Motoring Trailblazers - Chrysler Airflow

Sat 15th Jun 2019

Chrysler Airflow
The super-aerodynamic sedan may have been labelled the most influential car of the 1930s, but commercially it spelled disaster for Chrysler and almost brought a premature end to one of US motoring’s most enduring brands.

The Airflow should have been a real winner for the brand, here was a vehicle which was inspired by aircraft and was developed in partnership with aviation pioneer, Orville Wright. This overdrive technology, created to combat wind resistance, would help Chrysler sell the dream of real fuel economy savings at a time after the Great Depression when every penny counted to live the American Dream.

Chrysler had launched the project when the company’s great pioneer, Carl Breer happened upon the sight of what he thought was a flock of geese in flight but turned out to be a squadron of military aircraft. The aircraft inspired Breer to consider whether land vehicles could cut through the air at speed. Breer, along with his fellow Chrysler musketeers, Fred Zeder and Owen Skelton, built a wind tunnel in Dayton, Ohio and went about their work.

Typical cars of the 1920s and 30s era had been a box for the engine and a box for the passengers, but the Airflow turned that concept on its head with curves at the front and an extended passenger area which moved the seats away from middle of the car and closer to the axle, allowing for a smoother ride for all.

All that extra styling made for a smooth ride through the air and it is thought that Breer and his team had added at least 10mph to the performance. Although initially praised by the critics, ultimately the public turned their backs on the revolutionary design. In the Complete History of Chrysler 1924-1985 it is noted "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 Chrysler's -- both the man's and the company's -- first serious mistake."

It’s fair to say that the Airflow was maybe two decades ahead of its time, curvy and sleek cars would become fashionable in the 1950s and some suggest that Chrysler’s forerunner inspired many imitators, including the VW Beetle, but for those who witnessed the Airflow in its pomp, will have understood why it was such a groundbreaker for its time.