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Chrysler's Turbine Car Secretly Used a Ford Part

Steve Lehto
Photo credit: Chrysler

From Road & Track

Chrysler built turbine powered cars from 1953 until the 1980s. But most people are only familiar with the bronze Turbine cars lent to the public starting in 1963. While those vehicles have been examined a great deal, there are still some secrets about the car that almost no one knows. For example, the transmission contained a valve body assembly designed and manufactured by Ford. And the Chrysler engineers got them for free from a Ford plant in Livonia.

Chrysler first put a turbine-powered car on the road in 1953. After a decade of experimentation, the automaker decided it would put a fleet of turbine cars on the road for average consumers to test. When the decision was made, people from outside of the turbine department were asked to help get the small fleet of 55 cars ready for the road. The cars would need to be relatively robust to withstand the demands of average American drivers, but they also needed to be pretty simple. The decision was made to have the turbine engines power a Torqueflite transmission, the indestructible automatic which was the mainstay of the Mopar lineup for years. Some modifications were necessary, one of which was to remove the torque convertor.

The transmission gurus brought in to make the gearbox work found a problem, detailed in a handwritten note given to me by a former Chrysler engineer: "In order to modulate the transmission control pressure relative to the turbine engine compressor pressure required an additional small valve body to do the job."

Photo credit: Steve Lehto

They didn’t have time to design and manufacture the necessary valve body, but they knew from their corporate espionage that the recent Lincoln automatic transmissions contained just such a device. Phone calls to Lincoln dealers revealed that the valve bodies couldn't be purchased individually. They’d have to buy whole transmissions if they wanted to buy the valve bodies they needed.

The transmission engineer made a discreet phone to a counterpart at Ford Motor and asked about the valve bodies. What were the possibilities of acquiring, say, 55 small valve bodies without too many people finding out? I’ll quote the engineer I interviewed for the answer:

“My friend at Ford informed me their plant had a large box of the valve body assemblies and were about to scrap them out. I made a quick trip to the Ford Livonia Transmission where my friend gave me enough of the valve body assemblies for my group to build all the transmission assemblies for the 55-car program. Few people other than our engineering procurement man and myself were aware the turbine automatic transmissions had a FOMOCO part.”

And, since the Ford part was hidden deep inside the transmission assembly, no one would ever see the part to know it was there. It was a heck of a secret, hidden now for 55 years.

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