Why aren't Turbine cars available?

Interesting story I found: http://www.turbinecar.com/sia/sia127.htm

From the story and pages linked, the Turbine had a lot going for it. It could burn pretty much anything, really good power. Instant heat for winter days (a blessing for us at Northern latitudes!) far less moving/wearing parts than a piston engine and generally lower emissions (compared to a gasoline engine).

Why haven’t they been looked at again? Is there a critical flaw that is scaring manufacturers away from them? Public acceptance? Expense of mass manufacturing a turbine compared to a piston engine?

I found this quite interesting:

It appears (from this story anyway) that if Chrysler wouldn’t have had the financial difficulties in the 70s, maybe they would have went ahead with them.

I would imagine they’re not available because they’re loud and difficult to drive properly.

But hey! All you have to do is take the initiative and put one in your car and people will follow. :slight_smile:

Couldn’t the problem with the sluggish drive train be solved by making a hybrid car, with the turbine generating electricity to drive the wheels?

Very interesting article.

I like the explanation of how a turbine engine could not just be equal to or a little bit better
than conventional engines to be of interest to Detroit.

Also the militarys use of turbines in tanks is really a breakthrough for non piston engine consideration.

There’s one on display at the Ford Museum in Dearborn. There are several problems, a few mentioned at that site. The materials have to withstand high temperatures and thus are exotic and expensive, too much to justify mass production.

Turbines are also inefficient at off-design power. A car needs a wide range of operating, especially high torque at low speed, which a turbine can’t really provide.

trabi, you might be right, but what would be the point? a turbine would only provide marginal performance benefit over a piston engine, so why bother?

The article, if read carefully, explains the disadvantages of turbine cars, and why they aren’t used. It seems fairly well-balanced for pluses and minuses in the reporting - at least moreso than normal.

Turbines are expensive to build, expensive to maintain, and have parts whizzing around at extremely high speeds. Turbine blade failures in aircraft engines have caused large amounts of destruction. I wonder what a car accident would look like after someone slammed into a turbine spinning at 30,000 RPM?

I wonder what kinds of gyroscopic forces a car would have with a large turbine spinning in it?

But never say never. Maybe a new hybrid design will come along, with a small turbine (you can get them small enough to fly model airplanes with them), generating electricity for an electric motor. NASA is working on new designs for cheaper turbines, and material breakthroughs could suddenly drop the price to the point where we start seeing small turbines all over the place.

Volvo did that with their Eviromental Concept Car back in 1993. The turbine burned a special diesel fuel belnd for very clean operation, and turned a high spped A/C generator. At the time it was groundbreaking.

But with advances in gas engines over the last few years I don’t know if it has much of an advantage over a PZEV gas engine car.

One of the problems mentioned in the articles was that the turbine only performs well at extremely high revolutions, which results in an annoying time lag when you press the accelerator. A hybrid engine could store power generated by the turbine for use by an auxiliary electric motor, which would provide the torque needed for smooth take-up before the engine reaches its peak performance range.

I don’t have the figures to compare with the performance of a piston engine, but to level the playing field: petrol-electric hybrid engines are supposedly more efficient than simple petrol-powered ones, so the differences between a piston-electric hybrid and a turbine-electric hybrid would presumably be comparable with the differences between the non-hybrid versions, as described in the article, without the performance niggles that the article describes.

I could be remembering wrong, but weren’t those “Inter-City 125” trains from the '80s basically nothing more than a huge generator powering electric motors to drive the wheels?

Most all large trains are diesel-electric - that is, a generator which powers an electric motor. No need for a clutch or transmission to send the 10,000 ft-lbf of torque through…

I suspected as much. Having said that, I think in Europe far more of the railway networks have been electrified than in the US, so the locos here generally don’t need to have a generator on board any more.

There was a helicopter-turbine engine motorcycle built(it sells for around 250K I believe)

The biggest problem is with the lag as it spins up to power…it won’t run a 1/4 mile much faster than any current 1000cc inline 4 engine sportbikes…but after about 12 seconds it would just take off.

It was incredibly long and heavy though

Just ask Andy Granatelli why.

Jay Leno’s got one. (They also make a turbine powered Chevy S-10.) He says you can really only drive it from gas station to gas station, and that the exhaust’ll melt the front end of a Lexus if it gets too close. :eek:

One of the Mopar magazines a few years ago took a newly restored turbine car out for a test drive and had no complaints about the performance. My dad spoke to someone who drove one of the cars back in the 1960s and he said it was pretty sluggish. I’ve also read contemporary reviews of turbine cars from the 1960s that found the performance lacking, but the author of the article seemed to think that the concept held great possibilities. (The guy was supposed to be a bit of an autoexpert and was a big fan of the Tucker car, so take it FWIW.)

Turbines, IIRC, have sizes at which they’re most efficient at, and it might be that building a turbine small enough to fit into a car means it will never operate efficiently. (Anthracite’s played with turbines, so she could give a definite answer on this.)

Chrysler was also working on a propane powered turbine race car back in the late 1980s, but dropped it for some reason. Chrysler’s not the only car company to work on turbine powered cars. Preston Tucker had bought the patent rights to an Italian designed automotive turbine, but after the collapse of his company, never pursued the research, and I don’t know if anyone else bothered to pick up the ball. Bucky Fuller also designed a turbine powered car for Kaiser-Frazer, but the idea was never seriously considered.

Tesla also had a turbine design which he claimed would be a low emissions, high fuel economy design for a car. AFAIK, no one, to date, has ever attempted to find out if Tesla was right or not.

Well, it would end tailgating.

In 1960, automatic transmissions were just becoming ubiquitous, but were still prone to frequent problems and autmatic transmission repair was a speciality. The specialist who repaired my father’s told us he was going to school to learn turbine engine repair since he predicted that turbine cars would take over within ten years. They didn’t.

As far as I know, the reason all diesel locomotives are diesel-electric is that no one could build a transmission for all that power.

True enough, but its an 11 year old article. I am assuming (possibly incorrectly so) that a lot of the expenses and tech hurldles would be more easily past now.

Indeed, since reading this Discover article nearly ten years ago, I have to wonder why no one’s called these guys. It looks like they’ve got the stuff that would work. Might be pricey, but mass-production would bring the costs down rapidly.

Not to hijack the thread, but doesn’t a rotary engine deliver “turbine-like” performance? Unlike a reciprocating engine where the pistons change direction constantly, a Wankel spins more like a turbine and IIRC it delivers twice the number of power strokes as a piston engine. They’re also significantly less expensive than turbines.

I think you might be right, but from what I recall, getting the seals on a Wankel to work right is a royal PITA. Plus, I think that the only folks who’ve got any experience with Wankel’s are the guys at Mazda, whereas, there’s tons of engineers who’ve played with turbines. Of course, a Wankel won’t “runaway” like a turbine will.

Actually, I think locomotices are diesel-electric because electric motors produce max torque at 0 RPM, and this is where it’s really needed for trains. The diesel engine can run at its peak efficiency, and the electric motor works great in a train application.

It’s just the best design for the tradeoffs involved.