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While Chrysler is a luxury automaker from Detroit, its history is very different than Lincoln’s and Cadillac’s. For generations, Chrysler was an engineering-first luxury brand, driving the way forward into many cutting-edge technologies. It also produced some of the fastest “personal luxury” cars around.

Walter Chrysler ran the Plymouth, DeSoto, and Dodge brand of families. When he enlisted the help of Orville Wright to design the first-ever wind tunnel tested car, he put his own name on the 1934 Chrysler Airflow. The automaker led the way again with the first-generation Hemi V8: the 1951 Chrysler “Firepower” engine.

In hindsight, its not shocking that Chrysler was also the automaker experimenting with an all-new engine type: the turbine. The company worked on turbines for aviation applications in the 1930s. By 1963, it had tuned the technology enough for passenger cars.

Chrysler Turbine car
1963 Chrysler Turbine car | Greg Gjerdingen via Wikimedia Commons

The Chrysler turbine engine had some things in common with a modern, turbocharged internal combustion engine. It compressed air, then mixed it with flammable fuel, then ignited the fuel with a spark plug. But instead of using this air to push a piston, it used it to spin a turbine. It then sent the rotating force of this turbine through a regular TorqueFlite automatic transmission, and to the back wheels.

One major benefit of the Turbine car was that it could use any flammable liquid as its fuel. If you squirted gasoline or even jet fuel into that compressed air, then ignited it, it would get hotter and spin the turbine. But if you used kerosene or diesel fuel instead, it would still get hot enough to spin the turbine and power the car.

Chrysler built five prototypes, and 50 “production” turbine cars which it put through a “public user” testing program. The prototypes went on tour and for demonstrative purposes, ran on a series of crazy fuels.

When Chrysler took the turbine car to Mexico, they filled the tank with tequila. And it ran. When it went to Paris, Chrysler filled it up with Chanel No 5 perfume, and it ran just fine. One of the engineers brought the turbine car down to a peanut festival and filled it up with peanut oil. The turbine car loved peanut oil, but witnesses say the exhaust smelled like a restaurant kitchen. They even ran the turbine car on Cognac.

The real downfall of the turbine engine was that it had poor acceleration and was never nearly as fuel efficient as a regular piston engine. Because the 50 cars made were not cleared for emissions and other government guidelines, Chrysler was required to destroy them when it didn’t go into production. But Jay Leno did end up with one.

Check out Jay Leno’s Chrysler Turbine car in the video below:


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