The Chrysler Airflow, widely considered the most advanced car of the 1930s, nearly put Chrysler Corporation out of business. The story involves executives with eyes so firmly fixed on the future that they essentially ignored what the consumer wanted. Here’s the fascinating story.
According to company legend, one day Carl Breer, one of Chrysler’s “Three Musketeers”, was watching a squadron of military aircraft on maneuvers. “If aircraft were shaped in such a way as to minimize wind resistance, why not ground transportation,” he thought? He communicated this thought with Walter Chrysler and with his blessing work got under way on the development of a “modern” streamlined automobile. By the end of 1932, a prototype was on the road.
Holden Dodge Used Cars and Trucks have siad the original idea had been that the Airflow would be introduced only as an advanced DeSoto automobile.. But as the car began to take shape, Walter Chrysler became increasingly enthusiastic about it and this lead to the release of four different Chrysler Airflows.
Initially, the Chrysler Airflow received an enthusiastic reception but unfortunately for Chrysler, the public’s initial enthusiasm for the Airflow was short-lived. Some said it was advanced but ugly and design consultant Norman Bel Geddes was called in. He endowed the 1935 models with a new hood, which extended forward to a vee-shaped grille. The bumpers were redesigned and decorative hood louvers were added.
But it didn’t help much. Chrysler Airflow production, which had totaled 10,839 for 1934, fell to 7,751 in 1935. Only one Airflow series was offered for 1937, the ill-fated streamliner’s final year of production. Sales totaled just 4,600 for the season.
And then it was all over. Walter Chrysler, fell very ill during this time and probably wondered what had gone so wrong. In The Complete History of Chrysler 1924-1985 it states that “The normally canny Walter Chrysler approved this advanced concept without much apparent regard for whether the public would accept it. And that would prove to be a serious mistake.”