Story of the Week

Posted: 09.18.2014
The Demise of Chrysler Airflow Models
By Robert Tate: Automotive Historian/Researcher
Images: Courtesy of Robert Tate's collection

In 1934, Mr. Carl Breer and two of his associates, Mr. Owen Skelton and Mr. Fred Zeder, created a special kind of Chrysler automobile that would later become very controversial within the automotive market. Many Americans did not like the 1934-1937 Chrysler vehicles or the De Soto Airflow automobiles. However, the vehicles offered many innovations and safety features that made the proved these models were simply ahead of their time.


During the early stages of the Chrysler Airflow development, the project started with countless wind tunnel testing with smaller wooded models and delicate instruments. Their goal was to determine the effect of head-on wind resistance and rear end wind drag. These tests had proven that over time that with increasing speeds, wind resistance alone consumed an astonished amount of power. It took six years to develop the new Chrysler and De Soto Airflow automobiles and they were great looking vehicles to some.



The Chrysler Airflow models were released in 1934, creating a huge impact on the buying market after being introduced at the 1934 Automobile show. However, 1934 was also known as a year of despair as the Great Depression changed so many Americans lives. Despite the economic times, Chrysler continued to move forward with its airflow package design program. During the first car show when the Airflow models were featured, one automotive journalist from Motor Yearbook said, “At first glance, these cars will look strange to most people however after you have looked at them for two or three days you become accustomed to them and sooner or later you begin to admire them”.



The appearance of the Chrysler Airflow models was designed to include a hood that had a long graceful curve, headlights, and a chromed grille set within its forward front surface. The rear end design offered a continuous sweep in a true streamlined design form. The rear wheels on Airflow models were partially covered to reduce air drag. The doors were extra wide for an easy entrance for the driver as well as its passengers and the seats were cradled on a frame of chromed tubing to allow air to circulate beneath the driver and passenger seats. A total of 11, 292 Chrysler Airflow models were built in 1934 and in 1935, a total of 6797 De Soto Airflow models were built that year which were available in three different models: the four door, six-passenger sedan; the town sedan for six passengers and the coupe with a enclosed rumble seat.



It took determination and creative thinking to produce such a scientifically stream lined automobile. These vehicles created a new form of transportation and offered top of the line aerodynamics. Greater speed for the driver was an added bonus of the Airflow models as well .Today, automotive historians agree that in 1934, Chrysler had introduced one of the best known aerodynamic vehicles in automotive history. By 1937, the last Chrysler Airflow models (known as the Airflow III models) were produced in two different body styles, a six passenger sedan along with a five passenger coupe.



In conclusion, the Chrysler Airflow models had a major impact on automotive styling trends since World War II. Even prior to that, higher speeds and more economical operations have been partially derived from this early exploration of streamlined automotive designs. Today, the Chrysler and De Soto Airflow models have become a great collector's vehicle and a great part our automotive heritage.


A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. (Butler Don. “The Plymouth and De Soto Story”. Crestline Publishing Company 1978. Langworth M. Richard & Norbye P. Jan. “The Complete History of Chrysler Corporation 1924-1985. Engineering Staff Chrysler Corporation. “Story of the Airflow Cars (1934-1937) October, 1963. Lamm Michael & Holls Dave. “A Century of Automotive Style 100 Years Of American Car Design”1996.)

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