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The Jet Set

During the height of the space race, Chrysler built a car with a turbine engine—and then they had to destroy it.

4:35 PM, Sep 27, 2010 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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In this past weekend's Wall Street Journal, Patrick Cooke has a fascinating review of Chrysler's Turbine Car. Yes, the automotive giant once managed to install a jet engine under a vehicle's hood. The performance results were off the charts:

As [author Steve Lehto] notes, "the cars ran on any flammable liquid. Not just gasoline but diesel, kerosene, jet fuel, peanut oil, alcohol, tequila, perfume, and many other substances fueled [designer George Huebner's] turbine cars at one time or another." (The joke went that if a driver ever ran out of fuel he could always dash into a drugstore for a bottle of aftershave.) Turbines weighed less than piston engines, had fewer moving parts and were easy to work on. What's more, they never needed a tuneup or an oil change and could cruise all day at 100 miles per hour.... By the fourth generation Huebner's engineers found that their turbine car engine could run an amazing 5,000 hours in tests, compared with 3,000 hours for a normal piston engine.

Not only that, but "the engine now ran so smoothly that one retired turbine engineer tells the author that a nickel could be placed on its edge, standing on the engine, 'and the nickel would stay there.' The engine, he said, 'was virtually vibration free.'"

The company selected 203 test drivers out of 30,000 applicants. And needless to say, the feedback was enormously positive—one driver even sent back a blank check. (The experience of merely starting the car is likened to the start sequence on a rocket ship.) But the car never took off for a variety of reasons, including the OPEC oil embargo of 1973. In the end, to prevent competitors from getting hold of this car-turbine technology, Chrysler ordered the remaining models destroyed (although a few survived—one of which is owned by Jay Leno).

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