Collector Car/Cars We Remember; The 1963-1964 Chrysler Turbine Car and Hagerty’s excellent documentary

Collector Car/Cars We Remember; The 1963-1964 Chrysler Turbine Car and Hagerty’s excellent documentaryMark Olson is behind the wheel of this family photo with mom in the back seat. Dad took this photo of the family’s Chrysler Turbine that they drove more than 14,000 miles in their three-month test drive. Olson admits the car changed his life, especially to his peer group that thought of him as a geek in high school prior to seeing him drive a Turbine Chrysler. It’s all covered in the Hagerty documentary. (Olson collection)

By Greg Zyla —

I recently ran across a Hagerty Drivers Foundation YouTube documentary posted in June of 2023. This excellent video details the lives of the people and families that were selected to test-drive the Chrysler Turbine for three months back in 1964 and 1965.

Also, during this early 1960 decade, I remember one of the biggest hit songs was the organ and guitar instrumental called “Telstar” by the Tornados back in 1962 that sped to the top of the charts. The song coincided with our country’s extra emphasis on jets, rockets, astronauts, and space exploration. It was an exciting time to be a teenager, as in addition to all this excitement the muscle car era was now in a “full speed ahead” mode.

The Hagerty film also highlights how Jay Leno got involved in a complete engine rebuild following his purchase of a Chrysler Turbine from a museum. It features the herculean effort that went into rebuilding the turbine engine following an overheating that pretty much destroyed the engine. Hundreds of volunteers chipped in with whatever they could add to the rebuild, as no official plans on the engine existed due to Chrysler destroying everything about the Turbine by mandate.

Collector Car/Cars We Remember; The 1963-1964 Chrysler Turbine Car and Hagerty’s excellent documentary

Introduced in 1963, the Chrysler Turbine Car, with its jet-like gas turbine engine, arrived for a unique test drive evaluation. The rear featured novel backup light “afterburners.” (Chrysler Corporation)

Most interesting in the Hagerty film is one of the test drive families, namely Alden and Beulah Olson and their son Mark, from Superior, Wisconsin. Mark was just 16 years old when his father received a phone call in February of 1964 that the Olson’s were chosen as one of the first 50 that would receive the turbine for a three-month test drive.

Mark explains that the Chrysler Turbine literally changed his life, going from a nerdy, geek type high schooler with few friends to a high school celebrity all based on his family receiving that Turbine for 36 weeks. He admits that this car changed his life, going from an insecure geek with few friends to what he terms in the film as a new, people friendly person.

This Hagerty Drivers Foundation 70-minute documentary is a “must watch” recommendation as it centers on the people that test-drove this amazing car, and the finished product is what one expects from the Hagerty Collector Car insurance people.

Collector Car/Cars We Remember; The 1963-1964 Chrysler Turbine Car and Hagerty’s excellent documentary

After an exterior design from the desk of Elwood Engel, formerly of the Ford Thunderbird division, the car was hand built by Ghia motorcoach builders in Italy. Ghia is known for top quality craftsmanship.

To explain about the Turbine Chrysler, I received a letter in 2020 from Kathy Schiermyer, from Morenci, Michigan, who would read my column every week in the Adrian Daily Telegram. She explained that decades ago, in the summer of 1964, she and a friend both had fathers that worked for Chrysler Corporation in Detroit. One night her dad brought home a prototype car to give rides to, and she and her friend remember that the car was very special and sounded like a vacuum cleaner with its “humming” sound.

Kathy inquired if I could go into detail on this special car, which I happily obliged.

I told her that the car she inquired about was a high priority prototype Chrysler that utilized a special turbine engine that did have the special sounding “swoosh” sound that she recalled as that of a vacuum cleaner.

Called the Chrysler Turbine Ghia, Chrysler produced 50 of these turbine vehicles in 1963-1964 to, surprisingly, be utilized by the public for a free three-month test drive evaluation. In my lifetime I saw this car in person twice, once at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and back in 1964 at the New York World Fair.

Collector Car/Cars We Remember; The 1963-1964 Chrysler Turbine Car and Hagerty’s excellent documentary

The interior of the Turbine Car featured many interesting items and special turbine style additions. All 50 prototypes were finished in a special bronze color with black vinyl top. (Chrysler)

Looking back, no other manufacturer in memory ever produced 50 vehicles to be used as test mules utilizing actual everyday drivers to evaluate the car. How cool a family must have been having a Chrysler Turbine parked in their driveway. 

The Hagerty film lists the 202 people that received a Turbine to evaluate, and the Olson’s were one of perhaps 10 to 15 that put on over 10,000 miles during their three month Turbine test.

Chrysler Corporation’s Turbine Car came about thanks to George J. Huebner, who oversaw a passenger-car testing program and Chrysler’s turbine engines, which were first developed during WWII for tanks. Huebner utilized Plymouths in the early turbine tests, and in 1956 a turbine powered Plymouth went from New York to Los Angeles as the first ever-transcontinental land-based turbine road trip with not one problem.  

The 1963-64 Turbine, riding on a 110-inch wheelbase, was specially designed with a twin-regenerator turbine engine that weighed just 410 pounds. Elwood Engel, formerly of Ford Thunderbird division, designed the car and Ghia of Italy oversaw the hand-built assembly of 55 four-passenger prototypes, but used just 50 for the testing. 

Back then the turbine was equivalent in performance to Chrysler’s 318 V8 piston engine, although it did not have any pistons and one-fifth the parts of the V8. It featured just one spark plug, and as for fuel it ran well on diesel, kerosene, unleaded gasoline, jet aircraft fuel, and even vegetable oil. Fuel mileage was 19 highway, but only eight or so in the city.

Collector Car/Cars We Remember; The 1963-1964 Chrysler Turbine Car and Hagerty’s excellent documentary

George J. Huebner receives credit for the turbine engine development program, which started in 1953 and lasted well into the 1970s. Chrysler used jet-like turbine engines to run via gearing and transmissions instead of thrust. Due to expensive prices and upcoming EPA clean air mandates, the program was halted although the Chrysler Turbine is respected today as one of the most important and impressive prototypes ever. (Chrysler)

I personally remember the rear dual “afterburner” design, and all 50 prototypes were finished in a special “Turbine Bronze” color. The cabin was also copper colored with four leather bucket seats and a novel full-length console in the sporty style copper tone cabin.  

In the end, only nine of the original 50 Chrysler Turbines remain, and Jay Leno is the proud owner of one of them. With a red line of 60,000 RPMs and an idle at 22,000, the engine ran fine and could be geared to run as a family sedan with its Torqueflite transmission, or a winning race car with no transmission. (See Jay Leno’s Garage feature on YouTube.)

At this point everyone’s wondering why Chrysler never put the turbine into production. The public driving test was a tremendous success, overall, logging over 1-million miles. Fuel mileage back in 1964 didn’t matter, as fuel was in the 25-cent a gallon range.  

Chrysler’s answer was it didn’t make economic sense for a full production platform and would have taken billions to make it happen. Planned was a Dodge Charger Turbine in 1966-1967, but the idea was quickly scrapped. Sadly, 41 of the 50 original turbines were intentionally destroyed due to a strange “return to country of origin” import rule as many museums were offered a turbine but just six museums accepted.

We’ll end this week with a bit more on Hagerty, the noted collector car insurer. With over 3.6 million views, its “The Chrysler Turbine Car: Engineering a Revolution” documentary is made available thanks to the Hagerty Drivers Foundation. Its mission is to further and preserve America’s automotive past for future generations. 

The Chrysler Turbine Car at the center of the documentary is owned by the Stahls Automotive Collection in Chesterfield, Michigan, and was added to the National Historic Vehicle Register in 2022. You can donate to the Hagerty Foundation effort, as the organization is a 501c3 non-profit and explained on its homepage at

Trust me, if you love cars, you’ll appreciate this documentary.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes questions and comments on old cars, auto nostalgia and motorsports at or 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840.) 

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