Who knew Orville Wright designed Chryslers?
We all remember the Tucker that was ahead of its time, but who remembers the Chrysler Airflow from 1934 to 1937? Known as the first car to be designed and manufactured based on “streamlining”, the airflow was well ahead of its time.
The Airflow was the brainstorm of engineer Carl Breer, who believed that the high compression engines of the time would never be able to achieve their maximum ability in the body styles Chrysler had been designing. Breer and his partners met with aviation pioneer Orville Wright to find inspiration. Wright suggested building a small scale wind tunnel to test the aerodynamics on miniature prototypes. Chrysler initiated that idea and implemented it, building the industry’s first full-size wind tunnel at the company’s headquarters in Highland Park, Michigan.
The results of early wind tunnel tests expressed an interesting result. The current Chrysler models were actually more aerodynamic when driven backwards. This shocking find led to a new teardrop design and eventually the Airflow. This new understanding of aerodynamics, though an important part of the story, often overshadows an equally important part of this story.
The story lies in the details. The Airflow implemented the first use of unitary design in the auto industry. The Airflow favored steel girders surrounding the passenger compartment instead of the traditional body-on-chassis. Marketed as a safety factor, this new design was on a conventional chassis. Nonetheless, the concept was proved after an Airflow was pushed off of a 100 foot cliff. Believe it or not, the Airflow drove away relatively unscathed.
Although the Airflow was ahead of its time, many saw its failure was due to a quick drastic change in design, as opposed to a gradual change in design and engineering.
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