It’s a shame the program ended the way it did – a few in museums and the rest destroyed. There was actually a turbine tank in the works from Chrysler and like the car counterpart wasn’t accepted mostly because it was new and different. To be fair, though, while they didn’t sell any turbine cars, they did sell a few turbine M1 tanks.
I don’t think I’ll get into the industrial design of the car itself: it’s pretty era-typical in it’s decadence. It features a circular turbine heat sink motif, but really wasn’t that different from what was on the road at the time.
So. Why a turbine, anyway? Well, Jay Leno and a 60′s educational film has you covered:
(I can’t embed with time markers, so you’ll have to manually skip to 10:14)
It should be noted at this point that Americans seem to say ‘Turbine’ like ‘Turban’ which I hadn’t heard before. We say Turbine acknowledging the ‘e’ at the end: tur-bine.
Basically, there are far less moving parts which means it runs longer without maintenance and has a much longer engine life. It doesn’t require antifreeze and can start without problems in the cold, providing instant heat for passengers. It gets much better fuel economy (the mechanism itself is much more efficient) and you can run it on basically any fuel. Exhaust gases burn much cleaner. No vibrations and negligible oil consumption; won’t stall from over burden. The engine itself is smaller and lighter than comparable internal combustion varieties.
Pretty great, from the sounds of it.
So what went wrong?
It was a combination of things, according to Bob Sheaves, Chrysler Corp. wasn’t doing so well in 1979 and in the bailout had to shut down the Defense contracts, which included the Turbine M1 project. It was public knowledge that the technology was there but has since faded into obscurity. The company had the tool and dies for Turbine car production but given the shaky economic times it was deemed too risky.
I always thought it had to do with the lag – turbines work really well at set RPM and don’t like to vary all that much, making for a delay between when you put your foot down and when you get response from the engine. This, as I’ve learned, wasn’t really an issue by the end of the program. In 1980 they had a seventh generation engine which had a lag of under one second (only a bit longer than piston versions) which was down from the notorious seven seconds seen in the first generations. If you’ve driven anything turbocharged you’ll know that spooling feeling, that delay. This was a stigma that stuck with the cars in the public’s mind.
Since it requires a higher RPM to stay efficient there were concerns with excessive fuel consumption while idling, even with it’s better efficiency. This is interesting, considering it will deliver torque at zero RPM – just starting the engine easily has enough power to push the car. Couldn’t they have just turned off the engine at every available chance?
Exhaust heat was exactly that: hot. Not only dangerous as a public concern but also that the engineering incorporated expensive alloys. I am curious, though, given how much material technology has improved in the past fifty years, if that would still be as much a problem.
The first generations were loud but if you kept watching the Jay Leno video above the noise (albeit more vacuum cleaner sounding than normal) seems reasonable inside the cabin. Again, I wonder how much that could be improved just by using modern materials and technologies.
Cost. Yup. The all defining factor. There might be less parts but each part has to be that much more exotic. Despite the awesome low maintenance of the engines, if something goes it really goes – and that’s costly. Back once more: modern materials? I’m curious and the internet doesn’t seem to have much on the subject.
You can read more here, which is where a lot of the above information comes from (cross referenced, of course).
I suspect there are a lot of really cool technologies that were invented long ago and because of the materials and methodology were impossible / impractical to make so then became forgotten. If I had the money, believe me, I’d make an entire research department that just revisits old tech like this. Alas.
It’s crazy to read about the first Apollo missions. How they managed to do anything with such limited computing power is astounding to me. I’m a new generation, I guess. I can’t long divide on paper because I haven’t needed to since grade five or whenever it was that we learned it.
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