Chrysler Airflow- the US aerodynamic pioneer

An aerodynamic 1930s car in a museum.
The Chrysler Airflow of 1934

The Chrysler Airflow of 1934 was an honourable attempt to design an American aerodynamic car. The designer, Carl Breer observed the smooth shapes of birds and aircraft and wondered why cars could not have the same. So Chrysler built a wind tunnel with the help of the aircraft pioneer Orville Wright.

They swiftly realised that the conventional American car was more aerodynamic going backwards than forwards, and so in a publicity stunt, they reversed the chassis of a conventional 1933 Chrysler and drove it backwards at speed through the streets of Detroit. This caused near panic amongst pedestrians, but it signalled that the Airflow was coming.

An aerodynamic 1930s car in a museum, showing the raked windscreen
The Airflow featured a raked windscreen

It might be coming, but it was much later to market than planned due to the difficulties of making the lightweight body. The Airflow’s complex construction eventually required expensive new tooling which caused significant assembly delays and huge additional expense.

The Airflow’s slogan “The car of tomorrow is here today” should have added “…and it should have been here yesterday.”  

The front of the car featured a radiator grille which cascaded forwards like a waterfall, and a pair of headlights bulged out of the front panel like the eyes of a frog.

A photo of a black Airflow with a radiator grille
The radiator grille cascaded forwards like a waterfall.

Instead of a flat one-piece windscreen, it had two pieces of safety glass in a shallow vee. The front wings enveloped the front wheels, and rear spats totally enclosed the rear wheels.

It all looked a bit like a water feature.

The problem is that the public, still reeling from the Great Depression, simply didn’t like the look of it. It was just too different for Americans brought up on the Ford Tin Lizzie.

The Airflow was actually one of the most advanced American cars of the 1930s, featuring an engine mounted forwards over the front axle and thus freeing up more passenger space.

The passengers sat between the front and rear axles, instead of perched over the bumping rear axle.

General Motors ran knocking advertisements, and the car was a sales disaster. The car flopped disastrously and brought car aerodynamics into disrepute in the United States.

The car was discontinued in 1937. Chastened, Chrysler remained conservative in their styling for the next twenty years.

A photo showing the Airflow rear
The Airflow had a swooping rear end

The interior of the Airflow was more conservative. Despite the Chrysler Airflow’s lack of market success, other manufacturers soon adopted the lighter-weight steel body construction and the superior aerodynamics that it pioneered.

A picture of the interior which was conventional
The interior was more conventional

The car featured here is one of only 212 Chrysler Airflow CV Imperial Coupes built in 1934. They were six inches longer and featured more accessories. It is a rare survivor.

What engine was in the Chrysler Airflow?

Eight-cylinder L-head in-line front-mounted engine

Capacity: 323.5 cubic inches (5301 cc)

Power: 128 hp at 3400 rpm

How much is a Chrysler Airflow worth?

The average price of a Chrysler Airflow is $72,130.

Lowest price $8,000.

Top price $209,000.

The most recent was $117,700 (source