Chrysler Design - Fred Zeder, Owen Skelton, Carl Breer

    The Airflow and the 3 Musketeers

Today we take for granted the aerodynamics of Chrysler vehicles, their smooth rides and the head-turning design inherent in each vehicle on the road. We take it for granted, in large part, because of three innovators in the late 1920s and early 1930s known as The Three Musketeers.

No, these aren't the swashbuckling variety of Musketeers. They're Chrysler car engineers Fred Zeder, Owen Skelton, and Carl Breer. When these three took the reins at Chrysler, engineering was the sole focus, but this would change. On a day trip near Selfridge Air Force Base in Michigan, Breer noticed geese flying in formation and it got him thinking about how objects, including cars, move through the air. After discussing some of his ideas with Zeder and Skelton, the three introduced the design for a car called the Airflow. Advanced aerodynamic design were initiated in the late 1920s and perfected in a wind tunnel overseen by Orville Wright. The Airflow became known as "the first streamlined car." The future of modern automotive design was born.

That 1934 Chrysler Airflow was Chrysler's first unit-construction car. It fundamentally changed the architecture of the American automobile by placing the passengers between the axles for a vastly improved ride. In moving the passenger cabin forward and down, the Airflow was Chrysler's first "cab forward" design. The Airflow coupe was also one of the first American cars to conceal the spare tire in the trunk. Further, the 1934 Chrysler Custom Imperial Airflow CW Limousine was the first American car to incorporate a curved, one-piece windshield. But as with many changes from the norm, the Airflow was not a commercial success and its significance in design ingenuity would not be realized until years later.

The introduction of the Airflow line in the '30s helped establish Chrysler as a leader in automotive design innovation. They would soon follow the Airflow with their first publicly-exhibited concept cars, the 1940 Chrysler Thunderbolt and Chrysler Newport. A decade later Chrysler introduced the designs of Virgil Exner to the world and nothing would ever be the same.



For more information please read:

Biographies of Prominent Carriage Draftsmen - Carriage Monthly, April 1904

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

George Arthur Oliver - A History of Coachbuilding

George Arthur Oliver - Cars and Coachbuilding: One Hundred Years of Road Vehicle Development

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Car

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Era

Richard Burns Carson - The Olympian Cars

Brooks T. Brierley - Auburn, Reo, Franklin and Pierce-Arrow Versus Cadillac, Chrysler, Lincoln and Packard

Brooks T. Brierley - Magic Motors 1930

James J. Schild - Fleetwood: the Company and the Coachcraft

John R. Velliky - Dodge Brothers/Budd Co. Historical Photo Album

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 1

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 2

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 3

Dennis Adler - The Art of the Sports Car: The Greatest Designs of the 20th Century

C. Edson Armi - The Art of American Car Design: The Profession and Personalities

C. Edson Armi - American Car Design Now

Penny Sparke - A Century of Car Design

John Tipler - The World's Great Automobile Stylists

Ivan Margolius - Automobiles by Architects

Jonathan Bell - Concept Car Design

Erminie Shaeffer Hafer - A century of vehicle craftsmanship

Ronald Barker & Anthony Harding - Automobile Design: Twelve Great Designers and Their Work

John McLelland - Bodies beautiful: A history of car styling and craftsmanship

Frederic A. Sharf - Future Retro: Drawings From The Great Age Of American Automobiles

Paul Carroll Wilson - Chrome Dreams: Automobile Styling Since 1893

David Gartman - Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design

Nick Georgano - Art of the American Automobile: The Greatest Stylists and Their Work

Matt Delorenzo - Modern Chrysler Concept Cars: The Designs That Saved the Company

Thom Taylor - How to Draw Cars Like a Pro

Tony Lewin & Ryan Borroff - How To Design Cars Like a Pro

Doug DuBosque - Draw Cars

Jonathan Wood - Concept Cars

D. Nesbitt - 50 Years Of American Auto Design

David Gartman - Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design

Lennart W. Haajanen & Karl Ludvigsen - Illustrated Dictionary of Automobile Body Styles

L. J. K Setright - The designers: Great automobiles and the men who made them

Goro Tamai - The Leading Edge: Aerodynamic Design of Ultra-Streamlined Land Vehicles

Brian Peacock & Waldemar Karwowski - Automotive Ergonomics

Bob Thomas - Confessions of an Automotive Stylist

Brooke Hodge & C. Edson Armi - Retrofuturism: The Car Design of J Mays

Gordon M. Buehrig - Rolling sculpture: A designer and his work

Henry L. Dominguez - Edsel Ford and E.T. Gregorie: The Remarkable Design Team...

Stephen Bayley - Harley Earl (Design Heroes Series)

Stephen Bayley - Harley Earl and the Dream Machine

Serge Bellu - 500 Fantastic Cars: A Century of the World Concept Cars

Raymond Loewy - Industrial Design

Raymond Loewy - Never Leave Well Enough Alone

Philippe Tretiack - Raymond Loewy and Streamlined Design

Angela Schoenberger - Raymond Loewy: Pioneer of American Industrial Design

Laura Cordin - Raymond Loewy


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