Perusing the Society of Automotive Historians Curiosities tab, I was stunned by the sheer variety of important and unique classics. Then an image of a 1960s, rocket ship inspired, Chrysler TurboFlite popped up in my browser. This was no ordinary concept car. The TurboFlite was the very embodiment of Space Age thinking, an attempt to combine cutting-edge engineering with the physical presence of an imagined future – where flying to the moon, nuclear energy, and pocket protectors seemed like a good idea.
The 1961 Chrysler TurboFlite was a show car which featured the company’s latest gas turbine engine, the CR2A, and a long list of then-revolutionary features.
For starters, the vehicle’s windows were hinged to open outward from the roof, instead of rolling down. As if that wasn’t radical enough, Chrysler saw fit to have the entire top – including windows and windshield – raise open upon passenger entry or exit. Talk about a red carpet showstopper.
Interior lighting, marketed as ‘electroluminescence’, adorned an interior which was jointly crafted by Ghia coachbuilders of Turin, Italy fame. And that same emphasis on lighting carried onto the vehicle’s exterior. A giant rear running light stretched across the entire back end – which featured integrated turn signals and an automatic amber glow when would-be drivers removed their feet from the accelerator.
Sensing a bumpy future for gas turbines, a May 1963 Motor Trend issue declared: “So it isn’t impossible that the TurboFlite gives a glimpse into Chrysler’s crystal ball. The gas turbine is almost sure to come, and development of this dream car’s other innovations will surely be easier than perfecting the turbine.”
Market feasibility or no, the TurboFlite did have one feature which attempted to account for concerns over gas turbine vehicle braking. A big drawback for gas turbine engines was, and still is, controlling changes in power demand. For example, while a gas turbine engine can produce a high power-to-weight ratio, compared to piston engines, quick changes in acceleration or deceleration are a big challenge.
The TurboFlite addressed the deceleration issue by including a physical air-brake system, affixed to the concept’s rear-mounted wing. Air-brakes had been around for at least a decade, if not much longer, but the novelty of an active spoiler became solidified in the collective hearts and minds of car enthusiasts after the TurboFlite hit the showroom circuit.
Check out the attached Motor Trend articles for more juicy details.
Society of Automotive Historians: www.autohistory.org/curiosities
Online Imperial Club: http://www.imperialclub.com/Articles/TurboFlite/index.htm