The Chrysler Airflow, widely considered the most influential car of the 1930s, nearly bankrupted Chrysler Corporation. The story involves executives with eyes so firmly fixed on the future that they essentially ignored what the motoring public of the day wanted. Here’s the fascinating story.
Carl Breer, one of the “Three Musketeers” of Chrysler management in the 1930s, supplied the inspiration for the Airflow. According to company legend, one day Breer was watching a squadron of military aircraft on maneuvers.“If aircraft were shaped in such a way as to minimize wind resistance, why not ground transportation,” he thought? Especially passenger cars, for by that time (late 1920s) some of the better automobiles were capable of speeds as high as 80 miles per hour.
With Walter Chrysler’s blessing, work got under way on the development of a “modern” streamlined automobile. A secret wind tunnel was constructed at Dayton, Ohio, and there Breer and others undertook their research.By the end of 1932, a prototype was on the road.
The original idea had been that the Airflow would be introduced only as a DeSoto. But as the car began to take shape, Walter Chrysler became increasingly enthusiastic about it. This lead to the release of four Chrysler Airflows, each with its own wheelbase, and all with straight-eight powerplants.
Initially, the Airflow received an enthusiastic reception. It was the sensation of the auto shows, where visitors are said to have placed orders in record numbers. Unfortunately for Chrysler, the public’s initial enthusiasm for the Airflow was short-lived. Frankly, they weren’t very attractive cars.
Design consultant Norman Bel Geddes was called in to “fix” the styling. He endowed the 1935 models with a new hood, which extended forward to a vee-shaped grille. The bumpers were redesigned and decorative hood louvers were added.
All of which didn’t help very much. Chrysler Airflow production, which had totaled 10,839 for 1934, fell to 7,751 in 1935. Fortunately for its dealers, Chrysler rushed two new conventionally styled cars to market for 1935. The Airflow received another facelift for 1936, this time featuring a prominent diecast grille.
Only one Airflow series was offered for 1937, the ill-fated streamliner’s final year of production. Alas, sales continued their downward trend, totaling just 4,600 for the season.
And then it was all over. Walter Chrysler, by then in his final illness, must have wondered what went wrong. The Complete History of Chrysler 1924-1985, offers this explanation: “The normally canny Walter Chrysler approved this advanced concept without much apparent regard for whether the public would accept it. And that would prove to be a serious mistake.”
Source: Sheboygan Premium Used Cars