On January 13, 1964, an understated newspaper clipping from the Associated Press came out of Mexico. It claimed that a car in Mexico City was running on a rather unorthodox source of fuel. “Tests performed here established that the new turbine-powered Chrysler would run on 80-proof tequila,” the clipping read. But the story of the car that ran on tequila is as tasteful as it is astounding.
It all started at Chrysler in 1953. The Detroit company was working on a car that could run on a turbine engine instead of a piston engine. Turbine engines have 80 percent fewer parts than piston engines. They also have a longer engine life, and are quieter. And they can run on anything flammable.
By 1963, Chrysler had 50 two-door coupes with turbine engines ready for public testing. For two years, the cars were loaned to the public. Each person got the car for three months and then passed it on to the next person. More than 200 people got to test the cars, one of whom was Adolfo Mateos, the president of Mexico at the time.
Mateos had heard stories about how the car could run on anything — even Chanel No. 5 perfume. So he asked the Chrysler representative showing him the car about using tequila. He’d even provide the fuel if he was allowed to get the car lit. It was uncharted territory for the representative, the car, and George Huebner, the man behind the turbine engine concept.
But they were game, so the Chrysler representative made a call from Mexico City up to Detroit. The Detroit team loaded up on some tequila, ran it through a test engine, and reported back: It worked. Mateos got the ride of a lifetime — and a ride that’s nearly impossible to get today.
The turbine engine cars were impossibly expensive. They cost $50,000 each — nearly $400,000 in today’s dollars. According to the automobile publication Gear Heads, 43 of the 50 cars were crushed so Chrysler could avoid the import tax on the vehicles. Only three survived the next 50 years, and one sits in Jay Leno’s garage.
In 2013, USA Today had a chance to see one of the cars. The writer’s first impression?
“We thought it would roll in like some space-age relic, or at least have a bit of a Jetsons vibe. Instead, to us it sounded more like a hair dryer.”
That may be so, but it’s a hair dryer-sounding car that can move you with the power of tequila. At the end of the day, no matter how cool you are, you’ll never be president of Mexico riding in a tequila car cool.