Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Chrysler Airflow

Chrysler Airflow

The Chrysler Airflow was where Art met Science!  The lines of its bodywork were drawn from aerodynamics - at a time when that discipline was a glint in a boffin's eye!  Certainly, it was far from being routinely used in automotive design.  Indeed, the Airflow was the first production car to feature the fledgling craft.  A 'wind tunnel' was duly developed.  Today, such systems are considered arcane - but, in the early '30s, they were tantamount to a black art!  The engineering wizards overseeing the project were Carl Breer, Fred Zeder, and Owen Skelton.  Breer was the catalyst ... he had been first to be smitten by the new science.  Zeder and Skelton soon followed suit.  And it no harm at all when Orville Wright - father of aviation - was added to the aerodynamic mix!  More than 50 test-bed cars were constructed!  By means, then, of painstaking refinement, the Chrysler Airflow gradually took shape.

But the Airflow was not just about aerodynamics.  'Weight loss', too, was part of its brief.  The car's svelte frame was made from metal - rather than the customary timber.  Perched on that frame was monocoque bodywork - reducing weight still further.  And what weight was left was carefully situated.  For optimal ride and handling, the engine was above the front wheels.  The seats were ensconced within the wheelbase.  Thanks to the wind-cheating work, the Airflow was well able to 'turn up the wick'.  A top speed of 88mph was not to be sniffed at, in 1934!

In sales terms, though, all this groundbreaking was for nought!  Walter Chrysler had shown courage and commitment in commissioning the car.  But, the Airflow was about the future.  Buyers were not ready for its 'free-flowing' design.  And rumours of build quality faults - from new welding techniques - did not help!  But such is the way with innovation.  Geographically-speaking, Chrysler were in Detroit.  But, in terms of engineering, they were in new territory!  Ultimately, though, a car like the Airflow is not about sales.  Rather, it is about the legacy it leaves ... and the visions it engenders.  The Airflow's blend of Art and Science would affect motoring for decades.

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