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1934-1937 Chrysler/DeSoto Airflow

Refining the Chrysler/DeSoto Airflow

Having arrived at the optimum envelope, engineer Carl Breer turned his attention to refining the Chrysler/DeSoto Airflow by focusing on details like engine location and passenger seating.

Although a front-mounted engine was more or less assumed throughout most of the Airflow's lengthy gestation, Breer did see to construction of a half-dozen wood-and-metal mockups, some full size, to test the feasibility of a rear-engine layout.

Given the size and weight of Chrysler Corporation's existing engines, it was soon apparent that placing an inline six -- or, worse, a straight eight -- in the car's stern would result in unusual, and probably undesirable, handling characteristics. Needed but unavailable at the time was a light, compact, horizontally opposed power unit. In the end, though, the rear-engine configuration was ruled out because it would have wreaked havoc with assembly line procedures.

Initially, Breer had envisioned a passenger compartment with seating for three abreast in front and two in the rear in order to preserve his desired teardrop body shape. But with more than two in front, elbow room was deemed insufficient for best driver control, and Chrysler's marketing people wouldn't accept a back seat for less than three. A central driving position was tried and rejected.

Then Walter Chrysler heard that GM would launch a streamliner. Fearing it would steal his thunder, he rushed the Airflow into production. The stage was set for disaster.

After settling on a conventional drivetrain layout, Breer engaged fellow engineering "Musketeers" Owen R. Skelton and Fred M. Zeder to help him develop a running prototype for a car employing aircraft-type design principles. Dubbed the "Trifon Special" for test driver Demetrion Trifon, it was completed in great secrecy in December 1932.

Power was supplied by a standard Chrysler six moved 20 inches forward of its normal position and equipped with a crankshaft-driven fan. Front-end styling prefigured that of the eventual Airflow: a short, curved nose with faired-in headlamps and one-piece, rear-hinged "alligator" hood.

However, the Trifon was a semi-fastback four-door sedan with integral trunk and not the full fastback style ultimately chosen. It also had a one-piece windshield instead of the two-piece screen used on most production Airflows.

Shortly after it was completed, Walter Chrysler got a demonstration ride in the Trifon Special (it was given a plush interior for the purpose), and he was overwhelmed by its superior ride and roadability. Breer had been struggling with weight distribution to reduce ride-motion frequency and to synchronize front and rear suspensions to reduce pitching.

The forward engine, with its center of gravity above the front axle, definitely helped the ride. It also allowed the back seat to be moved forward so that the entire passenger compartment was cradled comfortably within the wheelbase for the first time. The results were weight distribution reversed from the typical 45/55 percent front/rear, plus considerable interior space within rather compact external dimensions.

production line for the 1934 Chrysler Airflow
The Chrysler Airflow body line in Highland Park,
1934 -- Walter Chrysler was eager to get
the Airflow to this phase.

Still, Breer was dissatisfied, and despite the boss's insistence that they get on with it, adjustments and refinements continued. The decision to begin tooling up the Chrysler/DeSoto Airflow for production didn't come until the early summer of 1933.

Continue to the next page for details on the process of moving the Airflow into production.

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