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.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
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  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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