For all the 1934 Chrysler/DeSoto Airflow's virtues, many buyers just couldn't ignore its new shape. In retrospect, it was probably too different for the general public to accept. In fact, the Airflow's appearance generated extreme reactions rarely associated with an automobile: strong admiration or intense dislike, and these feelings affected sales.
Maintaining the 1934 Chrysler CU Airflow under the hood.
he most controversial elements were probably the rounded snout with its "waterfall" grille, plus the slabbed sides and the spatted rear wheel openings. Said industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss, the Airflow was a "case of going too far too fast."
Frederick Lewis Allen, editor of Harper's magazine, described it as being "so bulbous, so obesely curved as to defy the natural preference of the eye for horizontal lines."
Yet there were many who either liked the styling or could at least overlook it, because Chrysler and DeSoto dealers took in a high number of Airflow orders in the first few weeks following the official launch. But because of the considerable retooling involved for the radical new design, production didn't get underway until April 1934, a critical four-month delay.
Even then, the first cars off the line were far from perfect, again reflecting the Airflow's unfamiliar engineering and Walter Chrysler's production hurry-up. Word of these difficulties got around and combined with the lack of cars to blunt much of the public's high initial interest. Worse, it led to rumors that the Airflow was flawed -- a lemon. As a result, many would-be buyers canceled their orders.
Airflow was ultramodern
apart from the sedans’
external spare tire.
A further sales setback came in the form
of a smear campaign launched by competitors, GM among them, against the 1934 Chrysler/DeSoto Airflow's all-steel body.
Chrysler gamely tried to counter this by staging one of its well-known publicity stunts, in which an Airflow was pushed off
a 110-foot cliff in Pennsylvania. The car landed on its wheels and drove away under its own power, battered but intact. It was a convincing demonstration, but it didn't do much good. The Airflow had been crippled.
In an attempt to get sales moving, Chrysler instituted several rounds of modifications to the Airflow. The first of these showed up as early as June 1934, when the somewhat fragile grille was strengthened and simplified on all models.
At the same time, a new Series CX Custom Imperial variant arrived on a 137.5-inch wheelbase, powered by the CV's 130-horsepower engine and offered in the same four closed body styles, including a limousine.
Priced as low as $2,245, the CX was intended to bridge the size and price gap with the huge CW, which gained 5 horsepower for a total of 150. The basic Series CU also got a power boost, to 122 horses. Beginning in March, both the DeSoto and Chrysler Airflows gained a standard automatic overdrive for their three-speed transmissions.
Geared to give a 30-percent reduction in engine rpm at a given road speed, it consisted of a simple planetary gearset mounted on the transmission's output shaft and engaged via a centrifugal clutch, which locked the satellite cage to the shaft at speeds above 40 mph depending on throttle position. Automatic downshifts were made at or below 25 mph.
Invented by William B. Barnes, it was supplied by Warner Gear. Together with their streamlined styling, it made the Airflows quite economical.
Continue to the next page to see how these Airflow improvements impacted the 1935 models.
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