You could say we’re a fan of turbine-powered cars and trucks here at The Drive, so you can imagine our reaction to an original Chrysler Turbine Car coming up for sale seemingly out of the blue. Yes, this car is the real deal, one of only two privately owned examples in the world, the other being owned by Jay Leno (of course).
What’s the catch? Well, there’s no price on its Hemmings listing, and seeing as it’s the only example available anywhere, the eventual sale price is likely to be in the millions. So yes, it probably won’t end up in your driveway, but let’s talk through some of the specific details of this machine before we get tangled up in complicated things like money.
Of the 55 turbine cars built, all but nine were destroyed. Seven live in museums and this one, chassis number 991231, accounts for half of the examples in private hands. Currently held by the Kleptz Collection, the listing on Hemmings states this vehicle was likely kept on the West Coast for most of its life performing “VIP Duties.” Basically, it was used as a toy by executives and loaned out to anyone who Chrysler saw fit to experience such a machine.
When Chrysler ended the program and had a few of the vehicles laying around, the car—along with a spare engine—was given to Hotel and Real Estate magnate William Harrah for his automotive museum at his request. That’s where the thing stayed until Harrah died in 1978 when much of his collection was sold off, including the Turbine Car. Later, it was bought by Domino’s Pizza founder and car collector Tom Monaghan before eventually ending up in the Kleptz Collection.
Although it was not running when acquired by the collection, spare engines came with the vehicle as a part of the deal. Using these and with help from General Electric—a well-known producer of gas turbine engines—the car was returned to running condition in the early 2000s. The listing states that although it’s seen limited use in the past two decades, it’s been test-fired recently and is still operational. An extra engine and transmission will be thrown in if you buy it, just in case.
And if you’re super-rich and going to buy this thing, do us all a favor and drive it like Jay Leno does.
Its turbine engine only has 130 horsepower, but that’s because it’s been geared down internally to produce 425 pound-feet of torque at the output shaft. Idling between 18,000 and 22,000 RPM, the engine is whisper smooth, quiet, and will happily take the Chrysler-designed, Ghia-bodied cars all the way up to 120 miles per hour. At that point, the engine will be spinning at 60,000 RPM.
If that power figure seems a little low for an engine that works on the same basic principles as those found in jet aircraft, that’s because turbine engines in cars were never designed for maximum power. The advantages of the turbine were its far fewer moving parts leading to theoretically higher reliability and the fact that it could run on any combustible liquid. In the end, it turned out that those two advantages weren’t enough to overcome the powerplant’s shortcomings, at least for use in cars. The engines were expensive to produce and put out a ton of heat as well as a tremendous amount of noxious emissions.
After the idea truly fizzled out for passenger cars in the 1970s, we’re left with what we have today; just nine Chrysler Turbine Cars, and a few other odds and ends floating around from the Big Three. That’s not meant to be a downer, though. The opportunity to buy a Chrysler Turbine Car is an incredible one, and if you’re a car enthusiast reading this with millions of dollars burning a hole in your presumably massive pocket, well, here’s a chance to own a piece of history.
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