Death of Chrysler’s turbine powered car. Auto industry/EPA conspiracy?

While we read of electric and hybrid vehicles today how many of us remember the Chrysler Turbine powered car that, in addition to regular gas, could run on any fuel from diesel, kerosene, vegetable oil, JP-4 jet fuel to perfume and tequila?

Did the oil industry and our federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, stifle mass production of this early answer to our ongoing dependence on traditional crude oil?  Had Chrysler engineers, after nine years of R&D along with an investment exceeding $100 million corporate research dollars, solved the NOx challenge in their sixth or seventh generation turbine engine?

Before giving a history of the automotive turbine engine let me address the prior arguments regarding this power plant for blog discussion purposes.

At that time, and early product generation, there was a huge concern about the environment such as smog in the LA basin. The one problem with that early vintage turbine engine is that it generated excessive nitrogen oxides, (NOx). Another pollutant being SO2 that combines with oxygen to form sulfuric acid vapor (H2SO4).

However the story does not end here. Chrysler went on to develop seven generations of the turbine engine including research based on a $6.2 million Grant in 1972 from the EPA for ongoing R&D. One report I have read indicates that “hydro carbon and carbon monoxide emissions met prevailing statutory limits and (Chrysler) attained fuel economy that approached that of comparable piston engines. But by then it was approaching 1979, and lower NOx levels all seemed impossible. Worse, Chrysler was racing toward bankruptcy, and a deep recession was triggering federal program cuts all over.” Other reports state that “a condition of that (U.S. Government loan) was that gas turbine mass production be abandoned because it was too risky.”
Gilbert comment. Too risky to whom?

Further research includes statements that the 66 Dodge Charger and Dodge Coronet met the NOx regulations. In fact as late as 1977 Chrysler was promoting the Chrysler LeBaron Turbine.
Gilbert comment. What a difference a president makes. At that time, in the president Carter years, the recession was triggering “federal program cuts” while president Obama is taking us in the opposite direction with many new programs on his Agenda.

As stated above, our concern relating to being over a barrel regarding imported oil is not a new story. Ten years before OPEC’s Oct 1973 oil embargo, Chrysler Corporation had a product in their development that would enable us to become less dependent on imported crude. It was the Chrysler Turbine concept car of which 55 were built.  To test this revolutionary automobile, a two year trial was conducted in which 50 of the cars were given on no-cost loans to “users (for three months) based on geographic location and demographics that would expose the cars to the biggest audience.” Before the program ended over 200 families had the opportunity to participate in this product testing where they logged over one million miles driving these 1962, 2 door hardtop, Dodge vehicles. One documented test drive was conducted by Chrysler Research Director George Huebner, Jr. who drove one of these vehicles from New York’s Central Park in Manhattan traveling coast to coast to California. This four and a half day road trip took him into areas of the country where the temperature ranged from 17 below zero to 80 degrees F.

The air cooled turbine engine does not require any tune-ups, anti freeze nor oil changes and only had one spark plug. It had a fifth as many moving parts as a typical piston engine, was getting 17 MPG, and could go from 0-60 MPH in 12 seconds.
One major demonstration of its performance was witnessed by 250,000 racing car fans at the “Brick Yard” during the 1967 INDY 500 race. Parnelli Jones, driving Andy Granatelli’s Pratt & Whitney turbine powered entry, led the entire 500 mile race until breaking a transmission bearing three and a half laps from the finish line. He finished that race in 6th position behind A. J. Foyt.
In our March 6th discussion of his experience with the turbine engine INDY driver Parnelli Jones told us that “I didn’t know that the car would perform as well as it did. It handled like a dream.”

Let’s take a look at all the conspiracy theory comments on the death of the Chrysler turbine engine. In fact, at one time GM and Ford also invested into this technology.

Let’s begin with the aftermarket which is the industry’s biggest profit generator. Keep in mind that this engine requires no points, distributor, tune-ups or oil changes. It uses 1/5th the number of moving parts found in the conventional piston engine.
As stated above this engine will run on a variety of fuels, not just gasoline.
Some have stated that “certain high-ranking government officials, key oil companies and the automobile manufacturers are indeed closely related—as someone has said, they are cozy companions.”
I read another comment that “since gasoline is taxed, the more gasoline burned—the more dollars flow into government coffers.”

In closing. As we are constantly looking for ways to reducing our consumption of imported crude oil, and wish to see our auto industry survive, why isn’t the government opening their “cold case” files on the turbine engine to see if in fact the last generation engine developed by Chrysler engineers can be modified to comply with our latest Air Quality Standards?

About Larry Gilbert