Here’s a wild what if: Imagine if this far-out machine had become the famed Chrysler Turbine Ghia. Here’s the story behind the 1961 Chrysler Turboflite concept.
Many creative minds grow more conservative over time. Not Virgil Exner, Chrysler’s chief of styling from 1953 to 1962. The final designs created under Exner’s direction at Chrysler were as original and daring as the first. Take for example the wild 1961 Turboflite dream car, one of his last major projects before he was pushed out at Chrysler and replaced by Elwood Engel, formerly of Ford.
Like many concepts and show cars of the Exner era, the Turboflite was constructed for Chrysler by the coachbuilding firm of Ghia of Turin, Italy. And as Chrysler’s first stab at a distinctive body design for a turbine-powered road car, the Turboflite was specifically intended by Exner to push all the boundaries. However, once in command, Engel took a far more conservative direction for the car that eventually became the Chrysler Turbine Ghia—the famed limited-production run of bronze-colored coupes. Fortunately, many will say. Here’s the story of the Chrysler Turboflite. It may have been a dead end, but it was an intriguing one.
Among the many far-out features of the Turboflite was a one-piece passenger canopy, which raised and lowered the roof, windscreen, and side glass as a single unit. However, standard side-opening doors were also provided to allow graceful entry and exit for four passengers. In rather different form, the full-width tail lamp assembly would eventually appear on the 1966 Dodge Charger production car. Note the distinctive tires with white stripes in the tread as well as in the sidewall.
Unlike a conventional piston engine, a gas turbine normally provides no engine braking, so the Chrysler styling studio thoughtfully provided a large air brake supported by the two sweeping tail fins. The flap stowed in a nominally horizontal angle at highway speed, then flipped into the vertical position under braking to provide additional deceleration.
As a studio glider, the Turboflite lacked a functional powertrain. A 110-volt power cord passed up through the floor pan to operate the various demonstration features, including the canopy and electroluminescent lighting. This version of the Chrysler third-generation C2A turbine engine is a wooden model, alas. However, a working C2A engine installed in a 1962 Dodge Dart successfully completed a well-publicized New York-to-Los Angeles road test. The limited-production Chrysler Turbine Ghia used an improved fourth-generation powerplant.
The cockpit sports aircraft-themed seats, pedals, and instrument panel, with a large tachometer dial to the right of the steering column and an turbine inlet temperature gauge at the top of the center stack.
This color rendering shows that the Turboflite stayed true to its original vision as it proceeded from the drawing board through the construction process. But as we have seen, the eventual Chrysler Turbine Ghia would be a very different and far more conventional vehicle.