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The car of the Future that never was!

My name is Mark Olson. My father Alden Olson was chosen to be the 160th user during the Chrysler Turbine Car program. That program delivered a turbine powered, hand built automobile to selected users around the nation. In all, 203 families like ours had the chance to experience the future - that never was.

Chrysler decided in 1962 that the turbine program had progressed to the point where more diverse testing than the proving grounds or engineering could accomplish. To that end, they decided in the Summer of 1962 that 50 - 75 limited production cars would be equipped with the latest version of the turbine engine. At first they thought they would actually sell those cars to selected individuals. It appears that idea was dropped in favor of a no-cost loan for a three-month period.

Richard Vlaha, a computer systems engineer, living in Chicago at that time, was the first user. He wrote a letter to Chrysler and told them he was available, in a large metro area, and would love to use one. It must have touched someone on Chrysler's end because he was chosen. Later in the program, before we were involved, Chrysler had the accounting firm of Touch, Ross, Bailey and Smart choose the users based on geographic location and demographics that would expose the cars to the biggest audience. They also checked into the background of the users to be sure the car would end up back in Chrysler's hands at the end of the use period.

Chrysler used the program to accomplish a number of goals. First they wanted to see if the turbine could function in normal everyday driving. Second they wanted to see if the public would accept a turbine-powered automobile. Third, they wanted publicity, they had spent a lot of money on the turbine program and it was payback time. Fourth they wanted to establish a service chain that could handle a much larger but still limited run of turbine cars. There may have been other goals in mind but those four are the major ones I see.

On the first one, it was a huge success. I know from my own experience, the car was ready for everyday use and the learning curve was almost no time from never driving a turbine to being an expert.

The second goal, I think the public was ready. I think the only block would the price tag on the car with turbine power.

The third goal of publicity was accomplished many times over. The good will towards Chrysler and the media exposure was well worth the millions of dollars spent on the program up to that time.

The last objective, service of turbine-powered cars was very well established. The program had six major coordinators, who were service-training instructors by day, turbine specialists by night. Using teachers was a brilliant idea! The only problem was the instructors did not get much time to teach, the cars kept them very busy. But the idea that they would learn from first hand experience and then be able to train other mechanics was a very forward thinking idea. I have talked to the national coordinator and one of the regional coordinators. They have many stories to tell - but this is not the place for that. Let it be said, they had interesting careers at that time.

The program was a huge success, but where are the turbine cars today?

The major problems at the end of the Ghia/turbine program were all related to environment. The turbine was for the most part a clean engine; the one problem was nitrogen oxides (NOx). NOx was found to be too high in the turbine engine. There was none of the monoxides or other pollutants common to piston engines but NOx is found in gases of complete combustion along with SO2. The SO2 combines with oxygen to form sulfuric acid vapor (H2SO4).

Since pollution control was becoming a big thing in the mid-60's - this prevented Chrysler from going to the next step - a production run of 500 or more turbine cars. But that is another story, see the History pages for more.

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Last updated 11-17-2014