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      Car History: Car History Year 1934
    Posted on Sunday, September 26 @ 23:15:34 UTC by Cars
      Cars For a company where engineering considerations were dominant, almost to the exclusion of styling innovations, the arrival of the Airflow from Chrysler in January '34 must have been a surprise to many people. But even more of a surprise, perhaps, is that the Airflow indeed came directly from a desire for better automotive engineering rather than a decision to create a design statement.

    Unfortunately for Chrysler, the Airflow was proof that while good engineers can be relied on to crack difficult technical problems, even the best of them sometimes fail to appreciate that styling shouldn't be completely ruled by function. The engineer's view of what looks right is usually determined by what works best, not what appeals to the potential customer. Throughout modern history there have been numerous examples of ideas that were too far ahead of popular taste and had to be abandoned as a result - the Chrysler Airflow is just one such mistake. Inspiration for the wind tunnel research that led to the creation of the Airflow is said to have come to Chrysler engineer Carl Breer back in 1927 when he saw a squadron of air craft flying in formation. It set in motion a train of thought about the lack of aerodynamics involved in the design of car bodies, so he had a small scale wind tunnel constructed where he carried out tests on wooden blocks. The next stage was to have a much larger wind tunnel built at the Chrysler Highland Park research center. One of the most interesting observations arising from the experiments was that most cars produced less wind resistance when placed backwards in the tunnel. In a later interview, Carl Breer said he remembered looking out of his office window at the parking lot and thinking: "Just imagine all those cars running in the wrong direction all this time." One of the first elements he found to reduce wind resistance was a sloping back and this led to other fundamental design changes. In order to give sufficient headroom for rear seat passengers, they had to be moved forward, which in turn caused the front seat to shift and this had a knock-on effect of pushing the engine out over the front axle - a completely new idea. But important though streamlining had become, there were many other factors that the team of Breer, Owen Skelton, Fred Zeder and Oliver dark were working on with the new car. Improved ride qualities through better weight distribution, more interior room and greater structural strength were also targets for the engineers. With a conventional Thirties car, the majority of the weight was supported by the rear axle, typically in a ratio of 60:40. By moving the engine forward, the Airflow had a much better front to rear balance, with 55 at the front and 45 at the rear. It wasn't simply a matter of moving the engine forward, however, it had to be tilted at an angle of 5° to keep the transmission tunnel profile down. This, in turn, required a special oil pan to cope with suspension movement as one third of the block was ahead of the front axle. Longer leaf springs were used to further enhance the ride characteristics and some reports concluded that the Airflow came close to fulfiling the "Floating Power" phrase in Chrysler advertising. Also, seat width was increased by a whopping ten inches, giving unrivaled room for six people to travel in comfort. Structurally too, the Airflow differed considerably from the norm, using an all-steel cage fixed to the chassis rails, rather than the traditional method of wooden reinforcement members for the steel body panels favored by most other manufacturers. The lightweight cage, resembling a modern NASCAR racing stock car safety frame, closely followed the roof and body lines providing a rigid mounting for the panels and was a step along the road towards full unitary construction and the elimination of a separate body and chassis. One other feature of note was the first use of a one-piece curved windshield on the special Custom Imperial limited production models. But no matter what technical advancements were achieved with the Airflow, it was the body styling that would sell the car to the public. Today we can look at the "waterfall" grille and rounded front end and appreciate what they were doing, but back then it was seen as an ugly beast. That wasn't the case at the New York Automobile Show where the car made its debut, and enough of the more sophisticated metropolitan audience were sufficiently impressed to place orders which added up to several thousand in total. And several high-profile personalities in the fashion and design world expressed enthusiasm for the ultra-modern shape. It was a fairly promising start, but by no means all of the big city observers liked the design, and some warning signs might have been noticed. The immediate problem faced by Chrysler was fulfiling these initial orders. Getting the radical design into production proved more difficult than had been envisaged and there was a three or four month delay (depending on the model) before deliveries began. This hold-up proved to be critical. In the interim, rival manufacturers were able to circulate negative rumors about the strange-looking Airflow and without any cars in use to counter this propaganda, Chrysler suffered from a loss of consumer confidence in the new automobile. It also has to be admitted that when the first cars were actually delivered there was some shortfall in the build quality, which didn't help at all. It wasn't just Chrysler that was affected; DeSoto used the Airflow design exclusively for its '35 model range and sales tumbled as a result. The Chrysler marque fared slightly better because of the line of more conventional models with the Airstream name that were produced alongside the Airflow and so helped limit losses. In a year when auto industry sales rose by 40 the combined total for Chrysler and DeSoto dropped by almost 10 to about 50,000 units. Of those, only 15,000 were Airflow models - it was a dismal verdict on a technically superior vehicle. Thankfully for the corporation as a whole, Plymouth and Dodge hadn't used the Airflow shape and their sa.les remained buoyant. The situation wasn't as disastrous as it might have been for Chrysler, partly due to sales of the standard Airstream models, but also to the fact that the Airflow had been designed to keep tooling and manufacturing costs down. The Chrysler panic buttons were hit and stylist Raymond Dietrich was hired to rescue the situation. He introduced a grille with a peak to replace the original waterfall design for '35 but sales still declined. Chrysler kept faith with the Airflow until 1937, giving it annual facelifts to try and improve public acceptance but the resistance to the unusual shape just couldn't be overcome and it was dropped. Setbacks of a more permanent kind were suffered by the criminal fraternity during 1935 as bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were killed and became enshrined in folk lore. And Public Enemy Number One-John DiIlinger-was killed by the FBI, as were hoodlums Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson. It proves that just like crime, it doesn't always pay to be first in the automotive field with a revolutionary idea, no matter how sound the engineering behind it! Specification CHRYSLER AIRFLOW SERIES CU Engine Cast iron - 8 cylinders in line Displacement 299 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3 1/4 x 4 1/2ins. Horsepower 122 Body styles Coupe; Brougham; Sedan; Town sedan No. of seats 5-6 Weight (lbs) 3,716 Ibs-3,760 Ibs Price $1,345 Produced 8,389     Specification CHRYSLER CUSTOM IMPERIAL AIRFLOW Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 385 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3 1/2 x 5.0 ins. Horsepower 145 Body styles Sedan; Town sedan; Custom limousine; Town No. of seats 2-58 Weight (lbs) 5,780 Ibs - 5,935 Ibs Price $5,780 - $5,935 Produced 67   Specification CHRYSLER DODGE SIX Engine Cast iron - 6 cylinders in line Displacement 217.8 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3 1/4 x 4 3/8ins. Horsepower 82 Body styles Business coupe; Rumble-seat coupe; Convertible coupe; 2 door sedan;4 door sedan No. of seats 2-5 Weight (lbs) 2,695 Ibs-c. 3,000 Ibs Price $665 - $765 Produced 78,257     Specification PACKARD 11TH SERIES V12 Engine 67 degree - Cast iron block Displacement 445.5 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3 7/16 x 4 ins. Horsepower 160 Body styles Numerous - in-house and custom No. of seats 2-7 Weight (lbs) < c. 5,700 Ibs Price < $7,000 Produced 960  
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