Chrysler’s turbine program received a lot of attention but, as with many groundbreaking technologies, myths dogged the program. One myth which persists to this day is that the cars’ exhausts were dangerously hot. “They burned the asphalt!” “They would melt the bumper of the car behind them in traffic!” These, and other silly statements, were made by people who did not understand the truth: The exhaust of a Turbine car was COOLER than the exhaust of its piston powered contemporaries.
Part of the confusion stemmed from the fact that many people loved the Turbine cars and enjoyed talking about the cars’ unique features. For example, the tachometer ran up to 60,000 RPM, while the car idled over 10,000 RPM. Those outrageous numbers make sense for a turbine engine but were certainly good for some ice-breaking conversation at cocktail parties. And right next to the tachometer was a gauge showing the “Turbine Inlet Temperature” that reached 2,000 degrees. But that was measuring temperature at a point in the upstream business portion of the turbine engine. After combusting, the gases flowed through a regenerator which lowered their temperature and then into a long and circuitous exhaust which saw the temperature drop dramatically before exiting the system at the rear end of the car.
The confusion on the issue seemed to rise from the fact that most people knew almost nothing about turbine engines other than what they’d observed at airports. They were loud and they were hot. Most people underestimated the Chrysler engineers’ ingenuity and the effectiveness of the lengthy exhaust running under the Turbine Car. Not only was the engine quiet, its exhaust was not overly hot.
The men who worked on the cars were acutely aware of the public relations issues which arose with the cars and knew that half the battle of gaining public acceptance of the cars would be in convincing people the cars were safe–and not terribly unlike other cars on the road at the time. And the issue of the “hot” exhaust arose so often that the Chrysler folks often demonstrated how cool the exhaust of the car was. While such a display for a typical car would seem absurd, Chrysler technicians and PR folks often stood behind the running Turbine cars and placed their hands directly behind the tailpipes to show they could do so without frying their hands.
In retrospect, it seems silly. Obviously, Chrysler could not put a car on the road which would seriously injure anyone who stood behind it while it was running. But people love their urban legends and legends die hard. So, if someone ever tells you that the Turbine cars’ exhausts were dangerous, explain the truth to them. And if you ever get a chance to see a Turbine car run, place your hand next to the tailpipe as it runs. It’s pretty much the same as a hand dryer in a restroom.
Steve Lehto is a writer and from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law. His most recent books include , and . He also has a where he talks about these things.