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1963 Chrysler Turbine Car
Our most historically significant project of all time. This unique restoration was completed by Manns Restoration in 1995 and we are very proud of it. The Chrysler Turbine Car was the most secretive and lengthy engineering project of the automotive industry followed by the most elaborate, expensive, and widely publicized product awareness campaign in automotive history. However, immediately following that campaign the project was shelved and disappeared from the public eye only to be forgotten about for many decades.
This project would not have been possible without the foresight of Doctor John P. Roberts in creating the National Museum Of Transportation. He had the savvy to procure this along with many other significant pieces so they could be preserved for future generations. My love of cars and my family's background in the automotive business lead me to an early career in the restoration business. Back in the late 1970's one of my customers became the museum director, Captain Streckfus. As he reviewed the collection, he set his sights on the one exhibit in particular that he thought would draw the most attention to the museum. He asked me to restore the DiDia 150, (better known as the Bobby Darrin Dream Car). That started our working relationship with the museum. Over time a new director came to the museum. As he reviewed the collection he was amazed to find a most unusual car, one he had seen when he was a kid. His neighbor happened to be one of the randomly chosen 200 people selected to keep and drive a turbine car for one month. He was very excited and decided that this car should be carefully and fully restored. When he told me about the car, I had never heard of such a thing, but I was instantly excited to restore it. Trying to find information on it was almost impossible because Chrysler had never let any of it out of their research and development department.
A great disappointment hit us when started dismantling the engine. We found that it was hollow, emptied of it's turbine-blade assembly. That's when we learned that Chrysler had removed all of the turbine blade assembles from the cars that they let go to museums. Even the Henry Ford and Smithsonian did not have a functional turbine car, if we could complete the restoration it would be the only one in the world. With the news that the engine was incomplete the decision was made to stop the restoration, until one of the older employees at the museum heard about our dilemma and came to us with some information he remembered. Dr. Roberts had asked Chrysler for an extra turbine engine so it could be cut in half and displayed the same way McDonald Douglas had with one of their jet engines. The only problem was, he did not know if Chrysler ever sent one. The files were checked and a shipping bill was found stating that Chrysler did ship, "one dysfunctional turbine engine," 30 years ago.
The first thought was to go through a vast collection of county owned items that were stored in an abandoned military depot in a rural area. Down in this valley were rows of metal buildings with docks for the railroad line and hills with trees that had concrete doorways entering at the bases. Crawling through the clutter of discarded vehicles in an unlit WWII style military building was quite surreal and spooky. I could imagine the items in their time of daily use as they were still sitting there just as they had been decommissioned. There were fire trucks, trolley cars, work trucks, buses, fuel trucks, even horse drawn funeral hearses but no turbine engine.
We were back in the meeting room and once again ready to stop the project when a groundskeeper who had been at the museum for many years heard we were searching for the turbine engine. He did not know what was in it, but he said there was a crate behind the building we were sitting in, and he thought it had a Chrysler emblem on it. Without a word we all ran around to the back of the building and stood amazed at the sight of a very large wooden box that had the remnants of a Chrysler pentastar logo. It was well-built and not going to come apart easily without tools. We quickly rounded up a hammer, crow bar, and flashlight, because it was getting dark. We pried the top off the box and laid our eyes on a complete turbine drive assembly that looked as if it had just been placed there. We quickly got the side off the crate because there was one thing we needed to know, where there any parts inside this engine? It was getting darker as we unbolted the large round side cover on the engine. We turned our flashlights to see inside and we saw exactly what we hoped for, parts. Exactly what we needed to bring the turbine back to life and even have spare parts for the future.
The whole project seemed to be full of mystery like no other car. I knew this would have a huge impact on the automotive world and wondered if it shouldn't be done. The car was greeted with tremendous fanfare and brought me into contact with the who's who in the automotive world, including presidents of the car companies and some of the greatest car collectors, including Jay Leno.
We restored this car to the highest level of detail and perfection. It was an experience that cannot be topped and is a perfect example of why I love what I do.