Gear Head Tuesday – Chrysler’s Groundbreaking Airflow

Gear Head

Chrysler-Airflow

1934 Chrysler Airflow 2 door

In 1934 Chrysler rocked the automotive world with the introduction of its new Airflow model. What is seldom remembered today is that on the very same day that Chrysler introduced the Airflow, 1 January 1934, competitor Hupmobile introduced their own streamline car, the Aero-Dynamic.  These groundbreaking cars were radical for the time. In terms of engineering and design features, they set the pace for the automobile industry and pointed the way to how all cars would be built in coming years. The Airflow was such a radical departure from what everyone else in the industry was doing, the public rejected the car, setting Chrysler back on its heels in sales. While the Airflow did not sell as Chrysler had expected, Chrysler sold 10 Airflows to every 1 Hupmobile Aero-Dynamic.

1934 Huppmobile Aerodynamic

1934 Hupmobile Aero-Dynamic. The headlights are fared into the body rather than being mounted on pods as seen on the ’34 Buick shown below. Chrysler’s Airflow also did away with pod mounted headlights. Both the Aero-Dynamic and the Airflow pointed the way toward envelope bodies, though that design element was still some 12 years from being fully realized.

The two designs have many similarities – but also have distinct differences. First, they were both designed in wind tunnels though in separate locations. Both cars had the seating between the axles. Both had the engine over the front axle. Raymond Loewy, with assistance from Amos Northup, made the Hupmobile design appealing.

The Hupmoble had the widest front seat in the industry. The windshield, called “Panoramic,” was in three parts, and gave more vision than any other car. Both the front seat and the steering column are adjustable. Power brakes were stock on the straight eight. Rear stabilizer bars were stock as Hupmobile was first in the industry to employ them, in 1932. Hupmobile recessed the spare tire as opposed to Chrysler hanging theirs out in the wind.

1934_Hupmobile Ad

1934 Hupmobile Aero-Dynamic ad – note that the spare tire is recessed into the trunk lid. On the Chrysler Airflow, the spare tire, while covered, is not recessed (see the Airflow photo below).

It is possible, but not proven, that industrial espionage led to the development and launch of their Aerodynamic. Regardless of its progeny, the Hupmobile Aerodynamic shares the claim with Chrysler’s Airflow as being the first production streamlined car.

1934-Hupmobile-Aerodynamic-Sedan

1934 Hupmobile Aero-Dynamic sedan note the three piece windshield. Mercedes-Benz toyed with this windshield layout in the mid-’50s in a prototype they built that shared some design similarities to Packard’s “Request” show car.

mercedes-benz_prototype

Compare a ’34 Chrysler Airflow with a ’34 Buick as an example of how advanced the Airflow design was for the time:

1934 Chrysler Airflow

Above: ’34 Chrysler Airflow; Below: ’34 Buick

1934-buick

The video below is well worth the 13 minutes it takes to watch as it explains the engineering behind the Airflow:

The Airflow’s interiors got the “streamline” treatment as well. Note the metal framing around the seats:

1934_Chrysler_Airflow_Interior-rAirflow interiorAirflow_interior

Among the Airflows’ pioneering engineering features is the bodies were a major step toward unitized construction.

The fact that Chrysler’s Airflow and the Hupmobile Aero-Dynamic were both introduced in one of the worst years (but not the worst) years of the Depression did no favors to either company. Nonetheless, the designs of these cars were a shock to the car buying public and neither Chrysler nor Hupmobile got the sales lift they should have for their pioneering cars. But the design and engineering staffs of competing makers were paying attention and these two advanced designs pointed the industry toward building cars that truly broke with the automobiles’ horse-and-buggy past.

Airflow-Sedan

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Another Woody for your viewing pleasure, this one a Mopar:
(Hat tip: “B-Squared”)

MoPar Woody

4 Comments

Add yours →

  1. Great post. That is the most I have read on either the Hup or the Air-Flow. I enjoyed it. My connection here on the Eastern Shore will not allow me to see the video. OUCH.
    Just wanted to say this is some good stuff, I like it. I always heard dad talk about the Hup, he never owned one. He was always a GM man until 1955 and George Romney caught his fancy and he went Rambler.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wayne Graefen 22/08/2017 — 08:38

    As a side note, the ’34 Hudson and Terraplane two and four door sedans were the first cars to fully enclose the rear spare tire within the body, inside a trunk. Depending on body style that trunk was either flush sweeping at the rear or a bubble style. Coupes and convertibles continued with an external bracketed spare through ’36.

    Liked by 1 person

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