Dampened Enthusiasm for the Chrysler Airflow
Performance was another selling point for the Chrylser Airflow. Out on Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats, a Series CV coupe ran -- the flying mile at 95.7 miles per hour, averaged just over 90 mph over 500 miles, and did 84.43 mph for 24 hours -- ample testimony to the car's durability, as well as its performance.
Initially, the Airflow received an enthusiastic reception. It was the sensation of the auto shows, where visitors are said to have placed orders in record numbers. The press, however, gave the new car mixed reviews. Dr. Klemin pronounced it "Splendid" -- but then, he was hardly an unbiased source.
Carolyn Edmundson, fashion artist of Harper's Bazaar, found the Airflow "breathlessly different-looking," which may or may not have been a compliment, depending upon how one looked at it. Britain's The Autocar gave it muted praise: "The more one sees of [them] the more they are apt to grow on one" And on this side of the Atlantic, MoToR suggested, "Look at the Airflows for two or three days and suddenly they will look right and conventional cars will look strange."
Unfortunately for Chrysler, the public's initial enthusiasm for the Airflow was short-lived. Increasingly, prospective buyers looked, then turned away without giving this radical new car a fair trial. Chrysler loyalists purchased the company's conventionally styled six-cylinder cars; others turned to Oldsmobile, which scored an impressive 128-percent sales gain during 1934. In 1933, 45 percent of all new Chryslers had been, straight eights, but with the coming of the Airflow that figure dropped to 31 percent.
Meanwhile, DeSoto -- with no conventional cars to offer -- was hurting badly. While most of the industry enjoyed a partial recovery that year from the effects of the Depression, DeSoto sales were off by nearly 39 percent.
The best seller among the Airflow Chryslers was the price -- leading Series CU, which rode a 123-inch wheelbase and was powered by a 298.7-cubic-inch, horsepower straight eight. At $1,345, it was priced midway between the "50"and "60" series Buicks.
The CU came in four body styles: four-door sedan (by far the most popular), Town Sedan (with blind quarter panels), Brougham (two-door sedan), and coupe. The last, easily the best-looking of the lot, was a true fastback, with the spare tire enclosed within the trunk; on the other body styles the spare was mounted externally.
The three larger Airflow series all bore the Imperial name. Wheelbases measured 128,137.5, and 146.5 inches, respectively, for the Imperial Series CV and the Custom Imperial CX and CW. The first two used a 323.5-cid, 130-horsepower engine, while the CW, the largest car Chrysler had ever built, employed a 384.8-cubic-inch straight eight rated at 150 bhp. Imperial prices started at $1,625 and ranged all the way to $5,145 for the Series CW limousines-the latter a figure $350 higher than a Cadillac V-12 in the same body style.
On the next page, learn about the Chrysler Airflow's demise.