Almost every car enthusiast knows about the Chrysler Turbine car. 55 built into the early 1960s, 50 of which were offered to the public for use through an interim program that ended in 1966. Nearly all of the cars were destroyed, but did you know that Ford also got into the world of turbines?
Feast your eyes on the very curious 1955 Ford Thunderbird. Typically, one will find a 292 cubic-inch V8 under the hood, producing 200 horsepower (149 kilowatts). But as the giant exhaust outlets on these birds’ fenders show, there’s something very different between the fenders. In fact, it is a small gas turbine engine supplied by Boeing.
Ford archivist Ted Ryan shared an image of this prototype on Twitter, along with a snippet of documents outlining the program. The engine is listed as a Boeing 8c producing 175 hp (130 kW), and presumably, a soundtrack that guarantees a double take from everyone within a block radius. While the Chrysler Turbine car had an exhaust system coming out the back, this Ford prototype dumped it behind the front wheels. Observations in the document cite “lack of a front exhaust” along with a sizeable lag in start-up acceleration as design flaws. We can only imagine the noise and heat experienced by the driver on this ‘Bird’ jet.
Did Ford find the advantages of the gas turbine engine in the first-generation Thunderbird? The document mentions good moderate speed acceleration, smooth operation, and a favorable power-to-weight ratio. And with a turbine design that is simpler than a piston engine, there is less routine maintenance. Perhaps with additional developments – including exhausts that don’t blow up anyone standing next to the car – the jet-powered Thunderbird could become a thing. Of course, we know that wasn’t meant to be. The Chrysler Turbine car certainly took the concept further, literally bringing it to a point where it was a bit impractical.
We saw that Ford ended up paying $188,000 to build this one time using an established vehicle platform. Mind you, it was in 1955 terms. If it were built today, it would mean nearly $2 million. This is a pretty hefty price tag for a swap machine. Production costs ended up being a significant factor in turning the turbines off with Chrysler. It’s possible Ford came to a similar conclusion in the past.
Still, we is it right like the idea of the Thunderbird actually emitting a bit of thunder.