With spy photos of the all-new Toyota Prius making their rounds today, the word "hybrid" will be fogging up the comments sections of your favourite automotive websites. I've always really enjoyed the Prius, a car misunderstood in the mainstream automotive media for a long time, but one that instantly appealed to an ever-growing slice of the population.
Even as the media wasn't paying attention, the car was sneaking into Hollywood movies and TV shows at an alarming rate. Even Larry David went through a ton of them on Curb Your Enthusiasm—and if you haven't watched the episode where he became a car salesman, check out the clip now.
Hybrids are cool, right? No? Don't think so? What about when Chrysler decides to make an insane flywheel hybrid race car in the early '90s, one that eventually parked itself on the White House lawn for an audience with ex-President Bill Clinton?
It was an insane feat of engineering, and explained in great detail by allpar.com, although nowhere I can see a reason for its existence beyond it being built for the FIA's World Sports Car class. More likely is that motorsports guru and former VP of vehicle engineering, François Castaing, was in some way smitten with the idea of a technologically advanced race car from Chrysler—after all, one of his first jobs was as a mechanic for Gordini's Le Mans effort.
From a release on the car: "Chrysler has been anxious to go back to top-level racing for some time," says Castaing, "but we wanted to send two specific messages when we did. We wanted to be able to reconcile our research on environmental issues with racing—a subject many people have talked about. And we wanted to use racing once again for the purpose of developing all-new technology that will test the creativity and ingenuity of our people. The Patriot lets us do both."
Cool. So, Mr Castaing, what'd your people come up with? Twin-turbo V8 and electric motors for the front axle? Supercharged 4-cylinder and large battery packs? Some early form of KERS developed way before Formula 1 tried it?
No, no, no. This is Chrysler in 1993. Bob Lutz is in the house. Money is being made. People are happy. The Viper was on the market—and, actually, was the car the company eventually picked to go racing with at Le Mans…quite successfully, I might add. But with a history of weird-ass features, do you think Chrysler, America's engineering powerhouse, to be happy with selling a sports car with a lump of coal for an engine? No! So we got the Stealth, and turbo everything, and, and, and…
Oh, right: the Patriot. The crown jewel of the company's engineering efforts. How insane is this car? Well, allpar.com managed to sum it up in less than 10,000 words: "The Chrysler Patriot was a hybrid-electric, turbine-powered, liquid natural gas-fueled racing car for racing; the company said it could reach 321 km/h (200 mph) for short durations, with competitive handling. The powertrain included a two-turbine alternator, an ultra-high-speed flywheel and an electric traction motor. All components were water-cooled."
Of course they were. They had to be, as this was one serious machine. The turbine had alternators in it, and ran on natural gas, and spun up to 100,000 rpm. And then, somewhere under its skin, there was a 520 kg (1147 lb) flywheel system (including shielding, of course) that spun to 58,000 rpm. Engineers claimed it'd all fit under the fairing of a Formula 1 car…
But to say the car was complex is an understatement—the flywheel operated in a vacuum, fer chrisseaks—and would ultimately lead to the project's undoing. Internal pressures from management and other sources, plus the project's technical difficulty, means that the Patriot is still owned by Chrysler…
So my gift to you today, on Oh Holy New Leaked Photos Of Toyota Prius Hybrid Day, is a little bit of fire for the comments section:
The new Prius is nothing. Chrysler was way ahead of Toyota, even 20 years ago. And yeah? You think I'm dense? You're the one who's dense! Ever hear of the Patriot hybrid race car? It was so advanced that it didn't even race.