1934 Chrysler Airflow
241 CI 6-cylinder engine
Leather and cloth interior
Unique Art Deco styling
Carl 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 unibody construction to achieve rigidity with less weight than could be achieved with the conventional separate frame and body. The strengthening was demonstrated in a publicity reel. The car thus represented a breakthrough in lightweight-yet-strong construction as well as increasing the power-to-drag ratio as the lighter, more streamlined body allowed air to flow around it instead of being caught against 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.
Innovative weight distribution 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 of a conventional 1933 model, which allowed the car to be driven "backwards" throughout Detroit. The stunt caused a near panic, but the marketing department felt that this would call attention to the poor aerodynamics of current cars, and send a hint that Chrysler was planning something big. The car that emerged was like no other American production car to date.
For 1934, both Chrysler and its junior running mate, DeSoto, were scheduled to offer the Airflow. DeSoto was assigned to offer nothing but Airflows; Chrysler, however, hedged its bets and continued to offer a six-cylinder variant of its more mainstream 1933 model cars. The Airflow used a flathead I8 engine and was produced in both 2-door coupe and 4-door sedan variants.
Chrysler of Canada produced an Airflow Six, model CY, which was basically a DeSoto Airflow with a Chrysler grille, bumpers, instrument panel and emblems. A total of 445 were built. The Airflow Six was dropped at the end of 1934. The appearance was also used for commercial trucks as the Dodge Airflow.
The Chrysler line of eight-cylinder Airflows included model CU Airflow Eight (123.5 in (3,140 mm) wheelbase), model CV Airflow Imperial Eight (128 in (3,300 mm) wheelbase), model CX Airflow Custom Imperial (137.5 in (3,490 mm) wheelbase). At the very top was the model CW Airflow Custom Imperial with a body built by LeBaron on a 146.5 in (3,720 mm) wheelbase. The CW had the industry's first one-piece curved windshield on a production automobile.
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