Saturday 4 February 2017
The Chrysler Airflow is a full-size car produced by Chrysler from 1934 to 1937. The Airflow was one of the first full-size American production car to use streamlining as a basis for building a sleeker automobile, one less susceptible to air resistance. Chrysler made a significant effort at a fundamental change in automotive design with the Chrysler Airflow, but it was ultimately a commercial failure.
Chrysler also marketed a companion model under the DeSoto brand, the DeSoto Airflow.
The basis for the Chrysler Airflow was rooted in Chrysler Engineering's Carl Breer's curiosity about how forms affected their movement through the environment. According to Chrysler, Breer's quest was started while watching geese travel through the air in a "V" flight pattern. Another source lists Breer as watching military planes on their practice maneuvers, while still other sources attach the genesis of the project to Breer's interest in lighter-than-air airships and how their shapes helped them move through the atmosphere.
Breer, along with fellow Chrysler engineers Fred Zeder and Owen Skelton, began a series of wind tunnel tests, with the cooperation of Orville Wright, to study which forms were the most efficient shape created by nature that could suit an automobile. Chrysler built a wind tunnel at the Highland Park site, and tested at least 50 scale models by April 1930. Their engineers found that then-current two-box automobile design was so aerodynamically inefficient, that it was actually more efficient turned around backwards. Applying what they had learned about shape, the engineers also began looking into ways that a car could be built, which also used monocoque (unibody) construction to both strengthen the construction (the strengthening was used in a publicity reel) of the car while reducing its overall drag, and thus increasing the power-to-drag ratio as the lighter, more streamlined body allowed air to flow around it instead of being caught through upright forms, such as radiator grilles, headlights and windshields.
Traditional automobiles of the day were the typical two-box design, with about 65% of the weight over the rear wheels. When loaded with passengers, the weight distribution tended to become further imbalanced, rising to 75% or more over the rear wheels, resulting in unsafe handling characteristics on slippery roads. Spring rates in the rear of traditional vehicles were, therefore, necessarily higher, and passengers were subjected to a harsher ride.
An innovative suspension system on the new Chrysler Airflow stemmed from the need for superior handling dynamics. The engine was moved forward over the front wheels compared with traditional automobiles of the time, and passengers were all moved forward so that rear seat passengers were seated within the wheelbase, rather than on top of the rear axle. The weight distribution had approximately 54% of the weight over the front wheels, which evened to near 50-50 with passengers, and resulted in more equal spring rates, better handling, and far superior ride quality.
Prior to the Airflow's debut, Chrysler did a publicity stunt in which they reversed the axles and steering gear, which allowed the car to be driven "backwards" throughout Detroit. The stunt caused a near panic, but the marketing department felt that this would send a hint that Chrysler was planning something big. The car that emerged was like no other American production car to date.
The Airflow, which was heavily influenced by streamlining design movement, was sleek and low compared to other cars on American roads. The car's grille work cascaded forward and downward forming a waterfall look where other makes featured fairly upright radiators. Headlights were semi-flush to areas immediate to the grille. The front fenders enclosed the running surface of the tire tread. In the rear, Airflows encased the rear wheels through the use of fender skirts.
Instead of a flat panel of glass, the windshield comprised two sheets of glass that formed a raked "vee" both side to side, and top to bottom. Passengers were carried in a full steel body (at a time when automakers like General Motors, Ford and even Chrysler itself continued to use wood structural framing members in their car bodies) that rested between the wheels instead of upon them. The front seat was wider than in other cars and the rear seat was deeper. Overall, the car possessed a better power-to-weight ratio, and its structural integrity was stronger than other like models of the day.
The car was introduced months (in January, 1934) before it was put in production, and production peaked at only 6,212 units in May 1934 — very late in the year and barely enough to give every dealer a single Chrysler Airflow. The factory had not accounted for significant manufacturing challenges and expense due to the unusual new Airflow design, which required an unprecedented number and variety of welding techniques. The early Airflows arriving at dealerships suffered from significant problems, mostly the result of faulty manufacturing. According to Fred Breer, son of Chrysler Engineer Carl Breer, the first 2,000 to 3,000 Airflows to leave the factory had major defects, including engines breaking loose from their mountings at 80 mph (130 km/h).
- engine: V8
- capacity: 5302 cc
- horsepower: 116 HP
- gearbox: 3+1
- top speed: 140 km/h