Taken for a demonstration ride in the prototype of the Chrysler Airflow, Walter P. was impressed by its comfort and performance. Oliver Clark took over the role of chief stylist, in charge of the streamliner's exterior design, and by the time the curtain was raised on the auto shows in January 1934, the Airflow was ready.
The original idea had been that the Airflow would be introduced only as a DeSoto. But as the car began to take shape, Walter Chrysler became increasingly enthusiastic about it. "I sincerely believe," he said, "it will bring about a whole new trend in personal transportation." Of course, he wanted an Airflow with his name on it!
The introduction of this revolutionary new automobile would be, he believed, an appropriate way to celebrate the upcoming 10th Anniversary of the founding of the Chrysler Corporation.
In the end there were four Chrysler Airflows, each with its own wheelbase, and all with straight-eight powerplants. In addition, DeSoto fielded a six-cylinder Airflow. The Chrysler Division's two six-cylinder lines retained their conventional styling, but DeSoto placed all its bets on the success of the Airflow -- with dismal results, as we shall soon see.
The Airflow's structure, appropriately enough, was designed by Dr. Alexander Klemin, chief of the Guggenheim Foundation for Aeronautics. Bodies, as author George Dammann has noted, "were constructed around a cage-like steel girder network, to which the body panels were welded." This was not, strictly speaking, "unit" construction; that would have to wait until the introduction of the 1941 Nash 600. Nor did it result in reduced weight, for the Airflows were heavier by several hundred pounds than their conventionally styled 1933 counterparts.
The structure was, however, a tightly integrated body-and-frame design in which the welded body contributed substantially to chassis rigidity. Chrysler was at pains to point out just how stout the Airflow really was. In one demonstration, an Airflow sedan was sent over a 110-foot cliff. Falling end over end over the face of the cliff, it landed on its wheels at the bottom -- whereupon it was driven away under its own power.
The Chrysler Airflow was met with short-lived enthusiasm. Learn more on the next page.