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t was the first truly aerodynamic car from a major American automaker, and it failed miserably in the marketplace. To honor its pioneering status, Charlotte resident J.W. Hawkins' 1935 Chrysler Airflow will be featured in a display of Breakthrough Designs during the April 2-5 Food Lion AutoFair at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
The 120-year history of the automobile contains very few moments when pure genius is pounded into steel and offered for sale. On paper, the radical Airflow was destined to be one of those giant leaps forward, but people just weren't ready to cheat the wind in 1934 when Chrysler and its cheaper De Soto brand introduced the futuristic Airflow coupes and sedans.
Walter P. Chrysler's industrial empire was a beacon of capitalist ideals in 1925, when his self-named automobile company set a record for first-year sales. Chosen by Time magazine to receive its second "Man of the Year" honors in 1928, Chrysler barely slowed as the stock market crashed in 1929. Even as the Great Depression grew worse, he completed construction of the 1,047-foot-tall Chrysler Building in Manhattan, N.Y.
In short, Walter Chrysler could do no wrong, and the corporation's range of well-engineered automotive products - Plymouth, Dodge, De Soto, and Chrysler - was challenging the mighty General Motors for market supremacy by the early 1930s.
Chrysler's top engineer, Carl Breer, began studying the new science of aerodynamics, or "streamlining," as it was commonly called then. He built a wind tunnel and soon learned that most contemporary cars moved through air better when facing backward, and that much less horsepower was required to go fast in an aerodynamic body.
In 1932, Breer's team created a top-secret streamlined prototype automobile called the Trifon Special, the likes of which no one had ever seen. Its frameless construction made it lighter, quieter and roomier than conventional designs. A sloped hood, one-piece windshield, flush headlamps, built-in trunk and lack of running boards helped it cut through the wind.