Seeing the Chrysler name in the news has become quite common. The brand is not in its best shape (below) but, like many in the Stellantis group, we are not buried. So we have proposed a concept called Chrysler Airflow, a reference to a model that has become legendary… but regardless of its commercial career!
Streamline Moderne is on 4 wheels
The main feature of the Chrysler Airflow is its style. Many will associate it with Modern Animation…but that is more of a coincidence than anything else.
We are at the very beginning of the 1930s. Carl Breer is the head of the engineering team from the Chrysler group. The brand, like the rest of the automotive industry at that time, produced square bodies, and it was not in jest that they were called that! Cars have two volumes, a long rectangular hood and a cubic interior. Breer and his acolytes are interested in aviation and want to test the air penetration of the cars of that time.
This team will use the wind tunnel to test the cars. Verdict: the aerodynamics of the cars of the time would have been better if… they went in reverse! So it’s a whole automotive design that must be taken!
They would work on it for several years, even calling in Orville Wright (one of the brothers) to improve the work. Finally we will find a very refined line, in the form of a drop of water, and the headlights are connected to the grille and not to the supports and aerodynamics that have never met the car … welcome, we will come back to this. In any case, the concept has advanced enough to give its name to the Chrysler Airflow!
And the relationship with Streamline Modern then? Let’s get back to basics. In the early 1930s, the Streamline Moderne style took over more and more in the USA. Attention, we are not talking about the style of cars, originally, but of the architectural movement. The idea is to combine horizontal lines with smooth curves instead of classic angles. However, the push comes from industry and especially from the big transatlantic lines. Great buildings are born and the Modern Series spreads.
He ended up touching industrial design with refrigerators, radios, vacuum cleaners or the famous Coke bottle. And it’s true that Chrysler Airflow lines can approach this stylistic movement. But, like the locomotives that are also related to the Streamline Modern, it is the aerodynamics that produced these lines. This will not prevent the term from being applied to all vehicles more or less inspired by the Chrysler Airflow.
The technique is not JUST aerodynamic
Aero is pushed but it is not the only innovation of the car. By “flipping” the cars during their tests, Chrysler engineers also demonstrated the mass balance of the cars. The back is full, which means firm suspension and lack of comfort. We then address the optimal distribution of these. The Chrysler Airflow shape will help, but we want to go further.
To do this we will use an already existing technique, Lancia sold it in 1921, but it is very little spread: the monocoque body. On the American side, no one uses it. In Europe it will be a democracy at the same time, and Citroen Tension for example.
In terms of the engine, nothing was restored and the 8-cylinder in-line 298.65 Ci appeared in 1932 in the car that preceded it: the Chrysler Eight.
As long as we’re talking about launches, let’s not forget one thing: The Chrysler Airstream was not intended to cover Chrysler’s range but DeSoto’s. However, Walter Chrysler is impressed by the form and technical audacity of the new car and wants to push it to the next level. So it will have its place in both series!
Chrysler Airflow: thorn in the giant’s foot
It was at the 1934 New York Auto Show that the Chrysler Airflow was presented. Like any avant-garde car that is not a concept car but a real road car, it receives a mixed reception. Some praise his assertiveness and others are more reserved.
The Chrysler Airflow is also available as a coupe, two versions, and a sedan, two other versions. Four wheels are available:
- Chrysler Airflow “Eight” CU with a wheelbase of 3.137 meters
- Chrysler Airflow “Imperial Eight” CU with 3.251m
- Chrysler Airflow “Custom Imperial” CX with 3.492m
- Chrysler Airflow “Custom Imperial” CW 3.721m
The latter is owned by LeBaron and covers the range. In addition, it offers another first for a car: the first one-piece curved glass on a production car!
The car is sold from scratch, with its little sister from DeSoto. It is a real “small” as it sits on a short wheelbase and only houses 6 cylinders under its hood. On the other hand, this gives it a larger appearance than the Chrysler, whether as a coupe or a sedan.
Pictured: The DeSoto Airflow Coupé seen on Malaga Museum
The Chrysler Airflow’s debut will be a disaster. His reception is more timid than expected. Americans have not been seduced by this car that breaks the rules and has a shape that is very unique.
Worse, the first orders go backwards. Industrial development of monocoque bodies is hell and tool development is not good. Sometimes cars are returned to the factory before delivery due to serious quality concerns.
Chrysler sales are down. The manufacturer’s market share fell from 45 to 31% and finally it was the common “Six” that saved the furniture. On the other hand, at DeSotor we only offer this Airflow in the catalog and it is a disaster. Add the smear campaign launched by GM and the picture is bleak. Very black if we add the last thorn, that of Paul Jaray, the engineer who created the Tatra T77 line that takes the same shape and rightly designates the Detroit manufacturer!
For 1935 we are already fixing the line. The grille is no longer smooth but slightly forward. However, the rest of the car remains unchanged. The range is limited by the disappearance of the Brougham Coupé and then the Town Sedans saloons during the year.
Less than 8,000 cars were produced that year. At Chrysler, the Airstream was quickly launched, improving the Chrysler Six line, without coming close to the Chrysler Airflow, and the lineup was expanded with a new Eight for the same job. DeSoto also welcomes Sita to its lineup to minimize damage.
In 1936 the grille was redesigned to be narrower and more pointed. At the same time, the rear is improved with a trunk that now accommodates the spare wheel.
For 1937, Chrysler’s air-flow lineup was reduced to just the Eight offered as a two-door coupe or a 4-door sedan. The engine went to 323.5 Ci (5.3L) but this did not prevent a fall in sales. Only 4000 cars are produced before we freeze costs! At the same time the Royal and Imperial Custom has been updated. We hope to quickly forget the fiasco and its 29,878 copies.
A diverse heritage!
At Chrysler, the legacy of the Chrysler Airflow will be the opposite of what it was meant to be. Avant-garde, we forget. The manufacturer admits that it made a mistake by simply forgetting to ask the Americans what they were waiting for before giving them such an innovative car. As a result, the manufacturer will only produce classic cars, in their line or even in their technique. It will also be necessary to wait many years before the brand offers a monocoque car again.
That said, other manufacturers will find the idea interesting and will start producing the castles in the following years.
As for the style, “Clean” will appear in all ranges in the early 1940s. Not all American manufacturers will be as bold as Chrysler. Remember, however, the car that will push the plug more than the rest: the Lincoln Zephyr.
The concept will arrive in Europe with two manufacturers. First Volvo, which launched its PV36 Carioca, taking the overall shape of the Chrysler Airflow down to its grille.
In France it is Peugeot who will be inspired by it. And in the case of Sochaux we will go further. The animation line is acceptable for use as a base for 402 and 302 (and later 202) but we go further in aerodynamics by hiding the headlights under the grille!
Return of Chrysler Airflow in 2022
No, don’t search for an auto show you may have missed. It was at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where people are more accustomed to discovering the latest smartphones than cars, that the Airflow 2022 concept car was unveiled.
The SUV takes the grille of the latest cars in the range… and it must be said that it has been significantly reduced to only the 300 and Voyager and Pacifica. But precisely, the new Chrysler Airflow introduces the future range of Chrysler, which will be launched in 2025 and this first car, you will have felt it coming, 100% electric. We’re even planning a full line-up powered by the electric legend for 2028.
As we have seen, the Chrysler Airflow inspired the Peugeot. In 2022, these two brands are part of the Stellantis group. Why not see technical solutions go directly from one brand to another? In any case, it will be a hell of a nod to the past, but we hope it ends there in memory and does not give rise to a new failure that could, this time, be fatal for Chrysler.
Additional photos: the wheel