The Last Interesting Chrysler Had a Gas Turbine Engine

The piston engine has been the king of the transportation industry for well over a century now. It has been manufactured so much that it has become a sort of general-purpose machine that can be used to do quite a bit more than merely move people and cargo from one point to another. Running generators, hydraulic systems, pumps, and heavy machinery are but a few examples of that.

Scale production of this technology also had the effect of driving prices for these engines down, and now virtually everyone in the developed world has cheap and easy access to them. In the transportation world, at least, it looks like its reign might finally be coming to a slow, drawn-out conclusion as electric cars capture more and more market share.

Electric motors aren’t the first technology to try to topple the piston engine from its apex position on top of our modern transportation industry, though. In the 1960s another technology, the gas turbine engine, tried to replace it — and failed.

Gas turbines are a type of internal combustion engine, but rather than using pistons to turn linear motion into rotational motion, the gas turbine compresses an air/fuel mixture, burns it, and uses the pressure created to drive a turbine. The turbine can be connected to anything in a similar way that a piston engine can. In fact, a mechanical connection to the turbine isn’t even necessary, such as with jet engines that simply use the pressure created by burning the fuel to produce thrust. With such versatility, it wasn’t too long before someone put one in a car and attempted to market it.

The fact that a gas turbine was put into a car isn’t altogether surprising. There have been jet engine-powered Volkswagens for making one’s PhD relevant, gas turbine motorcycles for breaking the land speed record, and even pulse jet engine go-karts built out of little more than scrap metal and hope. In the late 50s and early 60s, too, there was a little bit of a jet engine craze going on because turbines were seen as the technology of the future. All of that aside, what is really surprising is that a major car company, Chrysler, thought there was enough going for the gas turbine engine that it could build a car with one and that people might actually buy it.

Chrysler had the car styled by Ghia in Italy, and it shows.
By CZmarlin — Christopher Ziemnowicz, October 1999, via Wikimedia Commons

Chrysler engineers couldn’t simply “bolt on” a turbine engine, though. For production cars, many issues had to be resolved such as emissions (even in the mid-20th century there were at least some standards), heating, cooling, and noise reduction. It took almost three decades to get the first prototype working, but after a series of tests and finally a trip from New York to Los Angeles in a later prototype vehicle, Chrysler started investing more heavily in the technology and began work on what would eventually be the only production car ever to run on a gas turbine engine.

While it might seem counter-intuitive to try such a radical new design when the piston engine had been thoroughly proven, gas turbines have a number of advantages over their reciprocating cousins. First, the parts count is lower, and the number of moving parts is even lower than that. Furthermore, the size and weight for engines of comparable power is much lower for gas turbines. They also have the advantage of being able to run on virtually any combustible liquid (Chrysler demonstrated their turbine car by running it on perfume at one event and on tequila at another). Additionally, at sustained high speeds they are extremely efficient. On the other hand, though, the high idle speed, poor throttle response, and pitiful efficiency at varying low speeds is a difficult challenge for these engines to overcome. And, in the early 60s gasoline was so cheap that the ability to burn unconventional fuels wasn’t a concern for most people.

Despite the challenges, Chrysler eventually built 50 production turbine cars. After realizing that the market wasn’t quite where it needed to be to deal with the engine’s shortcomings, Chrysler had almost all of the cars destroyed. Only a handful remain in existence today, and while most are in museums there are two working cars that are privately owned. While many speculate on the reasons that the turbine program was scrapped, the likely culprit was the financial trouble that Chrysler got themselves into in the late 60s. As a company, Chrysler has been limping along through bankruptcies, buyouts, and their own corporate inertia since this car was produced, which is a shame for how much innovation they showed when they had the money.

Turbine cars never took off because many of the advantages they showed weren’t applicable half a century ago, while almost all of the benefits of those cars are things that buyers look for today. Reliability, ability to burn alternative fuels, and efficiency. Ironically, all of these are benefits that electric cars have, and people are buying those in greater and greater numbers now. Perhaps turbine cars would be more accepted today if electric cars hadn’t been able to meet these needs.

Technology aside, the failure of the gas turbine engine to replace reciprocating engines in motor vehicles was more a function of economics and politics of the time than of actual usability. Now that these concerns are relevant again we’re seeing just how precarious of a position the reciprocating piston engine has been in all along. Even the gas turbine wasn’t the only internal combustion engine to try to shake up the market. The reciprocating piston engine’s low efficiency, high parts count and complexity, difficulty of performing major repairs, and the rising cost of fuel worldwide almost made its decline guaranteed at some point or another. While the gas turbine wasn’t ultimately the technology to replace pistons, it was a notable achievement that one was ever produced in a motor vehicle at all, let alone as early as the 1960s.

137 thoughts on “The Last Interesting Chrysler Had a Gas Turbine Engine

    1. Sounds like the original configuration for Neil Young’s Lincvolt, a ’59 Lincoln Continental. Built by a *very* talented shade-tree engineer in El Dorado, KS for him. I believe it got converted to a diesel engined generator, with a very nice on-board power controller to coordinate the battery levels, fuel levels, and performance requirements needed at every moment. Lincvolt.com is an interesting site, but it hasn’t been updated since 2012.

    2. I’ve been thinking about getting a simple model aircraft turbine, strapping a 2nd shaft with prop (or even hot half of a car turbo) to the end of it, and seeing how much torque’n’rpm I can get out of it, and seeing if I can run a small generator to it. if there is enough power/energy, get it to charge a DIY EV..

    3. Not really, any more. They used to but nowadays piston engines are way more efficient than they used to be and turbine engines only really win when power/weight is important or horsepower is >1000. The M1 Abrahms has a 1500 horsepower engine and it’s less efficient than diesel engines in other tanks (although it’s not a hybrid). It has 500 gallons of fuel compared to the 317 in the Leopard 2 and 265 miles of range compared to the Leopard 2’s 340. It’s got about half the mpg just cruising on a road.

      It’s really hard to get a small jet engine to the required RPM for good efficiency. A jet half the size has to spin twice as fast to get the same pressure as a bigger engine.

    4. Modern Railroad Locomotives are a diesel driving a generator which provides the motive power through electric motors at the wheels. Hasn’t seemed to scale to automotive use yet, but perhaps soon.

  1. Turbines lose a lot of their mechanical advantage when trying to direct drive the drivetrain. However, back in the late 70’s some guy built a hybrid turbine electric car, which was written up in Popular Science. In this case the car was basically an EV (he used a B-52 starter motor) with the turbine driving a generator.

    The nice thing about using a turbine is you can add afterburners if you want to dust plebeians in their Ferrari’s

    1. That’s exactly what trains had been doing for years. In a vehicle, a constant speed of the engine running at its most efficient rpm charging batteries eliminates the inefficiency of all of the stop and go driving most of us do. Trains use diesel engines to run electric motors and I have been wondering for years why cars have not done this. Otherwise, electric vehicles will fail due to limited range and, if everyone plugged them in after work, the grid would collapse. This way, the electricity is being generated locally and on demand using available fuels.

        1. The Volt is a series hybrid, but it has a sort of “emergency backup” mechanism to transfer mechanical energy from the ICE to the wheels without converting it to electricity first. It only gets used rather infrequently (I think we made it do that once when going up the Grapevine with zero battery – this before I learned about the “Mountain” mode), but it is there.

      1. Look at how the E-CVT from Toyota (used on Priuses) works and the issues they tried to overcome when designing it. It will answer your question:

        If you are using a combustion engine to power the vehicle, it’s still more efficient to use the mechanical energy directly to power the drive train than to convert that mechanical energy into electrical and then back into mechanical again..
        Toyota’s E-CVT is basically a differential gearbox with the drive train, electric motor/generator and combustion engines in each end. Basically the engine when on is always run at is most efficient RPM and any extra rotational energy is absorbed by the electric motor to charge the battery. Conversely, if the engine doesn’t have enough RPM to drive your car to speed, the electric motor will compensate. So simple but yet so well thought…..

        1. Electric motors and generators can have efficiency up around 95%. If you consider things like friction on the driveshaft, gearbox, etc, I’d bet it’d be hard to tell the difference. Or else electrics would come out better. And as you mention, electric transmission means the engine can run at it’s ideal RPM all the time, which makes a huge difference for efficiency.

          As powerful electric motors are manufactured in greater numbers for cars, it might be that manufacturers start using electric transmission even in traditional ICE cars. Although possibly they’d stick in a small battery to call it a hybrid, get regenerative braking and the other efficiency advantages. You could use the battery for stop-start journeys, and to run the car til the engine warms up to runny-oil temperature, since so much damage is done to engines through cold starts. I think pure ICE-mobiles are on their way out.

          1. You totally missed the point.

            It doesn’t matter if generators or electric motors are 95% efficient. Converting rotational energy into electric and then back to rotational is going to ALWAYS be more inefficient than using the rotational energy directly, because .. You know, the laws of thermodynamics. In this particular case it isn’t just the electric motor and the generator that account for most conversion losses, it’s the AC/DC inverter and the battery itself.

            Toyota’s hybrid does it well because it uses rotational energy directly to power the drivetain while trying to keep the engine always running at its most efficient RPM. Excess “rotational energy” that isn’t used by the drive train is used to charge the battery. Conversely, if you require more rotational energy from the combustion energy than it provides at its most efficient RPM, then the electric motor comes to help.

            Its also worth to mention that this engine setup doesn’t need a clutch, because the electric motor can get everything to move until it revs enough for the combustion engine to continue. It doesn’t need to be said but clutches are VERY inneficient..

          2. The idea is as old as cars. I shamelessly stoles below info::

            The Owen Magnetic’s technological leap was its electromagnetic transmission. Invented by the wonderfully named Justus B. Entz, an electrical engineer from New York who once worked with Thomas Edison, the electromagnetic transmission compactly housed both a 24-volt generator and an electric traction motor. The crankshaft of a 75-hp gas engine was attached to the generator, which sent juice to the traction motor, which in turn powered the rear wheels. There was no mechanical connection between the engine and the drivetrain.

          3. @MrX
            I agree that doing a double conversion will be less efficient, until you start to put other things in the way – like a gearbox, differential, and since most people can’t drive manuals these days, a torque converter. An ICE driving a generator, with wheel hub motors must (?) come out more efficient than a full drivetrain.

            And I disagree with you about a clutch. The time spent clutch slipping is exceedingly small. When engaged it is 100% efficient (everything going in goes out), and when disengaged, it is admittedly 100% lossy, but at that time your not pushing the input to its’ full capacity (would you put your foot on the clutch without taking your other foot off the accelerator?)

      2. One thing that locomotives require that cars don’t is weight. Not only is weight not a penalty, in a locomotive it’s an asset, so a very heavy motor-generator/battery-motor system is not an obstacle and neither is fuel storage.

      3. “electric vehicles will fail due to limited range and, if everyone plugged them in after work, the grid would collapse”. No. Both parts of that sentence are false. You can buy electric vehicles today with 300+ miles range that can charge in less than an hour. The average person drives less than 50 miles per day. Also, it’s easy to have in-car software that starts charging at midnight, when vastly less demand is on the grid. There’s plenty of electricity available then to charge tens of millions of electric cars.

        One part of this article I’m disappointed with is calling gas turbines “extremely efficient”. 40% efficiency is about as good as they can get without combined cycle technology, which wouldn’t be used in a car. Electric motors are well over 90% efficient, as are lithium batteries.

        1. Electric motors are 10% less efficient than whatever thier power source is, batteries are not 100% efficient so there is a lot of loss there in charging as well, so even with an optimal efficiency power plant… you are back down at a pretty low total system efficiency again relative to the ICE. even if you include fuel transportation…. that doesn’t hurt the ICE too much as combustible fuel is very energy dense.

          1. Don’t forget the heater, which has to be available in cars to defog/defrost windows.

            Combustion engine gives you free heat. Most people don’t realize that cranking the heat up can put out 4-5 kW, which is enough power to drive the damn car. That’s part of the reason why EV mileage halves in cold climates/weather, and why the Norwegians install diesel powered heaters in their state-subsidized Teslas.

          2. Large gas power plants are easily twice or more efficient than tiny ICEs – most combustion heat engines have efficiencies that tend to be proportional to volume. This fact is virtually unavoidable without substantial materials improvement. To confirm this, I went through some numbers.

            To give you an idea, a 32 mpg EPA 2-cycle combined car (on the high end of what you’ll find in a pure ICE) as consumes 3MJ/mile.

            We’ll compare to an average oil-fired power plant that also uses liquid petrocarbons. I’ve got a 37% efficiency figure there. I believe distribution losses on the US grid are around 5%. So per gallon of gasoline, we get 42MJ/gallon. There is some difference in fuel types, but I think it’s negligible for these purposes. Let’s compare to a Tesla – which is arguably a bit unfair, as a Tesla grossly outperforms the equivalent 32 mpg ICE car, though it does have similar range. We’ll look at the Model S *85* series, which has an 85kWh battery pack (306MJ). This consumes 7.3 gallons of oil at the power plant to charge. The EPA 5-cycle range (which results in worse numbers than the 2-cycle test above, in part by turning on heaters and air conditioning) results in a range of 253 miles on ludicrous mode. This puts you at 35 mpg, still better than an everyday ICE mpg, for really the worst case comparison – a Tesla on ludicrous mode, using only one of the least efficient fuels that constitute a small portion of the grid, compared to an everyday sedan.

            In fact, if you look at most academic papers, which have a less unfair comparison – a typical well-to-wheel, which is more relevant from a fossil fuel conservation standpoint, or environmental standpoint, you see typical efficiencies that are double in an average electric car (https://matter2energy.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/wells-to-wheels-electric-car-efficiency/)

            Frankly, it is simply outright incorrect to think that ICEs are inefficient. It is more accurate to say that ICEs are so incredibly inefficient on a small car scale that a modern ICE that has had nearly a century to improve has been easily beaten by only a decade of engineering an electric car.

            Re: comment below – new 5-cycle EPA range estimates include heating and cooling as part of the average. In very cold climates it is certainly the case that there is a strong efficiency bonus for combustion cars. However, the bonus for electric cars is substantially higher than the cold climate bonus for ICEs, as running an air conditioner in an ICE ends up using the lower well-to-wheel efficiency (or really any measure of efficiency) in an ICE

          3. >”32 mpg EPA 2-cycle combined car (on the high end of what you’ll find in a pure ICE) ”

            Poppycock. 32 MPG is low, and it has nothing to do with efficiency of the engine as different cars have different coefficients of drag and rolling resistance, different transmissions, drive in different climates etc. Point in case:
            http://www.fuelly.com/car/volkswagen/golf

            A modern Volkswagen Golf has a typical _real-world_ fuel economy of 41 MPG. Plug that in your calculations.

            >”a range of 253 miles on ludicrous mode”

            That’s not what ludicurous mode is. It’s a launch assist that works only when the battery is at 95+% SoC. It’s not “on” all the time.

          4. Besides all that, there’s renewable energy. So cars can ultimately run on wind and sun. That’s a problem for energy producers now. Before, ICE cars had no way of running on renewables, except perhaps alcohol or biodiesel, which isn’t ideal since plants take a shitload of energy to farm.

            Now that problem’s been taken away, and lumped in with general electricity production. Which gives a great economy of scale among other things, versus having millions of individual fuel-burning engines. We have fewer, gigantic generators, where you can concentrate on adding expensive improvements.

            Hopefully, though, renewables will keep increasing in scale. We can have cheap electricity. Not “free”, since there’s maintenance and setup costs. But without pollution. Manufacturing solar cells takes a lot of heat to refine the silicon, but that comes from an electric heater. You could refine steel for windmills with electricity, in fact probably better than using traditional fuel-burning furnaces.

            It’s all possible, and doesn’t even need any major technological advances. It’s all stuff we have now. And there’s plenty of incentive to make the improvements that are possible.

          5. What goes around, comes around.

            The problem for renewables is the highly variable output, which requires energy storage for daily, weekly, seasonal and year-to-year scales. It’s impossible to store those amounts into batteries, boiling water, hydroelectric plants etc. so it has to be turned into chemicals – synthetic fuels.

            And once you do, there’s no point in burning them up to electricity when you could fuel vehicles directly.

          6. >”Manufacturing solar cells takes a lot of heat to refine the silicon, but that comes from an electric heater.”

            Producing silicon from sand involves a shift reaction where carbon is used to reduce the metal. It’s not merely heat they’re adding – it’s a chemical reaction and the waste product is CO2, and where do you think the carbon comes from?

            Which is ironic.

        2. 1) you can’t charge the 300+ mile EV in an hour at home. It requires 100 kW which is enough to run the whole street.

          2) The grid toppling problem still exists – charging one is like turning on two electric kettles per household, and it takes hours to charge even if you drive only modest amounts. 50 miles is approximately 19 kWh and takes 5-6 hours to charge, so even when you stagger the chargers with timers, there’s still going to be significant overlap.

          The expected electricity consumption of a household is something around 10 – 20 kWh a day, so if everyone in your street had EVs they’d effectively double the energy demand.

          3) the round-trip efficiency of an EV from wall to wheels is about 75% due to charging and other DC-DC conversion losses. Electric motors are not efficient when throttled down, and most EVs have a single-gear design that goes from 0-100 mph by a variable frequency drive, which gets shit for efficiency below 40 mph. Add in transmission losses (~7%) and you’re not far away from a good turbine.

          4) the electricity for your EV comes mostly from fossil fuels anyways.

          1. You have any sources for your claims?

            2) I have a gen 2 Volt which is definitely not the most efficient EV out there due to having a gas engine as well. I easily get around 60 miles of range with its 14 kWh battery (usable cap), would be even more with a non-lead-foot driver. So 19 kWh does not sound right at all. Maybe 10-12 kWh.

            3) Can you define sh1t efficiency? When I look around I see efficiency graphs showing close to 90 percent even in low speeds (10-20 mph). https://www.greenoptimistic.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/ornl-motor-efficiency.gif

            4) Not everyone is charging from the grid and the grid is gradually moving towards renewables

          2. >”You have any sources for your claims?”

            Basic math?

            2) Your Volt doesn’t compare to a 300+ mile EV for one point: battery mass increases with range, and a heavier battery requires a heavier frame, bigger motors, bigger wheels, better brakes… the heavier the car, the higher the energy consumption. The Model S Tesla consumes 380 Wh/mi which gives exactly 19 kWh

            3) You’re misinterpreting the chart. The motor loses power at high RPM. Even though it can rev to 6000 RPM, you have to gear it to reach top speed much further down, say 3500 RPM, or it will never reach it.

            If 3500 RPM is your 100 mph, then going at 25 mph would put you somewhere below 1000 RPM, and looking up the graph to make some power (power is proportional to torque at fixed speed) to accelerate, the efficiency drops into the blue.

            4) most everyone is charging from the grid, since nearly everyone is on the grid. Even people with solar panels charge from the grid because a) they’re using the car by day, b) the sun don’t shine at night, c) net metering subsidies are paid only if the power is sold to the grid, so it’s not economical to charge your EV from your own solar panels.

        3. OK, then why does CA have “Brown outs” and rolling “black outs “because they can not keep up with the demand for electric power right now? So, Having millions and millions of these cars plugged in will not be a problem? You are dreaming. I can buy an electric car with 300+ mile range? Perhaps if I had over $100,000 to spend maybe. Even the new “cheap” Tesla is over $100,000 out the door so…it appears I am right on both counts.

          1. There hasn’t been a blackout like that in years, much less “right now”, despite demand having risen since then. Much of it happened in the early 2000s Because of minor shortages being exploited after deregulation. This is all well documented. California’s problem right now is actually over-capacity.

            Indeed, there are many people in the world that electrics are not appropriate for. There are also hundreds of millions that they would serve perfectly. Just because it isn’t appropriate for YOU doesn’t mean that it isn’t just the right thing for many people.

          2. To Pirate labs (had to login to reply this), took some research but that article is actually from March 19th 2001, not March 19 2017 (notice there’s no year on that article). I had to google a couple of paragraphs which led me to the CNN transcript that references this story (http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0103/19/ip.00.html) verbaitm.

            Doing digging, it looks like there hasn’t been a major issue with rolling blackouts for some time (ref: http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/06/21/another-round-of-rolling-blackouts-thats-old-news-experts-say/) except in rural areas and usually tied to infrastructure upgrades/mistakes (http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-aliso-canyon-blackouts-20160405-story.html). To Tristan’s point, here’s the article on the over abundance of energy. http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-fi-electricity-capacity/

          3. http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/analysis/california-electricity-shortage-issues/

            Umm…this one is from 2016 and, the other one I posted was from this year, which is why they left the year off of the date…that is the way it is done. This one is by the Institute For energy Research talking about the latest power shortage in CA but, maybe you know more than they do? If so, you should tell them to quit wasting their time studying this.

          4. Blackouts, assuming they’re caused by lack of capacity and not economic shenanigans, are quite easily solved by building more power stations. Renewable ones, if we’re trying not to wreck our home planet. If the grid needs more transmission capacity, put some more wires up. Not rocket science.

            The other thing is, with some intelligent management (and the ever-smartening grid), having millions of gigantic batteries attached to the grid can help cope with power shortages. You just use, maybe 10 or 20% of the battery capacity (users could perhaps set it, based on how far they’re planning on driving tomorrow) to buffer grid demand. Contributing users get money knocked off their bill. This would increase efficiency and re-frame the issue in economic terms more than technical ones.

            This could either feed power back into the grid, or just into the owner’s home, reducing their load on the grid. Indeed Tesla are doing exactly this with their power-wall things. Not as part of cars, admittedly. But there’s no reason a smart controller, or a Tesla power wall, couldn’t be made to use an EV’s battery as storage.

            The unbalanced nature of demand over the course of a day is a big problem with electricity generation. We need capacity to cover the peak, but many power stations can’t be turned on and off quickly. So we end up over-generating and wasting power, unable to do anything else. A big chunk of batteries would be great.

            Talking of batteries, I wonder about vanadium flow batteries. They have the advantage that the liquid electrolyte stores all the energy. So by pumping fresh electrolyte into a flat battery, you can recharge it very quickly.

            As far as range, perhaps making cars with only 100 mile, say, range would be better. For the short commutes and shopping trips that make up most journeys. Then if you want to travel to the other side of the world, rent a range-extending battery from a car dealer. It will be full of sensors, so completely capable of grassing the user up if he abuses it. You’d only need a few extenders in stock, most journeys being short.

          5. >”easily solved by building more power stations. Renewable ones”

            Renewable power stations are largely not dispatchable, which is the source of the whole problem – supply not meeting demand. It isn’t rocket science: unfortunately for most it seems to be complete magic where you can just “build more powerplants” or “pull more wires”.

          6. >”having millions of gigantic batteries attached to the grid can help cope with power shortages.”

            The entire US power demand is around 600 GW on average. There are 260 million passenger vehicles. If each has a “gigantic” 100 kWh battery, of which 10 kWh is available for grid balancing, you have 2,600 milllion kWh of energy, divided by two because you need capacity both ways – in and out.

            So, 1,200 million kWh is 1,200 GWh which is two hours of backup, if every single car in the country was electric, and connected to the grid at all times. That’s not very much.

        4. The average person probably drives way less than 50 a day. Is that average car owner? Anyway, that figure does not have much to do with decisions on what car to get. If they plan to visit relatives 600 miles away 4 times a year, or travel on vacations and weekends, range and available charging stations will very likely rule out an EV.

          There is a woman on Youtube who records her weekend trips in her Tesla. She just drives around New York and New Jersey. And it is not easy, even in a region that seems at a glance to be very EV friendly. (Did you know that if you leave your Tesla at a charging station to get a meal, it will charge you an idle fee for every minute beyond full charge. Even at an otherwise empty set of stations?) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PEdBpIZtBo

          1. “less than 50 a day” – so do I, mostly. But I want to use the car also for driving to holidays/vacations. Camping is nice, not every destination is that far, that you have to fly and – big plus – you have your car available at the destination. My current petrol fueled car can do this. I would like to have an EV, but range, performance and costs have to be competitive with my current standard.

          2. The 50 miles is a red herring.

            Most people would prefer to have a vehicle that won’t run out of juice even if they didn’t charge it every night. 1) for unplanned trips/emergencies, 2) for powerouts and glitches, 3) for convenience so you could actually choose when to charge rather than plan your life around when you have to charge.

            The modern EV’s battery is very similiar in proportion to a smartphone – it lasts only 2-3 days in moderate use, or less than a day if you indulge in videos and games, and everyone’s always worried about running out to the point of carrying powerpacks. People would much prefer the battery to last a week or more, so they could relax about it.

            That’s essentially what “range anxiety” is.

        5. Look, I am a big, big fan of EVs. I love them because they’ve got massive low-end torque, they’re quiet and incredibly efficient. But even I see problems down the road (ha ha) as adoption broadens.

          The act of filling a gas tank is an energy transfer of something between 6 and 10 MW (yes, megawatts – do the math). A gas station today has something between 6 and 16 pumps, all of which can dispense simultaneously and often do at busy locations, like on inter-city highways. I’m sure most readers can see where this is going. Unless you’re going to put a Mr. Fusion in the EVSE, I don’t know how it can ever hope to approach the current ICE vehicle throughput. The very fastest EVSEs currently aren’t even a tenth that.

          “Oh, but people will charge at home overnight!” I hear you cry. Yes, they do. While the standard deviation is rather wide (Tesla in-home EVSEs can do 19kW, and some cheap ones will do only 3.3kW), most EVSEs are designed to deliver 7.2 kW (30 or 32A). We had a hot-tub for a while. It drew ~3 kW, and it wasn’t on at full-power for hours at a time. The usual figure of merit for the average US home standby load is 1 kW. The average EVSE is 7 times that and the big boys are 20 times.

          There’s just no way around it: Moving from fossil fuels to electric motive power for our transportation infrastructure will require changes on an epic scale. Those changes will either be to the capabilities of the infrastructure to deliver energy or they will be in downgrading the transportation freedom Americans have taken for granted since Horatio Nelson Jackson’s first cross-country road trip.

      4. There was one prototype diesel turbine electric locomotive built but the efficiency wasn’t there. Weight savings weren’t a factor, or even desirable. It takes a lot of weight to get traction on 16 minuscule contact patches, in order to be able to pull thousands of tons of train.

        What could work in a hybrid car is a microturbine generator. They’re being used in commercial applications as scalable power supplies. The turbines and generators can be turned on and off as load changes. Some of the small turbines are adapted from the technology that has made model jet engines possible.

        1. My comment was about the way diesel-electric trains work…not turbine trains but, what you say is true non the less. My point was that the wide rpm variations of today’s driving could be overcome by a gas generator (possibly a turbine like an aircraft A.P.U.) operating at its most efficient rpm all of the time no matter what the vehicle is doing. No need for large, heavy batteries like electric cars are using…a few banks of super caps could handle the overflow and possibly a small battery to run the electrics when the system is off. That was my point. Evidently I did not make it very clear.

          1. You are still not making your point clear. What is your point, exactly? And, except for the technologies involved, what is the functional difference between a super cap and a battery? Energy storage costs money. Because of weight. Because it takes mass.
            Please take this the right–correct–way: you sound a lot like Elon Musk. Perhaps it’s time to change, or learn. Consider: why you used the aircraft APU’s turbine to try and make your (whatever) point, while totally ignoring the most obvious turbine extant–the aircraft’s very engines–is completely beyond me, and probably everyone else (and, by the way, the APU’s engine is a lot less efficient than those fans under the wings; just thought you’d want to know that).
            Consider that anyone who has to go back and explain something didn’t do a very good job initially.

          2. jawn: I have no idea what the heck you are talking about. If you do not know the differences between supercaps and batteries, I suggest you look them up. There is a huge difference. Here is a hint: Check out internal resistance. I used the diesel-electric train as an example but evidently you misunderstood the point. Maybe you should try reading slower next time? Ha ha. Oh, the reason the jet engines under the wing are more “efficient” is because they are high by-pass turbo fans which are more efficient at propulsion…comparing them with an A.P.U. is apples and oranges sorry.

          3. @Pirate Labs–

            “…I have no idea what the heck you are talking about…”
            “…evidently you misunderstood the point. Maybe you should try reading slower next time? Ha ha…”
            “…Oh, the reason the jet engines under the wing are more “efficient” is because they are high by-pass turbo fans which are more efficient at propulsion…comparing them with an A.P.U. is apples and oranges sorry.”

            I think we all are now in position to sufficiently understand your problems, to wit; you don’t know what anyone whose views differ from yours is talking about; everyone misunderstands your point; you obviously have a massive inferiority complex and fabricate ‘facts’ as you go along in order to justify–you think–your views. As a consequence, we don’t know what you’re talking about for one very simple reason: you don’t.
            By the way, what exactly do you have a degree in? The suffering of pontification is made only slightly less odious if it comes from a source of some small amount of credibility. VERY small…

            “I’m not going to insult your intelligence by suggesting that you believe what you just said.”–Wm F Buckley

            “…Consider that anyone who has to go back and explain something [they said] didn’t do a very good job initially.” And furthermore, has to go back, and back, and back, and…
            sorryhaha

          4. Evidently, from reading your post here, it is obvious I had to go back to try to explain it to YOU, not “everyone” as you claimed. I have been doing engineering and designing for over 35 years so telling me that I don’t know anything is more than just a little stupid. You should probably read a few books and study physics a t least a little before making any more nonsensical postings. Good luck to you.

          5. Obviously, from reading all your posts on this site, your reaction is entirely predictable, by everyone.
            By the way: AGAIN, WHAT EXACTLY IS your degree in? No dissembling this time; no diversions; no deflections. Weaselling works for Elon. You’re not an Elon, not on your very best day.
            Why do you think anyone accepts, out-of-hand, allusions to document falsifications by reputable news oranizations as true, and the changing of occurrence dates by ten years–by you?
            Why is the only organization which you put forth to support your claims, The Institute for Energy Research, described on the internet as a possible ‘”…front organization…”, and definite political organization? [Look them up, folks. It makes for a very entertaining read…].
            Why is everyone else stupid…?

            “I fully understand the honourable gentleman’s desire to speak on…he needs the practice badly”–Winston Churchill

            My congratulations, sir; you have gotten in the last word. I–and indeed we all, I’m certain–yield to your superiority.

          6. Ha ha. What part of: “Good luck to you” did you not understand? No wonder you are having problems understanding posts on this site. I’ll try again: Good luck to you. (Translation: It means, there is no sense trying to explain anything to you as you will just not understand until you get a much better education.)

    2. Because gas turbines are loud, very loud, and very hot.

      And stationary rpm diesel engine will end up being loud, and will vibrate a bit, you cant stuff an engine in a car doing 2.xk RPM and ignore it..

      See the example of the i8.

      And in a car, you dont gain all that much by doing so, a train also uses electric engines, because torque at low rev’s, and gearboxes that could withstand the torque loading.

        1. My understanding is that the electric motors are not geared. Rather, the configuration of the generator windings is altered in various stepwise arrangements to generate differing divisions of volts and amps. The engineer selects the various “notches” as well as controlling the diesel engine’s throttle.

        2. Each one only drives one axle, or even only one wheel, if you had one diesel engine for the 8 axles on a train engine, you would end with a huge mess of trans-axles and gears everywhere to get them all powered up..

  2. Slight distinction — the car wasn’t styled by Ghia; rather, the bodies were built by Ghia. The turbine car styling was overseen by Elwood Engel, who took over as design chief at Chrysler in 1961 after a long stint at Ford. At Ford, he was responsible for the slab-sided ’61 Lincoln Continental and the ’61 Thunderbird — and the latter looks a *lot* like the turbine car.

  3. This makes me wonder why you couldn’t make a hybrid that uses a turbine to run a generator to recharge your batteries, and then just use the batteries to drive the vehicle. The advantages of this is that the turbine does not need to supply the peak needs of the car, so it can be smaller; it could run at a constant high RPM until the battery is charged, and the mechanics get easier because it is not connected to the drive train.

    1. You can, and it has been done.

      The car manufacturers won’t touch it because with all the government subsidies going for electric cars, it would be pointless to try to compete with such a “politically incorrect” solution.

      1. Same thing with hydraulic hybrids where a constant speed engine runs a hydraulic pump to push fluid into one or more tanks that have air bladders, much like pressurized domestic water tanks. The fluid is tapped as needed to run through a hydraulic motor to drive the wheels. They work very well in stop and go driving where the engine has plenty of time to keep the tanks pumped up, and the drive motor can be used for regenerative braking – also pushing fluid back to the pressure tanks.
        They also work pretty good on highway runs that have hills, using the downhill parts to catch up from the uphill parts.

        Circa 1978 one was featured in The Mother Earth News. It had the ability to cruise at 55 MPH continuously with bursts up to 65 MPH, with only an (IIRC) 18 horsepower engine. Good enough for the era of the 55 MPH speed limit. The car was pretty light weight, a VW beetle chassis with a Bradley GT (1st style, not the even slicker 2nd style) kit car body.

        For today, it would have to cruise on flat road at 75 and be able to burst up to 80. Using CAD and 3D sintering to design the hydraulic components for better flow, along with improvements in hydraulic pumps and small engines, it should be possible. The 1978 car was built by college students using all off the shelf equipment.

        1. This kind of hydraulic energy storage suffers from nearly the same thermodynamic losses (heating of gases under compression) as compressed air storage. I don’t think, this is efficient.

          1. It is efficient on short timescales where the heat doesn’t have time to escape. Using the hot compressed gas immediately in a motor cools it down and captures the heat back.

            Storing the compressed gas for long periods of time, more than a few minutes, becomes problematic. Volvo made a gas hybrid prototype where the rear axle runs a hydraulic pump that squeezes a gas bladder, essentially using it as a brake energy capture system, which then drives the same rear axle on acceleration. The insulated tank could hold the energy fairly efficiently for up to 30 minutes.

          2. Also, efficiency improves if your working fluid (gas) can work isothermally.

            For example, if you’re running a hydraulic system, the oil in the system is a large thermal mass that readily exchanges heat with the air you’re compressing in your pressure tank. Compressing the gas heats up your oil, which then heats up the gas on expansion. The oil will be hot from friction anyways, so even if the system loses the compression heat, it will simply grab an equal amount of energy by cooling the oil on expansion.

    2. Here’s your answer: turbine-powered automobiles will only become viable when people buy them to not drive them anywhere. Not until then.
      There have been quite a few turbine-based railroad locomotives built. They, and all thoughts of future turbine locomotives have been abandoned. Indeed, the entire concept will likely not be re-visited, ever, because there exists one over-riding negative: turbines are extremely inefficient in all but constant-speed applications–that’s why no locomotives are diesel-turbine-electrics.
      By the way, “constant-speed” means: you start the engine when you’re ready to go and you don’t shut it down until you’ve gotten where you want to be–or, rather, the task is finished. And only if that makes economic sense.

      1. +1 : exactly that. Gas turbines have been tried all over since the 70s and the conclusion is : they are simply crap – get over it. The one and only application where they perform better is aviation because:
        1. Constant load like you mentioned
        2. They perform better at low pressure than piston engine but simply because the compressor is intrinsic part of the design
        3. Cheap crap fuel can be used.

        So if you intend to use them on the ground the piston ICE will always beat you unless :
        1. Pollution and noise is not a concern
        2. Cheap crap fuel is only thing you have

        1. >”3. Cheap crap fuel can be used.”

          Not all crap works with jets, because with kerosene-like fuels there exists the problem of gelling and gumming at low/high temperatures. Up in the sky where it’s very cold, the waxes in the fuel cloud up and block fuel lines, and on the other hand produce residue where they meet with hot engine parts. The fuel also cannot be very light because it would boil off at altitude, which means you cannot mix in lighter cuts like gasoline to dissolve the waxes because the gasoline cut would distill out and leave you with a tank full of thick cold syrup.

          Jet fuel has to work down to -40 C or -47 C whereas ordinary diesel may or may not work below -18C or -25 C for arctic grade.

  4. One problem was, engine braking, you just couldn’t let off on the accelerator and expect the vehicle to slow down appreciably.

    But I wonder about the feasibility of a turbine powered electric car, with a battery to handle acceleration and braking.

    1. Not so, I am the son of user #160 and drove our turbine car #991232 over 5000 miles while our family had it. Engine braking was the same or better than any piston engine I have driven. If you look over the documents I have on my web site dedicated to the Chrysler turbine program you will see as early as 1956 the reverse vanes that direct the flow of gases against the power turbine effectively add the braking component.

      Someone else mentioned the noise – by the end of the Chrysler program in 1981 – the noise was much lower than that of a common piston engine. Most of the noise is at the inlet and Chrysler chose to leave some of that there in the 1963 Ghia cars to attract attention.

  5. Chrysler didn’t stop working on turbine powered vehicles, and finally got one into production in the late ’70s: The M1 tank. The last of the prototype turbine passenger cars showed up. The trouble with turbines is that they’re really only efficient at full throttle and high speed – fine for an airplane, and workable if you’re building a generator for a hybrid car that’s pulsed of and on, but terrible for a wheel driven car. The turbine cars recorded gas mileage that was similar to a big block V8 in the real world, but without the acceleration.

    As for last interesting car – I half expected this to have been written by Bryan Benchoff with that headline. Or someone else hoping to get a bunch of angry “Mopar or No Car” commenters out of the woodwork…

    1. And even in tanks the turbines sucked. Fuel. Horribly. The M1 has by far the most onboard fuel of any modern MBT, but nowhere near the greatest range. As said earlier, it’s most fuel efficient when at full throttle, but even then piston engines are still more fuel efficient.

    1. I suspect that was the “emissions” problem mentioned in the article. The turbine car shown predates exhaust emission requirements other than noise limits (and the common sense need to not spew hot jet exhaust at the car behind you.

    2. The turbine car Chrysler built is quieter than a comparable piston engine, and the exhaust is cooler as well. There is a video linked above where you can hear it running, it is amazingly quiet. Chrysler accomplished both of these feats via a regeneration system that they worked on for decades.

  6. I believe Jaguar has been working on a gas turbine hybrid that uses two small turbines. I have seen a couple of pictures but I don’t know if it works or if it is just a show car mockup. The question is whether very small turbines are sufficiently efficient to be competitive.

    1. Given electric grid supply capacity concerns I see a pragmatic solution is to use a small turbine working continuously for on board charging of a smallish sized battery/ supercapacitor bank in a hybrid car. With continuous running at full throttle you get range and comparable efficiency to piston engines with improved emissions. The turbine would have to run on after you finish your trip to complete the recharge if you don’t plug it in. The part count of the turbine is smaller ( which is why auto manufacturers haven’t forgotten the idea) but the exotic materials for blades, generators and motors means it will only fly if battery materials are in shorter supply .

    1. More like hard to beat real life engineering. Turbines and rotaries both suffer from not having materials that would allow them to outperform piston engines…Turbines are limited by the turbine inlet temperature, rotaries suffer from sealing problems due to wear of the seals.

    1. See the ASE project

      The problem with stirling engines is that they’re either a) huge, b) very high pressure. The high pressure is a problem because the working fluid (gas) has to pass through heat exchangers, which become expensive and difficult to manufacture.

      Another issue is that stirling engines can only throttle their power output by a) changing the fluid pressure, b) lowering their efficiency. It’s easy to let the gas out, but how about getting it back in when you need 100 bars of pressure?

    2. Agreed, since they run at 4 degrees temp difference.

      I’ve been thinking of good and cheap ones; almost handheld (lunch/dinner/take out box), in clusters, almost like solar roof tiles… Added bonus make them out of the aluminum, tin cans, plastic containers bottles, bags and various wrappers. If one fails the entire setup doesn’t. So once one breaks you swap it out and don’t need to attempt a repair the broken one.

      tl;dr A tree would keep growing in-spite of having one leaf fall off.

    1. Interestingly enough, one of the more successful steam-turbine electric locomotives was designed by the B&O railroad, and enjoyed a relatively long productive life, as these things go. It also was powered by coal dust; it seems that B&O designed this locomotive so as to not offend the (mainly) West Virginia coal industry which provided much of B&O’s freight revenue, when the pressure to “dieselize” was reaching a fever pitch among railroads. Coal dust was this locomotive’s nemesis; it got into the electrics and fouled the traction motors, a problem which eventually led to B&O’s giving up on the concept and scrapping the engines. That, and the pesky, never-solved problem of damaging the turbine in a rough rear-coupling maneuver. Again: “interestingly”, lack of efficiency is never given as the reason for B&O abandoning this design even though it provided good revenue service for the five years or so it was used.

  7. the turbine indy car scared the ‘conventional’ racers so bad they banned it. (and crippled the indy race’s innovation streak). ford (i think) had a fuel cell van running in the 1960’s. while innovative and way ahead of its time, the cost of fuel cells was HUGE and NASA was the primary consumer of them.

    1. Instead of banning turbines at Indy they should have launched a new racing series just for turbine powered cars. That would’ve (could’ve) had turbines in road cars by the 70’s as new technology developed for racing turbines made its way to both aircraft and automotive fields.

      But nope, could not have that! Not when turbines were embarrassingly faster than the piston engines, yet they all suffered various mechanical failures and didn’t finish the two years they were allowed to compete.

    2. Same fate for the steam-powered vehicle. Ever heard of the Stanley Steamer? (That’s rhetorical, folks). I’ve been told that it was banned from Indy also, but for one good, solid pragmatic reason: it simply ran away with every race against a gasoline-powered vehicle (did they use alcohol back then? As fuel. In the cars, As in fairly modern Offenhauser engines).
      It makes one wonder if, even given all the drawbacks of the external combustion steam engine as we know itand , these negatives might have yielded to the “Indy influence” and might have changed what we drive today. There’s food for thought…and for your insomnia…

  8. Another big issue is dynamic range. The electric is best at it, with full torque from standstill, the Internal combustion engine has a wide range, say 1000 rpm to 5000 rpm, thats a 5 fold dynamic range, the turbine engine’s dynamic range is terrible, probably something like 1.5. A hybrid makes good sense, direct gear drive just means inefficiency and eating up your clutch.

    1. Murray, you must be thinking of a single shaft turbine – the Chrysler turbines were always dual shaft. The Chrysler turbine performed much like an electric motor – maximum torque was at stand still and decreased as your speed increased. The car I drove in 1963 (car this article is about) developed it’s maximum 425 lb-ft of torque at zero rpm!

      1. Surely that wasn’t at zero turbine RPM.

        That’s the point. You can always add a transmission in between – the trick is that with wide dynamic range motors, you don’t need any, and so the system becomes lighter and cheaper, and more reliable. The turbine runs from 30,0000 to 55,000 RPM which is a range of little less than 2, which means you need many many gears, or a CVT which isn’t exactly the best at handling torque.

        1. Dax, you missed the dual shaft. All Chrysler power turbines had a front shaft with the compressor on the front end and the turbine wheel on the inside of the case. That was separated from the power turbine which was connected to a 10 to 1 reduction gear. YES the power turbine was locked by the transmission (no torque converter) Chrysler had to modify the standard Torqueflite transmission so that in neutral the valves for forward and reverse were both active to lock the output turbine. Our car would idle at about 18,000 rpm – that is the compressor turbine – front of engine that kept the engine running. the Power turbine on a separate shaft behind the compressor turbine was stationary. Remove the shift lever on the automatic transmission from Neutral to Drive and the Power turbine would start to turn as you removed your foot from the brake and started to apply throttle. I was 16 years old at the time and one of the engineers took me aside and asked if I knew what “torque loading” was. I kind of sheepishly said – um yeah. He said like I told your dad last night – if you torque load for a rabbit start, watch the inlet temp don’t let it get above about 1400 degrees. That allowed the pressure to build against the power turbine so when you released the brake – you could burn rubber. There was a slight lag otherwise because of the fact you had to get the mass of the Power turbine turning from ZERO rpm. The Power turbine acted as a torque converter. Please read the engineering manual I have posted on my website – it shows everything you want to know about the 4th Generation turbine engine used in the 1963-65 Ghia program. – – http://www.turbinecar.com/images/engineer-bk.pdf – – is where it is located.

          Chrysler accumulated over 2 million miles of driving with the 50 car test fleet – those cars drove exactly like any other 1963 automobile. They had instant heat from the exhaust heat exchanger under the dash. The did not have Air Conditioning because of the need for the huge air cleaner to silence the turbine to a reasonable level – they deliberately left enough of the whine to alert the public to the unique car.

          I drove Jay’s car shortly after he got it. It had been 50 years since the last time I drove one of the Ghia cars – nothing changed from the driver’s seat – it was a plush four seat passenger car in 1965 when we had one for three months and it still is if you get a chance to see one running and driving.

          1. Jay Leno also has a gas turbine powered motorcycle. He wrote about it in Popular Mechanics. I remember the quote: “it’s like the hand of God pushing you along….”

          2. >”The Power turbine acted as a torque converter.”

            i.e. a transmission – albeit an integrated one.

            Now, going back to the original point, how efficient is such a transmission when it has to turn 30,000 RPM at the compressor turbine to 30 RPM at the wheels?

  9. carbon turbo-green plan:
    1-breeder reactors burn up nuclear waste for electrical power, final waste is low level radioactive after cooloff
    2-since there is an oversupply of electricity burning up the nuclear waste we fix atmospheric carbon and cracked water for green jet fuel(we can also just make ingots of carbon and chuck ’em into the oceanic deeps or refill oil wells)
    3-burn green jet fuel in turbine-electric hybrid autos, trucks, and even airplanes
    4-when power is cheap charge vehicles from smart nuclear power grid
    5-if grid is browned out or lines are down start turbines to add even smarter green power to the grid
    6-build out even greener post nuke waste energy grid with bought time while fixing greenhouse and also cleaning up our nuke waste mess without having to do an austerity fail and risk revolt

  10. Another issue with a turbine car (say, a turbine powered hybrid) is safety. What happens to all those very fast spinning turbine blades if your turbine powered car rear-ends something else?

  11. Why only 9 of the 50 turbine cars were not destroyed is because the government demanded Chrysler pay import taxes on them, or send them back to Italy, or destroy them. So they paid for 9 and destroyed the rest – cheaper than shipping them back. Too bad Chrysler didn’t offer them to the public to buy at production cost plus import tax. I bet buyers could’ve been found for all of them.

  12. Turbo fans are the most efficient engines in aircraft right now.

    My perspective on alt-engines for cars: If ANYONE had something better than the hybrid combustion designs they’d capitalize off of it.. Of course enter conspiracy theories here, but if one person kept it secret for currency that doesn’t stop others from discovering it again without a patent..

    Technically speaking we are just waiting for battery chemistry to catch up with AC motors so there isn’t as much weight and charge requirement..

    1. Subsidy policy enters the picture, because car companies want the future to be predictable before they bet on something, and if the game is rigged for EVs and battery hybrids then there’s no sense in spending money on anything else.

      I mean, we could be reducing CO2 output simply by switching cars to propane and natural gas, but that’s not a politically correct solution to the problem because it’s too cheap and easy – people could actually afford it – so it won’t allow the leftist environmentalists to dictate that you should give up car ownership and hop on public transportation. So it doesn’t deserve any support.

      1. You can’t use politically correct because the common narrative is that progression is held back by the stock market and at the executive level.

        I’m of the opinion that the powers that be haven’t been overthrown because there are no engineers coming up with something that shows the public there is a malicious hidden agenda.. If you got even 5,000,000 people protesting the industry you’d see change, but there has to be empirical evidence that they are simply refusing to progress do to petty finances..

  13. Jay Leno has one of these Chryslers: https://youtu.be/b2A5ijU3Ivs He also designed and built one of his own: https://youtu.be/10q9_pB6unU And, back in 2010 he had the original Jaguar X-C75 at his shop after it was taken to the US for a motor show: https://youtu.be/a-m-AGiYT9I The first one had two turbines and 4 electric motors, one for each wheel. The 5 they built as “production prototypes” had 500hp+ 1.6 litre petrol engines for the range extension, and only 2 electric motors.

    From a quick look round the internet, Garrett AiResearch, Lycoming, Bladon Jets and probably others, are all producing turbine/generator packs in the up to 500hp range for small scale electric power generation. The Baldon Jets unit is the one jaguar had planned to use. I know that the Wal-Mart advanced hybrid truck is a turbine. I believe Peterbilt are involved there and they already have a diesel hybrid power pack for long-haul trucks. I ead recently that both Volvo and Mercedes are looking at this too. I might do some research and see where they have got to.

    Eddy Stobart, one of the biggest haulage companies in the UK, are currently running rigs with trailers with electric motors on their bogies, connected to super-caps in an Energy Recovery System similar to that currently used in F1 cars: http://www.transportengineer.org.uk/transport-engineer-news/hybrid-kers-for-eddie-stobart-semi-trailer/118355 So there is definitely work going on in this field. It will be interesting to see where things are in 5 years.

  14. *sees that old link regarding Wankel engine* ಠ_ಠ

    For the sour grape types, trolls of science and general haters.

    Google: “darpa rotary engine design liquidpiston” or “darpa portable engine rotary design”

    Results may not be available in some countries.

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