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Home Pick of the Day Pick of the Day: 1963 Chrysler Turbine car, a historic relic of...

Pick of the Day: 1963 Chrysler Turbine car, a historic relic of the Jet Age

One of just 2 survivors in private hands from Chrysler’s legendary engine project

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One of the few things I remember from when my mom took my brother and me to the 1964 New York World’s Fair was the sight and sound of the Turbine Car rounding the track at the Chrysler pavilion.  So yes, I was a car geek even back then. 

And yes, back in the post-war Jet Age there were expectations that shrieking jet turbines would replace comparatively clunky piston engines in everyday cars and trucks.  Chrysler spent millions during the ’50s and early ’60s developing the technology for automobiles to run on turbine power, even building 50 of them for real-world driving and lent to regular people for three-month evaluations.

turbine

Eventually came the recognition that turbine cars were going nowhere, for various real-world reasons, and the sleek turbine coupes were returned to Chrysler when it shelved the project.  In all, 55 were built – five prototypes and the 50 production cars – and 45 of them were sent to the crusher and destroyed. 

Which was a sin and a shame, I’d say, and it kind of reminds me of when GM destroyed all but a handful of its landmark EV-1 electric cars.

The Pick of the Day is one of the surviving 1963 Chrysler Turbine cars, and one of only two in private hands, the other being in Jay Leno’s collection.  There are other survivors housed in museums, such as The Smithsonian Institution, The Henry Ford and The Petersen Automotive Museum, but other than Leno’s, this is the only one privately owned.

turbine

“Chassis number 991231 is the crown jewel of the (Frank) Kleptz Collection, with the distinction of being the only Chrysler Turbine Car available on the open market today,” according to the St. Louis, Missouria, dealer advertising the car on ClassicCars.com.

“As offered, it is in exceptionally well-preserved condition, finished in its original metallic bronze paintwork with complementing upholstery, all original fittings and fixtures, and a host of spares, documents and technical information.”

The Turbine is also in running condition thanks to the concerted efforts of the late Kleptz, who was a renowned car collector and historian from Terra Haute, Indiana.

Number 991231 spent its working life on the West Coast as a demonstrator before being presented to the famed William Harrah Collection of Reno, Nevada, along with a spare turbine engine, the dealer notes in the lengthy ad description.  Kleptz obtained the car in the late 1980s following the breakup of Harrah’s collection after his passing. 

If any car deserves to be called iconic, it’s the Chrysler Turbine, which aside from its obvious technical advances is also a uniquely handsome automobile. 

“Styling was done in-house, overseen by the new design chief, Elwood Engel,” the dealer explains. “Engel replaced (Virgil) Exner in 1961 and introduced a more-sophisticated, slab-sided design language, which he honed while working at Ford – which explains the Turbine’s passing resemblance to a late ’50s Ford Thunderbird.

“The Jet Age motifs were more subdued than the wild fins and chrome of the Exner era, and the Turbine Car was understated yet distinctly elegant.”

The car comes with “a vast file of engineering drawings, technical information and historical documentation,” the seller says. The sale also will include a spare turbine engine and transmission assembly.

There is no price tag presented for this significant piece of automotive history, and who knows its value since there obviously are no comps.  Contact the dealer for the asking price, and a lowball offer is not recommended.

turbine

And speaking of spare engines, the dealer offering the car apparently also has a turbine engine and transmission being sold separately, a display piece mounted on a rolling stand, which would be the ultimate piece of garage art. 

“Unit number GT-135 is a sealed turbine unit and transmission assembly, that is believed to be a spare from the Turbine Car public test program of 1963-1964,” the seller says.

The asking price for the engine and trans is $100,000.  Think that’s too much?  Try to find another.

To view this vehicle on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day. For the engine and stand, see turbine display piece.

Hagerty
Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

16 COMMENTS

  1. I do love the tag lines ‘if you think that’s too much, try & find another’, as price can be based on rarity but it does weigh heavily on supply & demand.
    I was once driving through the Australian desert & got a puncture.
    I put a n the spare & days later pulled into this isolated desert town called Norseman.
    I needed a specific tyre size to match the others. The only one in town was at another tyre shop.
    I’m in the desert in Western Australia, from Sydney, NSW, the retail, supplied & fitted was $250.
    They could have doubled the price & I would have had to pay it but demand was ZERO so they did supply & fit for $150.
    Just saying 🤷🏻‍♂️

  2. Got a chance to see the Turbine car at the Muscle Car And Corvette Nationals a couple years back which is part of the collection of “bubble cars” held by the Detroit Historical Society. They also had a spare turbine on display. An amazing vehicle and far ahead of it’s time. Hope this one ends up where it can be seen in perpetuity.

  3. I was at the NY World’s Fair and got to see the Turbine car as a 9 year old. Our family car was a 63 Plymouth Fury with a 318 (wide block). I’d get this in a heartbeat if I had the means. It looks eerily similar to the 61/2/3 Thunderbird. I wonder why no one has ever tried to build any replicas of this iconic piece of history?

  4. Had a chance to ride in one “back in the day”. I was in college at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio when Chrysler sent one to campus and offered demonstration rides. I still remember the distinct sound and smooth ride that turbine gave. I was also knocked out at how cool the car looked as well.

    • I remember one parked on our small street in Cincinnati, it was idling and the exhaust was so hot that it melted the asphalt.

  5. After seeing the picture, I thought, “Hmm , probably worth at least $100,000, minimum. This has to be one of most iconic MOPAR creations ever. Right up there with the Chrysler Airflow and the many Virgil Exner productions that moved car design into the space age.
    What a gorgeous piece of craftsmanship, where engineering meets artistry! If only Chrysler Corporation had held on to the momentum of those pioneers. I just read where an author recommended that “Stellantis” drop the Chrysler name altogether. Poor Walter must be turning over in his grave.

  6. I was in high school when the Turbine was shown at a local shopping mall. As I was a regular reader of Motor Trend and any other car mag I could find, I knew about it and rushed to see it. It was just parked, and people staring at it….but my first impression was that it looked like the 61 TBird backwards, from the front…and the rear was definitely unusual. The interior and the exterior in COPPER METALLIC was a real stunner. By today’s standards, the greenhouse is too tall, and the front end too high, but definitely radical and gorgeous example of Automotive Art. Thanks!

  7. Sir. Ive had real life experience with the Chrysler Turbine car. My dad at the time worked for Chrysler at the time. From time to time
    He would bring home different chrysler models at night after work. One night he brought home one of the Turbine cars i actually got a ride in one. It was a cool experience. I lived in Dearborn and saw a couple if them driving around town.
    I have a die cast model replica of the Turbine Car. Too bad they destroyed most if them. That was really stupid. Are they selling the one in St Louis?
    Too bad they didnt continue promoting the Turbine Car for the public to buy.
    Richard Gaddis

  8. One day, when a student at Syracuse University, my junior year, I think, my car wouldn’t start, so I was hoofing it across town, hitch-hiking actually when a man, in his amazing Chrysler Turbine, picked me up, took me all the way to campus and dropped me off at Lyman Hall, where most of my classes were. He was a very nice gentleman, told me all about it, what could be used as fuel(peanut oil for one) and just how much he liked it. As I recall, he was able to use it for six months and then it would be passed on to someone else. Impressive and so Cool!

  9. This one came out when I was building model cars and collecting. I still have an original one of the promotional models in the box with the view window in the side. That’s about the closest I’ve been able to get to one of these!

  10. A relic of the jet age? When did the jet age end? When I see a 300 passenger electric powered airliner, I might believe the jet age has ended!

  11. In my younger years, I was working as a test driver for Chevrolet-Willow Run. One day, I had a new Corvair out for a quality audit run on I-94 west of Ann Arbor, one of these came up behind and blew buy me so fast I thought it was a low flying jet.
    Never have forgotten the sound or the brilliant bronze/gold color!

  12. I just checked and this example has already been sold. I remember seeing one many years ago at Carlisle, possibly this same exact unit. It is an incredibly fascinating concept from a time when Chrysler truly was not afraid to think outside the box! With the technology we have available to us today I wonder if there is a way to make this a feasible reality?

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