedia page [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysler_Turbine_Car], and even there it’s marked ‘citation needed’:
       
      “The story at the time that this was done to avoid an import tariff was incorrect[citation needed]. The destruction of the cars was merely keeping in line with the automobile industry’s practice of not selling non-production or prototype cars to the public. This same issue arose later with the General Motors EV-1.”
       
      I suspect this may be revisionist history.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      I tend to agree with Daniel. As enthusiasts we get all weepy about seeing stuff like this, but to corporations that exist to make a profit, these things are merely assets (or in this case if there were import tariffs to pay, these cars were liabilities) and when the need for them was through they were disposed of in the manner typical for this industry.

      Another thing to consider: I’m not sure what (if any) Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards exisited at the time, but if the vehicles then or now don’t comply with them, then they must be destroyed or relegated to display use only. How many Vipers and Corvettes that were prototypes were detroyed when testing was completed? This is just normal business I’m afraid.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      I suspect there were three things going on here:

      1.  The usual estimate I see is that the turbine cars cost Chrysler $50,000 each to make.  This at a time when a well equipped Imperial would have been about $6500.  So there is no way that Chrysler could have sold the cars off except at a horrific loss and the import duty would have only made that worse.  Yes, that is also what GM said for the EV1, but EV1 development was amortized over about 1000 cars instead of 55, and GM had leased the cars out at a monthly payment from which one could back into a market value.

      2.  Chrysler made absolutely no effort to create a service infrastructure for these cars, unlike EV1′s that could be serviced at many Saturn dealerships in the test market areas.  There were never more than 1 or 2 turbine cars in any given city at the same time, and no dealers were trained to fix them.  If a car broke down, the driver was instructed to call one of a small group of representatives who rode circuit and would have to get parts sent from the factory.

      3.  Chrysler was still working on the concept and did not want any of the cars to get out of their control and be reverse engineered.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    There were no Federal auto regulations, nor were there any technical barriers to the import of any vehicle (just financial ones—taxes and duties) until 1968 when the first Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards took effect.

  • avatar
    NickR

    Head. Desk.  *bang* *bang* *bang*

  • avatar
    pgcooldad

    Did Ralph Nader have something to do with this?

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    The import duty thing is a big deal, and real. You either declare the car as a nominal $1 value and don’t pay duty, and leave yourself open for a lawsuit, or you pay the duty on the real value of the proto, which these days is say a quarter to one million dollars, or you temporarily import it and then either re-export it, or scrap it. Every car company I have worked for has scrapped protos rather than re-export them (after all the original constructor won’t store them, they are just an IP hazard so they’ll scrap them).

    While I agree many important cars do get scrapped, there is no earthly reason in favour of storing many cars, and selling them to punters is frankly ridiculous most of the time. Bets idea would be a museum.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    The really, really sad part is that the interiors of these cars were gorgeous, in bronze-colored leather with perforated inserts. There was also a wonderful turbine theme in the full-length console, which continued into the rear of the car.

    One wonders what would have happened had Chrysler been able to muster the resources to continue turbine development, but many factors seemed to doom it to failure. It would’ve been extremely interesting to see the effect on Chrysler’s profitability from an engine with few moving parts and very little wear…in theory, it may have made for fewer repeat buyers, due to the engine running forever! (Although on the other hand, the bodies and interiors…)

    • 0 avatar
      rpol35

      “One wonders what would have happened had Chrysler been able to muster the resources to continue turbine development, but many factors seemed to doom it to failure. It would’ve been extremely interesting to see the effect on Chrysler’s profitability from an engine with few moving parts and very little wear…in theory, it may have made for fewer repeat buyers, due to the engine running forever! (Although on the other hand, the bodies and interiors…)”
      (+1) BuzzDog, great thought I agree with you; without  experimentation where would we  be? It is sad to think  that based on the premise of  seemingly no “advantage” this technology wouldn’t have ultimately worked. What it could have been…….

      That’s what keeps the search going whether you are Toyota, GM or  even Fiat/Chrysler.

    • 0 avatar
      PeteMoran

      I think we can know how it would work out. You only need to look at the experience with the M1A1 to see; great in theory, but less than ideal in practice.
       
      It’s the sign of a well run engineering company that they can see when to stop. Chrysler, I believe, twice had to stop this program, once for nearly running out of funds and the second time as a condition of government guarantee. Doesn’t strike me as well run.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    It was machine which did not give any advantage then, nor could it now. They deserved to die, horribly.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike66Chryslers

      Spoken with the voice of hindsight, and a complete lack of appreciation for the situation when this project was initiated.  When people look back in 45 years, they will probably say your exact words about the hydrogen powered cars of today.
      Up to the 50s, cars were generally lasting longer than previous generations.  Car companies expected that this trend would continue, and in the future the bodies would long outlast the internal combustion engine.  Turbines were envisioned as a long-lasting, low maintenance replacement for the IC engine.  What they failed to predict was the fuel crunch, and that the buying public would eventually decide that their cars were now lasting long enough, so the emphasis turned to making cars cheaper.
      All of the D3 plus Rover were working on turbine projects that they’d started in the late 1950s.  The fact that Chrysler put 50 turbine-powered cars in the hands of the public shows that they were at the fore-front of this technology.  The only comparable automotive RnD projects of this magnitude that I can think of are the EV1, Honda Clarity, and the Volt (if it ever materializes).

    • 0 avatar
      PeteMoran

      @ Mike66Chryslers
       
      No doubt the various “Atomic Car” projects required “hindsight” to stop them dead too?
       
      When people look back on the hydrogen efforts of today, they will say “Geez, you’d think they’d have learned, after-all the German’s tried for the better part of 25 years to make it work before WW2″. Hindsight indeed, available today.

  • avatar

    That was a gearhead snuff film if there ever was one!

    Destruction of cars by manufacturers has a long history, especially with those that have a purpose other than being for sale to the general public. 

    Years ago, a friend of mine was an assistant on a photo shoot for some soon-to-be-released Chrysler Corporation vehicles.  They got to drive the cars around on day of the shoot, and afterwards drove them directly from the photo studio and back to Chrysler.  The cars had their keys thrown onto the seat, and later on, each and every one was unceremoniously crushed.

    There are all kinds of reasons why cars are destroyed by manufacturers, most having to do with beancounter imperatives and the fact that many such vehicles are not true production cars that meet all specifications and applicable Federal regs. They don’t want the cars or their parts released into the wild and into the salvage circuit. 

    While vehicle destruction is a hideous waste to you and me, the reality is that the individual cars are mere peanuts compared to the millions/billions spent developing a vehicle, not to mention the potential for legal hassles up the road.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    FWIW, although most of the Turbine Car’s styling is usually credited as being pure 1961-1963 Engel ‘Bulletbird’, the rear actually harkens back further than that, to the 1958 Ford ‘La Galaxie’ show car (maybe the front, too, but I can’t find a good photo of it).

    How about a TTAC write-up on the Turbine Car story?

  • avatar

    There is, or at least was the last time I was there, a Chrysler turbine car in the Museum of American History and Technology (I thikn that’s the correct name) on the Mall in DC. These were superb pieces of styling, in my opinion, just gorgeous. Unfortunately for me, when they came out, I was in my phase of worshipping GM and hating Chrysler Corp., so I didn’t allow myself to enjoy them. And yes, it’s practically a crime that these were mostly destroyed.
    @Wheeljack: by your logic, all classic cars should be destroyed. I don’t think so. Prototypes may not be as important as cars that were actually manufactured in quantity, but the turbine car was much more than a prototype.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      That’s not my logic at all. These are prototype cars that by all accounts were subject to a serious import duty. The company clearly couldn’t justify (from a cost perspective) saving them all, but they did save some for future generations to enjoy and appreciate. What else would you have them do?

  • avatar

    Rumor has it one of these is sitting in the garage of a funky old house in Eugene

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      Is it a daily driver? Sounds like a ‘Curbside Classic’ candidate, to me.

      On a related note, I remember reading that article in Mopar Action years ago which is referred to in the Wikipedia article on one of the running, drivable cars (maybe the only one) that’s in a private owner’s hands. It was quite interesting, to say the least, and one of the most noteworthy aspects were the Chrysler engineers who were extremely helpful in assisting in keeping the thing running.

      I mean, keeping any prototype vehicle roadworthy is hard enough, but imagine trying to keep one going that has a completely experimental, one-off drivetrain, as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      You’re pulling my leg!

    • 0 avatar
      PeteMoran

      @ PN, looks like the ultimate challenge to me. You’re up for it.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    A man who lived across the street had one of those for a while. I think they were leased out on 3 month leases.

  • avatar
    NoChryslers

    This is heartbreaking to watch.   It’s hard to sympathize with them when they have behaved like vermin in the past.
     
    I tried to post earlier, but I wasn’t allowed for some reason.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Somewhere there is a video of the pre-pro GTRs being crushed.
    Normal correct business practice.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Car companies scrap experimental models all the time and they scrap pre-production vehicles all the time. I highly doubt that this scrapping was driven primarily by tax avoidance concerns. Chrysler flushed a huge amount of money down the drain with the long, but unproductive, turbine development program. Supposedly Chrysler did keep nine of the vehicles, but chose to scrap the rest. Somehow I doubt that the others would have survived even without a duty issue, assuming that issue is real.
     

  • avatar
    denvertsxer

    Was excited to see one of these up-close and in-person at the Denver auto show (such as it is) last winter. Beautiful car.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    When these cars came out, Jo-han issued a special 1/24th scale plastic model car, with the bronze color molded in.  The kits were incredibly detailed, with even the exhaust ducts being separate parts.  Seems to me the suspension even works.  Jo-han has reissued the kit occasionally over the years, and there are simpler versions, but the unassembled one I have had stored away since I was a teenager is the original edition.  Chrysler itself put out a smaller, fully assembled and crude model of the Turbine Car also.

    There were also some fancy color brochures issued for the Turbine Car.  Odd for something that apparently was not intended for production, but not odd in the sense of a program that stirred up a lot of buzz for Chrysler.  I also have one of the brochures, and there are always some for sale on eBay.

    And on the subject of such things, didn’t GM make a Turbine Truck?  A full-scale streamlined semi that was powered with a turbine.  With styling soon adopted for the GM motorhome.  Or am I imagining this?

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    I think GM did make a turbine truck, but am not sure.  Ford for sure made a cab-over turbine truck prototype; one of the buildings at the Ford Research & Engineering complex in Dearborn is (still? was?) referred to as the Gas Turbine Lab. Building.
    There are two of these cars in private hands 1) sold by a museum which was closing (contrary to the agreement signed with Chrysler when the museum “loaned” the car to them), Chrysler let the infraction slide (Lutz even gave the buyer the key component necessary to make the car drivable), and 2) was purchased by Jay Leno directly from Chrysler last year.  (Somewhere else on this web-site I’ve written some of the details of this.)
    FMVSS came into force in September 1967 for the ’68MY, and thus the Turbine Cars predated this by a good 1/2 decade.
    The M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank was developed by Chrysler Defense (before the division was sold to Gen. Dynamics), the turbine propulsion unit, however, was developed by Lycoming.
    My friend, one of the original Turbine Car engineers, has a Jo-Han model in his garage (in a 1/2 assembled state – brandloyalty is right, the exhaust is separate part, and the suspension is functional…)

    • 0 avatar
      Mike66Chryslers

      GM made a prototype turbine-powered transport truck.  Ford put a turbine truck into production briefly.  However one of their component suppliers’ factories burned down, and Ford couldn’t find an alternate supplier for the critical part that they made, so they canceled production.

  • avatar
    Nutsaboutcars

    It is sensless and idiotic to destroy rare cars like this one. Why the hell didn’t these morons auction them and make some desperately needed $ in the process?

    • 0 avatar
      Mike66Chryslers

      I’ve read that Chrysler offered to give the cars to museums that would be willing to pay the outstanding import duties, but not many were interested.  Chrysler kept 4 for themselves, and 6 went to museums/collectors.  Chrysler later used one of their Turbines in a high-speed crash test (wouldn’t that be interesting footage to see?), leaving them with 3.

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel J. Stern

      Huh? It was 1965. Chrysler were doing great. They didn’t “desperatey need” money.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    There WERE advantages to the gas turbine. 

    80% fewer parts meant increased potential for reliability.

    After only 10 years of development (against 70 for the I.C. engine at the time), non-city MPG’s were equivalent to a V8 of the day, city mileage was worse (until the 1970′s technology made I.C.’s worse and turbines better, so equivalent).

    Emissions for the Chrysler turbine car were clean enough to have passed the original 1974 emissions standards, if I recall correctly; the Rover turbine (which really truly nearly went into production in 1963-1964) was cleaner yet, and could have passed the original US 1975 emission standards (which were delayed until 1978 if memory serves me correctly). 

    I also recall reading that any combustible liquid could be used for fuel.  Butanol, ethanol, vegetable oil, diesel fuel, heating oil, unleaded gasoline/white gas, Chanel #5 or Tequila!   Also recall reading that MPG’s were 10% better on diesel or heating oil than they were on white gas (unleaded gasoline).  Lead, common in the fuels of the day, had an undesirable affect on the turbine blades so it was only meant to be used in an emergency.  

    A turbine combined with a hydraulic hybrid system would make an awful lot of sense, to be honest.  Didn’t I see someone mention that here at TTAC some while ago? 

    • 0 avatar
      PeteMoran

      @ Mr Carpenter
       
      Turbine cars are a dead end because, at car sizes; fuel economy is terrible, power density is low, emissions are very high and the noise is unbearable. Plus the gearset is extremely heavy.
       
      The M1A1 tank tells you all you need to know about how “successful” a turbine based vehicle is. Even when you have a very large machine and you can vary the size/type of turbine you want, you end up with poor fuel economy (a real problem for a tank actually) and a high temperature signature. The US Army are retrofitting an engine ~40% more efficient (mostly low power setting improvements) after 30 years of development.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      The question of using a turbine in a Volt-type series hybrid car has been floated before.  It would allow the engine to run at constant rpm for max efficiency, but you would still have the noise and heat problems.  Having to get rid of more heat is a particularly poor idea in a car chock full of hi-tech batteries.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Jay Leno has/owns one of these and drives it occasionally. 

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSBpd1GFUP0&feature=related

  • avatar
    pgcooldad

    Let us keep in mind that those cars were not “rare”, a “classic” or anything else at that time. It was an “experiment” and as posted by Mike66, they did keep several and send other to museums and collectors.

    Do any of you keep every single thing that comes across in your life? No, we keep a few of the things that are most important. No one should be upset or surprised here. Think of alllllll the experimental vehicles from alllllll the automakers throughout the world and name me the one that has kept every single one they built.

    On the other hand, those old time junk yards were a REAL environmental diZaster, with a capital Z.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Bah, the Nucleon was a better car.

  • avatar
    Nutsaboutcars

    Regardless of all the various comments and explanations and excuses for what Chrysler did, it would be much better if it auctioned these cars for at least their scrap value, instead of paying people and wasting energy and polluting the ecosystem in order to mindlessly  destroy them.

  • avatar
    AccAzda

    Man…
    I know its not logical for me to being almost crying about the destruction of a concept car.. (isnt that what museums are for)?

    But thats just awful.

    This is like watching the videos about cat and dog abuse in China.. and how they do horrible things to them.

    P.S..
    In my diecast car collection.. I still have one they didnt crush.


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