Chrysler Airflow

It was a time of Great Depression when Chrysler introduced one of the most controversial models in the history of American automotive industry. Chrysler Airflow was officially presented on the center stage of New York Auto Show in 1934.

The company prepared everything possible to make a new revolutionary vehicle a smash hit, even showing numerous advertisements in automotive magazines for weeks before the debut. Walter Chrysler himself called Airflow model the car of the future.

In 1934 Chrysler Corporation was considered a relative new in the American automotive industry and needed a heavy impact model to establish its presence.

Tested in the first air tunnel used for modeling cars, Chrysler Airflow was supposed to be a next generation vehicle. In a sense, it truly was with many innovations introduced in the car building. Aerodynamic design made the car lighter, offering more energy efficient ride at the same time.

Different streamlined Airflow look left a serious impression on car show regular visitors. Chrysler management was feeling positive after the initial feedback, but made a critical mistake in the planning process. Chrysler Airflow was intended for conservative middle class market, ordinary people who were heavily divided on its look. Some people were very enthusiastic about the new trend, while others simply considered it ugly and wanted conventional vehicle design.

Wherever it went, Airflow attracted many conflicting comments. The idea of streamlined cars was not sitting well with the majority that preferred boxier models. Sales representatives who followed up on thousands of advance orders managed to fill only a handful of them.

Despite the controversial appearance, one other large problem was the price. On average, Chrysler Airflow was around 25% more expensive in comparison to the traditional models of the era. From the performance point of view, Airflow really did offer excellent overall performance. The heavy vehicle was able to reach a top speed of 85 mph with the basic 100 horsepower engine. It contained solid speed, reasonable economy and rather large comfort.

Still, sales were below expectations. A popular Airflow model sold in 1934 was four door sedans that reached 8,389 units for the 1934 year. Weighing over 4,000 lb the unitized construction precluded open body styles.

All new tools and equipment needed to produce Chrysler Airflow drove the prices up greatly, making the most expensive Chrysler Airflow Imperial Custom Eight cost over $5,000. The car did have a number of features such as one piece windshield, bigger doors, larger wheels, a bigger clutch, bumpers with four horizontal bars and the strongest 385 cu in engine capable of generating 150 horsepower. This particular giant weighed over 6,000 lb.

The smallest and cheapest Chrysler Airflow was DeSoto model SE that was offered in four body styles and was responsible for more than 20% of all Airflow production. Chrysler tried to lower the production cost at any means possible. They introduced interchangeable doors, offsetting some of the expense.

An automatic overdrive, invented by Rex Keller, became a standard. It worked after dashboard switch activation that shifted automatically into 0.70 overdrive ratio. In practice, automatic overdrive was an extra gearbox alongside the main transmission system. When vehicle needed an extra top gear for relaxed driving, overdrive would kick in to reduce engine wear at speed and lower fuel consumption.

Chrysler Airflow innovations became industry standards in decades to come. Unfortunately, poor sales forced Chrysler to become more conservative in their design policy. Airflow model remains an interesting story and a true pioneering engineering masterpiece that allowed a great part of American automotive history to develop later on.

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