Car: Chrysler Airflow, 1934

The Airflow today resembles a seminal example of motorized Art Deco. It was an extremely adventurous car for Chrysler but, sadly, a disaster in sales terms.

The Airflow’s scientifically shaped lines were ahead of their time, and proved a bit too futuristic for the tastes of car buyers in the mid-1930s
The Airflow’s scientifically shaped lines were ahead of their time, and proved a bit too futuristic for the tastes of car buyers in the mid-1930s

Company founder Walter Chrysler had great faith in a team of consultant engineers nicknamed the “Three Musketeers”—Carl Breer, Fred Zeder, and Owen Skelton. It was Breer’s fascination with aerodynamics that led the trio to map out America’s first mainstream car with this science as its guiding principle. By 1930, they had tested over 50 different experimental models in a wind tunnel constructed with input from aviation pioneer Orville Wright.

The two-piece windshield was soon replaced by a single curved pane.
The two-piece windshield was soon replaced by a single curved pane.

To improve ride and handling of what became the Airflow, they shifted the engine forward over the front wheels and positioned the passenger seats within the wheelbase, for better weight distribution. To cut weight they also devised a one-piece body with a lightweight metal frame (as opposed to the more common heavy, timber framing).

Early Airflows were, apparently, fraught with quality problems because of new welding techniques. But the main problem with sales was public resistance. Buyers preferred their cars to be more traditionallooking than the amorphous visage and faired-in wheels of the Airflow.

1934 model car Chrysler Airflow
1934 model car Chrysler Airflow

Ironically, in an attempt to boost sales, the car was actually made less aerodynamic in 1936 when a prominent trunk was added to its tapering tail but, by then, Chrysler’s more traditional cars were outselling it massively. It was axed after 1937.

“Research is the answer, if anyone should ask why modern cars are so much improved.”

Walter P. Chrysler, Writing in his autobiography life of an American Workman, 1937

Video model car Chrysler Airflow

Specification model car Chrysler Airflow

YEAR REVEALED: 1934
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Detroit, Michigan
HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: eight-cylinder, 298ci (4,883cc) (others up to 385ci/6,306cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 122bhp
LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: two- or four-door six-seater sedan
TOP SPEED: 88mph (142kph)
NUMBER BUILT: 29,345