Chrysler Corporation developed and sold the first streamlined automobile. History tells us that the Airflow was indeed a revolutionary automobile and almost put Chrysler out of business.
According to legend, Carl Breer, who was one of Chrysler’s big three executives in the 1930s, noted that the aircraft of the time were quite streamlined but cars weren’t. 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.
Breer, along with several Chrysler engineers 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.
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 design and this lead to the release of Airflows under two other Chrysler brands, Chrysler and Dodge.
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.
The folks at VW of Peoria told us of a fascinating side note involving the AirFlow. 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 certainly see the similarities.