I remember seeing the Chrysler Turbine Car that Butler University’s assistant athletics director Henry A. Johnson drove around Indianapolis during the turbine car user program in early 1964.
I stood at the campus bus stop waiting for the bus to high school and heard a whooshing sound as the mysterious turbine car passed by. To me it was a bronze rocket car of tomorrow. For a budding car nut like myself, these moments ignited (no pun intended) my automotive obsession.
The turbine engines and chassis were built at Chrysler’s Greenfield Avenue turbine research center in Detroit. Chrysler executive Elwood P. Engle designed the bodies and interiors were mostly hand-crafted by Ghia in Italy and shipped to Detroit for final assembly. One of the most interesting styling features of the car was the console that ran the length of the cabin, from the firewall to between the rear seats, with its straked and gentle rib detailing. The car’s futuristic styling has been called smooth and sleek. That’s what drew me to the car.
The Chrysler Turbine Car was introduced to the public on May 14, 1963, at the Essex House in New York City. A week earlier, Chrysler announced that it would lend each of the 50 Turbine Cars to select members of the public for three-month drives during the two-year user program. The immediate public response was overwhelming – 30,000 sent in requests asking to be involved in the program within six weeks of the announcement. About 202 participated in the program.
B. W. Bogan, Chrysler vice president and director of engineering, presented the keys to the turbine car to the Johnson family in front of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Motel in mid-December 1963. Each of the program’s families were thoroughly familiarized with these unique autos before commencing the three-month program. At the end of the drivers’ stint, Chrysler officials queried them about their experience. Most were very enthusiastic with their evaluation. Some wanted to purchase their test car.
The user program was a positive experience for the Chrysler Corporation, but the difficulties of economically producing the exotic turbine engines and government clean-air regulations hampered mass turbine production.
The Chrysler Turbine Car still lives on in my memory.