It is widely advanced by automotive historians 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 almost put Chrysler out of business. Here’s the story behind Chrysler’s ill-fated Airflow.
According to legend, Carl Breer, who was one of Chrysler’s big three executives in the 1930s, saw some military aircraft on local maneuvers and wondered why Chrysler’s cars weren’t so streamlined. He reasoned that a streamlined car would slip through the air easier than the standard boxy designs of the day and, naturally, this would lend itself to higher efficiencies and better economy. He soon communicated these thoughts with Walter Chrysler and with his blessing, a design team was formed to research the concept.
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 scheduled for final development.
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 Airflows under two other Chrysler brands, Chrysler and Dodge, in addition to the DeSoto line. Basically, Chrysler “bet the farm” on the Airflow concept and it would prove to be a poor decision.
Although initial response with the media and the public 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.
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. The similarities between early Volkswagens and the Airflow coupes could be testimony to this hypothesis.
Source: Kernersville Chrysler