Book Review: Chrysler's Turbine Car by Steve Lehto

A fascinating book came in to the office about a month ago that really grabbed our attention. Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation. By Steve Lehto a forward by Jay Leno. With all of the talk of alternative energy and fuels and hybrid cars, you can't help but think back to the Chrysler Turbine program if you're a car nut like me. I had known about the cars themselves and a little about the user program from 1964 through early 1966. Outside of that, I had little knowledge of the program. That was until I picked up Lehto's book. It covers in fascinating detail the development of the turbine engine by Chrysler over a nearly four decade  period starting in the early 1950s by lead engineer George Huebner Jr and fellow engineer Sam Williams.

Lehto recounts many stories from those who worked on the program, including Bill Carry who was responsible for maintenance of the Turbine's used in the loaner program and may very well be the world's leading expert on these rare cars today. Starting in 1953, and ending just after Chrysler's first bail out in 1979, Chrysler developed 7 generations of Turbine powered cars. However, they never produced a single car for consumer consumption. The program became famous in the early 1960s with the launch and announcement of the Chrysler Ghia Turbine. The program gained popularity for the uniqueness of the cars, one being the ability to run on literally any liquid that could burn with oxygen and the cars jet like sound while driving.

Designed by Elwood Engel and built by Ghia in Italy. 55 cars were built and shipped to Chrysler in Detroit. 50 of those cars were lent to consumers all over the United States for free to use for about 3 months before going to another family. This was a ground breaking research and development project to see if consumers would actually BUY. The program was hugely successful thanks to lots of publicity. It also gave Chrysler over one million driving miles worth of research. Lehto recounts stories from many of the families that had use of the car also. Sadly a majority of the stunning Turbines were destroyed in 1966 by Chrysler, leaving only nine of these unique, entire hand built beauties left in existence. There is much speculation as to why the cars were destroyed, and the answer lies in the book, how ever we're not telling. You'll have to read for yourself.

The book then follows about further development thanks to money from the Government as an alternative to the traditional piston powered engine during the gas crunches in the 1970s and the eventual closing of the program after Chrysler's first bail out.

Had Chrysler not run out of money and killed the turbine program, who knows what would have or could have happened. Perhaps today we would have jet powered cars like many dreamed of in the 1960s. And with the original  car's performance being equal to if not greater than that of an equivalent piston engine, who know where performance could have gone. Maybe, we will see a resurgence in turbine technology combined with today's hybrid gas/electric powered cars? Only time will tell.

Chrysler's Turbine Car is 228 pages long with several black and white and color photographs. It retails for $24.95 and can be found in just about any major book store and of course online. We HIGHLY recommend it.


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