The Chrysler/DeSoto Airflows also had fine performance, and skeptics took another look -- just in time for the 1935 Chrysler/DeSoto Airflow to arrive on the scene -- after a Chrysler Airflow Imperial coupe broke more than 70 national and international American Automobile Association (AAA) records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah during the summer of 1934.
In a non-stop 24-hour run, the car averaged 84.43 mph and hit speeds in excess of 95 mph. Another Imperial managed a creditable 18 mpg on a cross-country economy sprint.
The DeSoto Airflow was equally impressive: 86.2 mph in the flying mile, 76.2 mph average for 500 miles, and a 74.7-mph average for 2,000 miles, again under AAA auspices.
The 1935 Airflow story was one of fewer models,
minor technical updates, a more stylish grille, and
sturdier but less attractive single-bar bumpers.
Shown is a restored 1935 Chrysler Series C1
Airflow Eight coupe.
But by this time the damage had been done. Although the Airflows were exceptional cars, they just didn't sell -- at least not in sufficient numbers to return even a portion of their development costs. Just under 12,000 of the Chryslers reached buyers in 1934, far less than expected and a bitter disappointment for Carl Breer and his team of engineers.
At DeSoto, sales slumped by a whopping 47 percent and, because it had no companion lines to fall back on, unlike Chrysler, the division ended the year in a considerably weakened position.
In a year that saw most companies boost production by up to 60 percent, Chrysler Corporation volume rose only 20 percent. Most of that was due to the success of the conventional Dodge and Plymouth lines and the square-rigged Chrysler Series CA and CB Sixes that accounted for more than half of the Chrysler make's total sales.
An oft-ignored fact is that despite the Airflow's underwhelming sales, Chrysler Corporation actually made money in 1934, although it lost a bundle on its new streamliners.
Walter Chrysler kept the faith in this
1935 beauty's sales potential.
Nevertheless, Walter Chrysler was convinced that the Airflow was still a very salable product. But he was pragmatic enough to yield to his sales manager, Joseph W. Frazer, who insisted on additional changes.
Especially important to Frazer -- and, ultimately, the company -- was a more conventionally styled companion line designed to win back customers who'd been scared off by the Airflow. Enter the Chrysler and DeSoto Airstream for 1935, available on no fewer than five different wheelbases and with a choice of six-cylinder (both makes) and straight-eight (Chrysler only) power.
Despite certain streamlined styling features like pontoon fenders, raked grilles, and teardrop headlamp pods, these were rather conservative cars that appealed primarily on that basis. Still, the Airstream's speedy completion and quick production startup showed just how quickly Chrysler could respond to the market, even if it was a tacit admission of the Airflow's failure.
Responding to criticism of the 1934 front end, Chrysler gave the 1935 Airflows what appeared to be a hastily tacked-on "widow's peak" grille and replaced the multi-bar bumpers with far stronger but less attractive single-bar units.
The Chrysler CU, CV, and CX series became the C1, C2, and C3, respectively, and the DeSoto SE became the Series SG. Chrysler dropped its 298.7-cid eight and used the 323.5-cid engine for all its 1935 Airflows except the immense CW, then in its last year as a cataloged series.
At a slight additional charge, Chrysler customers could order a high-compression head for more power. The standard C1 engine, now reduced to 115 horses, gained five horsepower in this guise, with the C2/C3 version going from 130 to 138 horsepower.
Although Airflow sales continued to slide, surprising few except Messrs. Chrysler and Breer, the corporation recorded record profits of $35 million this year. Again, it was Dodge, Plymouth, and trucks, together with the new Airstreams, that more than carried the languishing Airflows.
Although Airflow sales were less than impressive, Walter Chrysler had long had high hopes for the model -- even considering other Airflow marques. Get details on the next page.
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