Automotive historians widely agree that Chrysler Corporation developed and sold the first streamlined automobile. The car was called the Airflow and this was during the mid-1930s. History tells us that the Airflow was indeed a revolutionary automobile and – ready for this – almost put Chrysler out of business! Sometimes begin the first at something doesn’t necessarily lead to huge successes in the marketplace.
According to legend, this is how it all started: Carl Breer, who headed Research and Development at Chrysler, saw some military aircraft on local maneuvers one day and was fascinated by their aerodynamic designs. He reasoned that a car, even if it moved at a far slower speed than aircraft do, would slip through the air easier with an aerodynamic body design too. Breer soon communicated these thoughts with Walter Chrysler and with Chrysler’s blessing, a design team was formed to research the new “aerodynamic concept.”
In 1933, Breer, along with fellow Chrysler engineers Fred Zeder and Owen Skelton, began a series of wind tunnel tests to study which shapes were the most efficient forms. Orville Wright, of the famous Wright brothers, was actually hired as a design consultant. After work that took over 2 years, the finished automotive design was christened the Chrysler Airflow and was quickly ported over to the design department.
Chrysler’s marketing department originally planned that the Airflow would be introduced under Chrysler’s advanced DeSoto brand only. But as the concept began to take shape, Walter Chrysler became increasingly excited about the Airflow design and this lead to the release of the Airflow design under the two other Chrysler brands, Chrysler and Dodge. Basically, Walter Chrysler “bet the farm” on the Airflow concept and it, unfortunately, would prove to be a poor decision.
In 1934, Airflows started shipping to the public. Although initial response was very strong for this efficient car design, it rapidly tapered off. Many journalists and pundits said the cars were, frankly, unattractive. The result was that Chrysler Airflow production, which had totaled 10,839 in 1934 fell precipitously during the next few years. By 1937, the ill-fated vehicle’s final year of production, sales totaled just some 4,602 for the model year. The airflow concept was dead.
As a historical side note, it is rumored that Ferdinand Porsche imported an early Airflow coupe into Germany and, using this model for “inspiration”, designed the first Volkswagen Beetle. Today, you can easily see the similarities between early Volkswagens and Chrysler Airflow coupes.
Article Courtesy of: McLoughlin Hyundai
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