My Car Quest

May 27, 2018

The Chrysler Airflow – Ahead Of Its Time

by Mike –

In 1934 Chrysler made a significant change to traditional car styling with the introduction of the Imperial Airflow model. The Airflow was the first full size car designed with aerodynamics in mind.

Chrysler Airflow

1934 Chrysler Airflow

Carl Breer, a Chrysler engineer, became interested in shapes and how they effected the aerodynamics of a car and thus the performance.

Chrysler Airflow

Breer, and other Chrysler engineers Fred Zeder and Owen Skelton used a wind tunnel set up in Dayton, Ohio with the assistance of Orville Wright to study the effects of different shapes on the aerodynamic efficiency.

Chrysler Airflow

They discovered that conventional car designs were more streamlined running backwards rather than forward. In addition to the aerodynamics Breer and the team also relocated the rear passengers forward so they were in front of the rear axle rather than on top of it. This provided for a more comfortable ride and helped change the front to rear weight distribution to close to 50/50.

Chrysler Airflow

These were all great ideas that eventually became standard in car designs. However, the American buying public did not like the style of the Airflow and Chrysler sold only a few thousand per year.

Chrysler Airflow

Chrysler made body changes each year in an attempt to increase sales (you can see the difference in the grille design of the 1934 model and the 1935 model shown here) but by 1937 it was clear it was the end for the Airflow.

Chrysler Airflow advertisement

Chrysler Airflow advertisement

Chrysler Airflow advertisement

Chrysler Airflow advertisement

Chrysler Airflow

My thanks to Imperial Club for the advertisements.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Chrysler Airflow

 

 

A version of this was posted in July 2015. Photos by Mike Gulett.

Chrysler Logo

Summary
The Chrysler Airflow - Way Ahead Of Its Time
Article Name
The Chrysler Airflow - Way Ahead Of Its Time
Description
The 1934 Chrysler Airflow incorporated many innovative design changes that eventually became standard features for all cars.
Author

Comments

  1. If you read Mr. Breer’s excellent book, “The Birth of Chrysler Corporation and Its Engineering Legacy”, you will see how advanced this styling was for its time, and that is why it was a major flop. Compared to conventional cars of the day, it was just TOO advanced, and the public rejected it outright. That, and the introduction of these vehicles during the height of the Great Depression did not help. To save Chrysler from going under, the company rushed to put out conventionally-styled cars alongside the Airflow models. If they did not do this, they would have surely gone out of business. Sales went from the tens of thousands per year to less than ten thousand per year when the Airflow was introduced. It was a mighty and worthy effort, but its failure might be considered even worse than Ford’s Edsel fiasco years later.

  2. The Ford Edsel by todays standards was a winner with 63,110 units sold in it’s first year. I think a better comparison would be the GM Volt with sales of 4-7 K for 2011 . Why 4-7 because GM padded the books in 2011 they built a extra 3500 units and then shipped them to dealers counting them as sales.

    • Mike, trust me, I was not trying to insult the Edsel at all, because I know that the actual sales figures were good for the Edsel, at least in the beginning, and now, these cars are highly collectible. I only used it as a comparison because the Edsel was excessively hyped up, and the hoped-for sales of both the Airflow and Edsel never materialized. When the sales figures from the Airflow started at the time of its introduction in 1934 was only 11,000, and in 1935, “sales fell off by several more thousand (Carl Breer)”, 1936 sales ran around 6,000, and for the final year, went to 5,000. These sales are dismal, and would have put the company out of business if not for the conventionally styled models they started making. As far as the Volt, I agree with you 100%, and I believe that this is a car strictly for PR purposes, and they will never recoup the money invested into the production of this flop. The price point is just too damn high, and anybody who would consider this car for a second, will always pick the Prius, where they can save thousands and thousands of dollars. GM will continue to lose thousands of dollars on each one sold until it ceases production.

      I actually had to tear apart my bookcase to find my Carl Breer book, “The Birth of Chrysler and Its Engineering Legacy”. This is a terrific book, and I recommend it to all of your followers.

  3. Wayne Watkins says:

    When I was a volunteer at the Sydney Motor Museum about 17 years ago , they had a grey Chrysler Airflow on display . It had the most amazing seats which resembled a removable deck chair . They also had a short advertising film produced in America showing how strong the car was and at one stage they drove it off a cliff rolling the car over several times . They then jumped out and showed that all the doors still opened and closed perfectly and then started the car and drove off . Just wondering if anyone has seen this clip ? They were certainly ahead of their time , but the buyers unfortunately still preferred the black ugly unaerodynamic square boxes .

  4. It’s means it is. Ahead of it is time?

    axel? This is not ice skating. Maybe a brushup on good English would held your site.

    Chrysler Airflow was not too advanced. It was too ugly, by the standards of its (no apostrophe) time, and subsequent times. Architecturally excellent, with engine and passengers moved forward.

  5. Held is a typo. help was meant. We all make mistakes at times.

  6. DID YOU EVER SEE THE CRASH TEST THEY USED TO DEMONSTRATE HOW STRONG IT WAS? THEY RAN IT OFF A 60 FOOT HIGH CLIFF AND THEN A GUY GOT INTO IT AND DROVE IT AWAY. THEY WOULD RUN IT AROUND THE TRACK AND ROLL IT AND DRIVE IT AWAY UNSCATHED., EXCEPT MAYBE A BROKE GLASS WINDOW. BUT NOT THE WINDSHIELD. IT WAS A TANK. NEAT LOOKING THOUGH.

  7. wallace wyss says:

    I thought the rear end reminded me of something and on How Stuff Works I found this paragraph:
    “Moreover, its impact wasn’t limited to Detroit. The French-built Peugeot 402 was a frank copy of the Airflow, right down to its rounded nose and waterfall grille. And the soundness of engineer Carl Breer’s original design was confirmed in Germany by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, whose “people’s car” for Adolf Hitler was nothing less than a scaled-down derivative of the rear-engine Airflow prototypes”

    Methinks Dr. Porsche and VW owe Chrysler some money for stealing the back half of their design. I like a lot of the details being an art deco buff, but overall, it is something that could only be loved by its mother.

  8. Wayne Watkins says:

    Wallace , how about Ford stealing Peugeot’s design for a convertible hardtop that disappeared into the boot ( trunk ) , claiming all those years later to be a Ford first ! Guess it is a case of musical chairs .

  9. wallace wyss says:

    I guess Peugeot would have sued for infringement except for a little fracas called WWII. I wonder what the statute of limitations is? Wasn’t the Lincoln Continental four door convertible top using similar fold-away mechanisms?

  10. Wayne Watkins says:

    Yeah forgot about that Wallace . Hitler decided to have a war using all the money he had taken out of every German’s wages to buy their very own people’s car ( VW ) once they had paid what he decided was to be the full price . Guess the war plus the time it took Ford to use their invention in the 50’s became the statute of limitations for the French and they did nothing .

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