The First Green Car - A Chrysler?

Chrysler Corporation developed and offered for sale the first streamlined automobile in the 1930s.  It was revolutionary and almost put Chrysler out of business. Here's the story behind the ill-fated car.

According to legend, one of Chrysler's executives saw some military aircraft on local maneuvers and wondered why Chrysler's cars weren't so streamlined.  A streamlined car would slip through the air easier than the standard boxy designs of the day, he assumed, and thus would be more efficient to operate. He communicated these thoughts with Walter Chrysler and soon a design team was formed to research the concept.

Chrysler began a series of wind tunnel tests to study which shapes were the most efficient forms created by nature.  Believe it or not, Orville Wright, of the famous Wright brothers, was involved as a consultant.  After much work, the finished automotive design was christened the Chrysler Airflow.

The original idea had been that the new Airflow would be introduced under Chrysler's advanced DeSoto brand only. But as the car began to take shape, Walter Chrysler became increasingly excited about the Airflow design and this lead to the release of Airflows under three other Chrysler brands in addition to the DeSoto line. Basically, Chrysler "bet the farm" on this one and this would prove to be a poor decision.

Although initial response with the media and the public was very strong for this efficient, slippery car design, it rapidly tapered off.  Many said the cars were, frankly, unattractive. The result was that Chrysler Airflow production, which had totaled 10,839 for 1934, fell to 7,751 in 1935. By 1937, the ill-fated vehicle's final year of production and sales totaled just some 4,602 for the model year. 

As a historical side note, it is rumored that Ferdinand Porsche used a Chrysler airflow for "inspiration" when he designed the first Volkswagen Beetle. The similarities between early Volkswagens and the Airflow coupes could be evidence of this hypothesis.

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