Take it from Jay Leno: It's a great book 2011.06.08

Written by David Green.

lehto.lenoBy DAVID GREEN

Author Steve Lehto spoke with dozens of people associated with the Chrysler Turbine Car project. Engineers, designers, drivers—everyone he could find who was associated with what he calls “Detroit’s coolest creation.”

And once his book was published last October, it started all over again. 

“Since the book has come out, I’ve been contacted by even more people who had some kind of association with the program,” he said, “and also people who just remembered the car.”

He asks those people if they happen to have any photographs of the car and many have. Now he has an overflow of information that never made it into the book, and he will share some of these new stories and new photographs when he visits Stair Public Library at 7 p.m. Thursday.

His visit comes through the Library of Michigan’s Notable Books program.

Lehto says a lot of people are quick to latch onto a conspiracy about why Chrysler shelved the turbine car project and most of the existing models were destroyed. 

It must be the work of the oil companies, some people think, since the amazing turbine could run on a variety of fuels, from peanut oil to perfume.

Lehto doesn’t buy it. To him it’s clear that economic problems at Chrysler, along with some government regulation, got in the way of further development.

In those days—the early 1960s—people talked about how many gallons of gas they got for dollar, Lehto said, rather than the way we look at it now: how many dollars for a gallon.

Oil was plentiful, gasoline was cheap and although the Turbine Car was unique, it wasn’t viewed as a way to wean the U.S. off oil.

The vision of an alternative fuel vehicle is what resonates with people today, Lehto said. 

It would have really been a game changer to have a car that would burn a variety of fuels that weren’t imported.

However, no one is going to mass produce a turbine engine without a known market.

“I’ve had several engineers tell me that the hip thing to do is put a hybrid on the road, a gas engine car with battery,” Lehto said, “but they say that’s not the best approach.”

A small turbine engine would charge a battery for an electric vehicle. That’s the environment in which a turbine would work the best.

Turbine builders have also told him they could build small turbines if the market were there.

“It’s a great idea,” he said. “It has great potential.”

Lehto’s interest in the Turbine Car comes from growing up in the Detroit area. He remembers seeing them on occasion. He was one of those who always assumed the turbine was the car of the future. Once it became obvious that wasn’t the case, Lehto always wondered what happened to them.

He met someone who was involved with the project in the 1960s and that kicked off his writing project.

Lehto had trouble getting the book published initially—it was just another automotive book with limited interest—but now it has now gone through several printings.

He’s had a call of apology from his publisher admitting, “We were wrong. It is more than just a car book.”

The same can be said for his talk Thursday night in Morenci: It’s more than just a talk about cars.

  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.carry.casket
    CARRYING—Riley Terry (blue jacket) and Mason Vaughn lead the way, carrying an empty casket outside to the hearse waiting at the curb. Morenci juniors and seniors visited Eagle Funeral Home last week to learn about the role of a funeral director and to understand the process of arranging for a funeral.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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