Had Chrysler introduced the Airflow design as exclusive to the Imperial brand it might have succeeded, with the technology trickling down to their more mass market brands after the high end stuff proved the value and consumer appeal. Sometimes companies are so enamored with new technology that they make sweeping changes that are too fast for the mass market to accept. If you notice, there's not a single established car company that has switched 100% to EVs.
Austrian engineer Edmund Rumpler's Tropfenwagen was a decade or more ahead of the Airflow, Its windshield and side windows were curved glass. This mid-engine sedan's 0.28 drag coefficient--measured in a modern wind tunnel--allowed a 70 mph top speed with only 36 horsepower. Around 100 such cars were built and sold. The Czech-made Tatra 77 also arrived in 1934 with a top speed over 90 mph on 75 hp. Designed by Zeppelin engineers Paul Jaray and Hans Ledwinka, more than 200 such cars were made. Another car worthy of mention in the aerodynamic context is 'La Jamais Contente' (never satisfied) driven by Belgian Camille Jenatzy to 66 mph--the first to crack sixty!--iusing two 33 hp electric motors. This car's bullet shape was instrumental to its 1899 record achievement.
I don't think it didn't sell well because it was ahead of it's time: it didn't sell well because it was UGLY! If you look a the 1936 Zephyr, (as stated in the story as being a near identical car) it is much better looking, particularly the coupe version, and it had a V12 engine. I don't see much comparison between the two machines. I think the designers just missed the mark on the looks. Much like Ford missed the mark on the Edsel, in later years.
The Zephyr was very pretty, but NOT even close to the same car in design, ride, or handling! It sat so high, you could look down on an Airflow. It also came years later, when Ford had nothing remotely close in execution. The Airflow influenced many production cars prior to the Zephyr, like Fiats, from 500s to 900s, VWs, Peugeots, Renaults, Tatras, Citroen, Toyotas, and more. The architecture was new and better than anything, anyone else had out at the time. That influenced car design for the next 50 years- Lincoln can't say that. IF you look at the context of contemporary modern design in transportation, architecture, and product design, this was considered very good design and received accolades and awards. 20-20 Prejudiced hindsight says it was ugly, but that comes from ignorance rather than any actual knowledge. When they redid the car in '35 they lost the Art Deco, modern waterfall grille. If you ever see a rodded coupe, NOT the 2 door sedan, they look really good. What gets ugly, are the limousine buses, with too many windows and bad proportions. I bet that is a problem with all extended wheelbase models.
I personally find this design beautiful to this day. I think that it would be neat if, with manufacturers bringing iconic badges back left and right, Chrysler did revive something akin to this in looks, in the size range of a Mazda 5. Something as a cheap, affordable, family mini-minivan.
We had a 35 Airflow as kids in the 50’s. Certainly was fast for the times. We got mixed up with the Redex trial cars once and the old Airflow just ate the lot. Plus we were towing a trailer! Crankshaft driven fan was not suited to our poor roads and it went through the radiator more than once after some big pot holes. It sat on tall wheels too, hard to get rubber for it when most vehicles were on 13” wheels. Laminated glass all round but the mica started to craze so visibility was interesting in the rain. Ours had a 3-speed floor shift plus electric overdrive. The engine was designed for much higher octane fuel than we could buy so it was a constant battle grinding burned out valves. My introduction to side valve engines with their inaccessible adjustment. The boot was behind the back seat so we kids would climb in when the family went to the drive in. We’d also hide the dog there when going over the border tick gates.