The 1963 Chrysler That Ran on Vegetable Oil
The Chrysler Turbine Car was the first and only consumer-tested gas turbine-powered car in history. It could run on diesel, unleaded gas, kerosene, JP-4 jet fuel, vegetable oil, or almost any other combustible resource.
Between 1962 and 1964, Chrysler produced 5 prototypes and 50 test versions. The 2-door, hardtop coupe bodies were built in Ghia, Italy. Then they were shipped to Chrysler’s turbine research center in Detroit for further assembly.
Each one probably cost around $50,000 to make, and in 1963, that was a stunning amount of money. The Turbine Car never made it to the showroom of a Chrysler dealer, but it was a remarkably innovative project.
It was one of the first attempts to find a real energy solution for American vehicles.
The turbine engine had huge advantages. It only had one fifth of the moving parts in a traditional engine, keeping it simple and low maintenance. It also didn’t require oil changes.
The exhaust produced no carbon monoxide, unburned carbon, or raw hydrocarbons. It effectively eliminated the typical damaging emissions generated by cars.
Chrysler was able to problem solve a lot of small issues that arose in the early models, but there were a few problems that persisted.
Unfortunately the Turbine Car did produce nitrogen oxides which were frustratingly difficult to limit and remained an ongoing issue. Acceleration lag was a major complaint, and the car also required an exorbitant amount of fuel.
Some problems were caused by those operating the vehicle. For instance, leaded pump gas was just about the only fuel that Chrysler advised drivers not to use. However, due to its wide availability, many test users still put it in the tank, doing serious damage to the engine.
Other experience hang-ups were caused by the loud volume of the car and its tendency to stall if forced to accelerate before reaching temperature.
After decades of work, the Turbine Car project was laid to rest because there were simply some kinks that couldn’t be worked out. Most of the cars were turned into scrap metal due to tax and liability issues.
In several of the nine that were kept, the engines were deactivated. They were donated to museums or purchased by collectors, one of whom was Jay Leno. His is in running condition, along with a couple others that still exist.
Leno said that he purchased his Turbine Car because it was one of the most revolutionary, American-made products he ever encountered.