Changing Winds: The 1934-1937 Chrysler Airflow

1939 Dodge Airflow tanker front 3q © 2010 Richard Spiegelman per
Chrysler never offered Plymouth or Dodge Airflow cars, but they did apply the Airflow name to a series of large Dodge commercial trucks. The initial Model K-52 Special, introduced in December 1934, was a four-ton chassis-cab, powered by a 310 cu. in. (5,074 cc) six with 95 hp (71 kW). Despite the Airflow-style grille, its engineering was quite conventional. The later RX70 and RX71 models, introduced in December 1937, had a bored-out 331 cu. in. (5,430 cc) engine with 100 gross horsepower (75 kW). Many Dodge Airflows were used as tankers, including this restored Texaco truck, now part of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum collection. The museum estimates that only 261 Airflow-series trucks were built before production ended in early 1940, and very few survive today. (Photo © 2010 Richard Spiegelman; used with permission)

One could argue that the Airflow paved the way for the Zephyr — arriving 17 months after the Airflow’s debut, the Zephyr was far less shocking than it might otherwise have been. On the other hand, the Zephyr demonstrated that an aerodynamic car did not necessarily have to be an ungraceful one. A nicely restyled, all-new Airflow, using the 128-inch (3,251mm) wheelbase of the C-10/C-17, might have done quite well as a Zephyr rival, although whether such a car would have sold well enough to justify its tooling costs is another matter.

Even if the Airflow had been as pretty as a Pierce Silver Arrow, its price would have made for an uphill battle in the middle-class market. The Airflow had definite strengths, but asking Depression-era buyers to pay a 25% premium for those advantages was a stretch. The high prices, of course, had less to do with its controversial aerodynamic styling than with its bridge-and-truss unitized construction, which was expensive to manufacture despite shortcuts like the interchangeable doors.

Chrysler could have offered a similarly aerodynamic shape with body-on-frame construction, as Peugeot did with the 402, and the Airflow’s Floating Ride certainly could have been applied to more conventionally engineered cars, as both Chrysler and its rivals soon did. However, Walter Chrysler was determined to make the Airflow a technological tour de force, which pushed its costs and prices beyond what the market was prepared to absorb.

We presume Chrysler understood the risks, but he taken bold gambles before and they had often paid off handsomely for him. When he acquired Dodge in 1928, for example, some critics likened the deal to a minnow trying to swallow a whale, but it had greatly expanded Chrysler’s dealer network and production capacity for a very modest capital investment. If the Airflow had been a hit, it would have left rivals scrambling to catch up, giving Chrysler a commanding commercial advantage.

1936 Chrysler Murray-Ohio Airflow toy Eyes on Design © 2007 Patrick McLaughlin per
The Murray Ohio Manufacturing Company, best known for its children’s bicycles, made this Airflow pedal car in 1936, although its grille represents the 1935 model. This particular toy, seen at the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology’s 2007 EyesOnDesign Show, is part of the Rastall Collection. (Photo © 2007 Patrick McLaughlin; used with permission)

Many of the Airflow’s advances did eventually become common practice, but its dismal sales spoiled the corporation’s appetite for novelty for more than a decade. Had Walter Chrysler remained at the helm that might not have been the case, but Chrysler ceded the presidency to K.T. Keller in 1935. Although Chrysler remained chairman, his direct involvement was greatly limited after he suffered a severe stroke in May 1938. Keller was far more conservative than Chrysler, and in any case the Airflow had left division managers extremely wary of anything too radical or too new. It was not until the fifties that the Chrysler Corporation began to reclaim its reputation for sophisticated engineering, and even then (with some notable exceptions, like the limited-production Dodge Charger Daytona and Plymouth Road Runner Superbird) the company tended to shy away from conspicuously aerodynamic designs well into the 1990s.

Walter P. Chrysler died on August 18, 1940, but the Three Musketeers remained with the company for another decade. Carl Breer was the first to retire, stepping down as head of research in 1949, but he remained a consultant and board member until 1953. Owen Skelton retired in 1951, although he too sat on the board of directors for a few more years. Fred Zeder never retired; he remained vice president of engineering and vice chairman until he died in 1951. His younger brother James, who had joined the company back in 1924, later became Chrysler’s chief engineer.

1936 Chrysler Airflow Imperial C10 sedan side Dave_7 2008 CCBY-SA20Gen
The battered remains of what was once a 1936 C-10 Airflow Imperial, photographed in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, in 2008. (Photo © 2008 Dave 7; used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license)

Given all the things Walter Chrysler and the Three Musketeers accomplished during the corporation’s first 15 years, it’s ironic that their best-known car is one of their few serious missteps. On the other hand, there are far worse things to be remembered for than a daring, ambitious, forward-thinking failure like the Airflow.

# # #

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Special thanks are due to Bill Burris, George Camp, Dave_7, Rex Gray, Pat McLaughlin, Bill McChesney, Ronnie Schreiber of Cars in Depth, and Richard Spiegelman for allowing us to use their photos and Danielle Szostak-Viers of the Chrysler Historical Collection for her great assistance in obtaining historical images for the article.


NOTES ON SOURCES

Our sources on the Airflow included “1938 Dodge RX 70 (Airflow Design Series): Legendary Rarities,” Dodge Legends Exhibit Vehicle Overview, Chrysler Heritage (no date, chryslerheritage.iconicweb. com/ pdf/ Dodge%20Legends%20Exhibit%20 Vehicle%20Overview.pdf (pdf document), accessed 29 May 2011); The Airflow Club of America, The Airflow Club of America Quick Reference Guide, airflowclub. connect2websites. com/ LinkClick.aspx? fileticket=172PV_bYzig%3d& tabid=68&mid=398 (pdf document), accessed 15 May 2011; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1934-1937 Chrysler/DeSoto Airflow” (18 October 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1934-1937-chrysler-desoto-airflow.htm, accessed 14 May 2011); the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); Jim Benjaminson, “Chrysler at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair,” Plymouth Bulletin, reprinted with permission at Allpar.com, www.allpar. com/ history/ plymouth/ world-fair-1934.html, accessed 28 May 2011; Carl Breer and Anthony J. Yanik, The Birth of Chrysler Corporation and Its Engineering Legacy, Second Edition (Warrendale, PA: Society of Automotive Engineers, Inc., 1960, 1995); Dr. David George Briant, “Chrysler Corporation’s Pulsating Years: 1926-1938″ (25 December 2008, WPC Club, Inc., www.chryslerclub. org/ walterp .html, accessed 12 May 2011); Arch Brown, “Chrysler’s Magnificent Mistake: 1934 Airflow ‘CU,'” Cars & Parts, August 1992, pp. 22-26; Arch Brown, “SIA comparisonReport: Battle of the Streamliners: Chrysler Airflow vs. Lincoln Zephyr,” Special Interest Autos #120 (November-December 1990), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Lincolns (Hemmings Motor News Collector-Car Books), ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002), pp. 12-20, and The Hemmings Book of Pre-War Chryslers: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Richard A. Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002), pp. 60-67; Don Butler, “Adventures in Airflow, Part II” Cars & Parts January 1981, pp. 20-29; “Chrysler Airflow- aero-modded (Part-1)” (12 June 2010, Ecomodder.com, ecomodder. com/ forum/ showthread.php/ chrysler-airflow-aero-modded- part-1-a-13538.html, accessed 24 May 2011); “De Soto Airflow Series SE 1934 United States” (no date, Classic Carbase, www.classiccarbase. com/ Indivcar.aspx? Carid=627, accessed 23 May 2011); Craig Fitzgerald, “Winds of Change,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car Vol. 4, No. 12 (August 2009), p. 8; Vincent Curcio, Chrysler: The Life and Times of an Automotive Genius (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); James M. Flammang and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Chrysler Chronicle: An Illustrated History of Chrysler – DeSoto – Dodge – Eagle – Imperial – Jeep – Plymouth (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International Ltd., 1998); Dave Holls and Michael Lamm, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997); Charles K. Hyde, Riding the Roller Coaster: A History of the Chrysler Corporation (Great Lakes Books) (Chicago, IL: Wayne State University Press, 2003); Howard S. Irwin, “The History of the Airflow Car,” Scientific American August 1977 (Vol. 237, No. 2), pp. 95-106; Michael Lamm, “Magnificent Turkey,” Special Interest Autos #16, April-May 1973, reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Pre-War Chryslers, pp. 34-41; Frank Marcus, “Mythbusted! At long last, science answers the question: Do the 1959 Chevy’s gullwing fins produce lift?” Motor Trend Classic #7 (September-October 2006), pp. 52-57; Richard Millman (“Bill-W”) on a thread posted on the Antique Auto Club of America forum 18 December 2009 to 20 June 2010, forums.aaca. org/ f147/ 1934-chrysler-desoto-airflow-door- same-273970.html, accessed 20 May 2011; “Mopar’s Star Cars: Were these two FWD, five-cylinder experimentals Chrysler’s answer to GM’s X-Cars?” Special Interest Autos #10 (April-May 1972), reprinted in Hemmings Classic Car #80 (May 2011), pp. 50-54; Gerald Perschbacher, “Walter Chrysler defended the Airflow in 1935,” Old Cars Weekly 22 April 2004, p. 12; Joel Prescott, “Like an Airplane on Wheels,” Car Collector July 1993, pp. 6-11; “Three Musketeers – ZSB” (2009, Walter P. Chrysler Museum, wpchryslermuseum. org/ sec500_pdf/ Three%20Musketeers.pdf (pdf document), accessed 26 May 2011); Bruce R. Thomas, “Trifon Special: Birth of a Classic,” originally published in TORQUE (the publication of the Classic Car Club of America – Michigan Region) and reprinted with permission in Antique Automobile September-October 1971, nn (3 pages); Dr. David Zatz, et al, “Chronological history of Chrysler Corporation, Dodge, and Plymouth” (no date, Allpar.com, www.allpar. com/ history/ chrysler-years/ chronological/ chron.html, accessed 12 May 2011); a 1934 Chrysler dealer briefing on the new Imperial Custom line (Chrysler Bulletin No. 899), 24 May 1934, excerpted in WPC News Vol. 28, No. 7 (March 1997). Additional details came from the Online Imperial Club website (www.imperialclub. com, last accessed 29 May 2011). Some production figures were supplied by Danielle Szostak-Viers of the Chrysler Historical Collection in emails to the author 13 May and 16 May 2011.

Information on Chrysler’s non-Airflow cars of this period came from Jim Benjaminson, “New from the ground up: Plymouth for 1935 and 1936,” Plymouth Bulletin, reprinted with permission on Allpar.com, www.allpar. com/ history/ plymouth/ 1935.html, accessed 22 May 2011; Jim Benjaminson, “Now for the Second Million: Plymouth cars of 1934,” Plymouth Bulletin, reprinted with permission on Allpar.com, www.allpar. com/ history/ plymouth/ 1934.html, accessed 21 May 2011; Terry Boyce, “1937 Chrysler Imperial: American Art Deco,” Special Interest Autos #84 (November-December 1984), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Pre-War Chryslers, pp. 74-81; Arch Brown and Bud Juneau, “1935 Chrysler Airstream: Ray Dietrich to the Rescue,” Special Interest Autos #168 (November-December 1998), The Hemmings Book of Pre-War Chryslers, pp. 42-48, 57-59; Arch Brown, “1935 Plymouth: ‘A New Picture of Car Value,'” Special Interest Autos #172 (July-August 1999), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Plymouths: driveReports from Hemmings Special Interest Autosmagazine, ed. Terry Ehrich(Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002), pp. 4-21; Jeffrey I. Godshall, “1938 Chrysler Imperial: Chrysler’s Last Convertible Sedan,” Special Interest Autos #132 (November-December 1992), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Pre-War Chryslers, pp. 82-91; Michael Lamm, “1931 Chrysler 6,” Special Interest Autos #40 (May-July 1977), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Pre-War Chryslers, pp. 20-25; and Ross MacLean, “drive report: A 1936 Chrysler Airstream,” Special Interest Autos #4 (March-April 1971), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Pre-War Chryslers, pp. 68-73.

Additional information on other early streamliners came from “1932 Bergholt Streamline at the Concours d’Elegance of America at Meadow Brook” (2010, ConceptCarz.com, www.conceptcarz. com/ events/ eventVehicle.aspx? carID=18656&eventID=655& catID=2388, accessed 26 May 2011); “Albanita!” Special Interest Autos #15 (February-March 1973), pp. 50-53; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1923-1931 Lancia Lambda” (2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1923-1931-lancia-lambda.htm, accessed 21 May 2011), and the “1935-1942 Peugeot 402″ (no date, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1935-1940-peugeot-402.htm, accessed 22 May 2011); “1924 Rumpler Tropfen-Auto RU 4A 106 in ‘Metropolis, 1926″ (30 May 2006 to 10 February 2008, IMCDb.org, imcdb. org/ vehicle_35386- Rumpler-Tropfen-Auto-1924.html, accessed 18 May 2011); “Founding Fathers of the Automotive Industry: Paul Jaray” (n.d., Unique Cars and Parts, www. uniquecarsandparts. com.au/ founding_fathers_paul_jaray.htm, accessed 14 May 2011); Kevin Guthrie, “The Benz Tropfenwagen and Alfa Romeo 512: Rear Engined Grand Prix Cars” (30 October 2008, Suite101.com – Auto Racing, www.suite101. com/ content/ the-benz-tropfenwagen-and-alfaromeo -512-a7581, accessed 18 May 2011); Neal Jacquot, “Volvo 1935 Carioca not a Copy of the Airflow!” Airflow Newsletter, Airflow Club of America, Vol. 49, No. 6 (June 2010), pp. 3-4, which refers to an article by Volvo corporate historian Claes Rydholm in Rolling Magazine: the publication of the Volvo Club of America, March-April 2010, pp. 18-23; Paul Jaray, “Motor Car,” U.S. Patent No. 1,631,269, applied 19 August 1922, issued 7 June 1927; David LaChance, “The Internationalist,” Hemmings Classic Car October 2008; Michael Lamm, “1939 Lincoln Zephyr,” Special Interest Autos #6 (July-August 1971), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Lincolns, pp. 22-27; Michael Lamm, “Two Look-Alikes: Ford & Citroën,” Special Interest Autos #9 (January-March 1972), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Prewar Fords: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2001), pp. 44-51; Vincenzo Lancia, “Automobile,” United States Patent No. 1,372,148, applied 21 November 1919, issued 22 March 1921; Pete Leatherwood, “Mr. Bendix and His Car” [podcast] (27 March 2006, Studebaker National Museum, studebakermuseum.blogspot. com/ 2006/ 03/ mr-bendix-and-his-car.html, accessed 27 May 2011); Alex Oagana, “The Origins of Streamline Design in Cars” (5 January 2009, Autoevolution.com, www.autoevolution. com/ news/ the-origins-of-streamline- design-in-cars-2998.html, accessed 23 May 2011); “Rumpler, Edmund” (7 August 2005, The Androom Archives, www.xs4all. nl/ ~androom/ biography/ p012525.htm, accessed 18 May 2011); Guillaume de Syon, “The Teardrop That Fell From the Sky: Paul Jaray and Automotive Aerodynamics,” ITEA Journal No. 29(1), March 2008, pp. 14-16; Toyota Motor Corporation, “Toyoda Model AA Sedan (1st),” 75 Years of Toyota, Vehicle Lineage, 2012, www.toyota-global. com/ company/ history_of_toyota/ 75years/ vehicle_lineage/ car/ id60011174/, accessed 15 September 2014; “Volvo PV36 Carioca (1935)” (no date, NetCarShow.com, www.netcarshow. com/ volvo/ 1935- pv36_carioca/; accessed 28 May 2011); and the Wikipedia® entries for the Peugeot 402 (en.wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Peugeot_402, accessed 22 May 2011), Edmund Rumpler (en.wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Edmund_Rumpler, accessed 18 May 2011), the Rumpler Tropfenwagen (en.wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Rumpler_Tropfenwagen, accessed 18 May 2011), and the Tatra 77 (en.wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Tatra_77, accessed 14 May 2011). Thanks to Pat McLaughlin for bringing the Bendix SWC and Bergholt Streamline to our attention.

Some history of the Chrysler Building came from Kenneth L. Massey, “History of Walter P. Chrysler and the Chrysler Building” (no date, Allpar.com, www.allpar. com/ history/ chrysler-building.html, accessed 11 May 2011).


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19 Comments

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  1. A wonderful article. I still have some very vivid memories of the Pennsylvania AACA vintage car shows back in the 1970’s when a couple of Chrysler Airflows would show up. And definitely got noticed, unlike my personal ’37 Buick Special.

    Now, how about some follow-up! I’d love to see an article on the Lincoln Zephyr, and would especially love to see something on the Hupp Aerodynamic’s of 1934-35. The 1937 Ford wouldn’t be out of line, either. The mid-30’s were definitely a wonderful time for automotive design.

    1. I would love to do the Zephyr and the original Continental, if I can put together enough pictures. (The fact that I was unable to find a ’36 or ’37 Zephyr photo to include in this article, as a contrast with the Airflow, tells you how many I have right now..!)

  2. I’d like to second the earlier commenter, the mid ’30s to early ’40s period really was a fascinating early golden age in automotive styling, where for the first time styling really was given a high priority over the more utilitarian looks of the 20s-early 30s, even if the customers of the day didn’t always go for the more radical examples of streamlined Art Deco, as was the case with the Airflow and shark nose Grahams.

    Although I appreciate the need to jump around a bit for variety, please do consider more articles on the ’30s streamliners in the future, as it is such a fertile era. – the Cord 810/812 would be a great read.

    As an aside, I read an article a few years back about an architect or fashion designer (some creative professional) in Manhattan who had a really special custom CW restomod built, taking an original Airflow body and interior and retrofitting it with a modern drivetrain and undercarriage, apparently the owner loved the Art Deco style and was using it as a daily driver in the city. Wish I had saved the article, but as I recall, there weren’t many pictures with it, but definitely an interesting project.

    1. I’m not categorically opposed to restomods, but doing it with a car as rare as a CW Imperial seems…wrong. I don’t know if they’re on the list of capital-C Classics (if not, they ought to be), but they’re extremely rare, with a lot of unique components (dashboard, brakes, springs, driveshaft, wheels, windshield). The CW is so huge and so heavy that even with a modern drivetrain, it would be a handful in city traffic — it’s bigger and heavier than an Escalade ESV. Admittedly, if it was in sad shape to start with, restoring it would be a serious pain in the ass, but still…

  3. Very interesting as always Aaron, I had a passing knowledge of the Airflows but it is great to read about the detail – I can’t imagine more than a few current cars would warrant the same attention!

    I saw a 1934 Airflow last year (with flat camera batteries!) and I remember previously one of the later model ones with what was quite evidently a tacked-on traditional grille. Looking at the photos perhaps what made the car look so jarring is the horizontal line of the hood which gives the optical illusion that the nose of the car is higher than the cowl, and I find the 6cyl cars better looking because the shorter nose lessens that impact. On the point that aero design per se was not sales-proof perhaps a slight taper for a less bulbous appearance, and wider-set headlights, would have made a difference?

    Rob it would be interesting to hear more about that car too.

    1. John,

      I hadn’t thought about the nose seeming higher than the cowl, but looking at the photos again, I see what you mean. It’s exacerbated by the position of the hood ornament, which gives the tip of the nose a bit of a ‘ski jump’ flair, even on the ’34s, where the original hood line actually slopes downward quite a bit. I imagine that is one of the factors that contributes to what I think of as a ‘stubby’ look to the whole car (especially sedans). The 1934 CU is quite a big car, but its rounded contours make it look smaller than it actually is, an effect that only the really long wheelbases of the CX and CW Imperials offset to any great degree.

      Deciding to mount the headlights in the leading edges of the body sides, rather than the fenders, was really limiting, both in spacing and light size. I don’t know why they didn’t mount the lights in the front fenders, as John Tjaarda did with the Zephyr. (The production Zephyr’s front end was mostly redone by Bob Gregorie, but the fender-mounted lights were on the original Briggs prototype.) I think the headlights of the ’36-’38 Zephyrs still look a bit awkward, but their spacing makes the Lincoln look lower and wider than the Airflow, even though it really isn’t.

      I imagine these are all reflections of the fact that the Airflow was [i]engineered[/i] more than actually [i]designed[/i]. The role of the stylists appears to have been to decorate the shape given them by the engineers, in which they had little if any say.

  4. Very nice article, Mr. Severson! I’m the president of the Airflow Club of America and I happened to find this site while searching for some other material. It’s nice to see a recent article about the Airflow. We are a small (425+) member club. We just had our National Meet in Durango, Colorado and I drove my 1935 C2 (Imperial) from Seattle WA. There are not many 76 year old cars which cruise smoothly down the road at 75 mph in overdrive. I did the return trip (1,300 miles) in two days. I own a 35 Packard, a 37 Cord and numerous other cars of the era and none can match the “modern” ride and drive of an Airflow.

    You are right, Engineering called the shots when the Airflow was designed. It was truly radical. Besides being quiet and smooth at 75 mph, it has gobs of art deco everywhere.

    The 6 cylinder cars (all DeSotos) are true to the Airflow spirit, but after riding in a prototype, Chrysler wanted an Airflow with his name on it. The Imperial Coupes are very well proportioned with six extra inches behind the B pillar.

    I am not opposed to rods, but if a CW was rodded it would break my heart so don’t verify it, please!

    In 1934, Chrysler did offer a retrofit grill which replaced the pure “waterfall” look with a more traditional grill – as was found on the ’35 models. With each passing year, as sales never materialized, Chrysler tried to make the front end look more conventional.

    Visit the website at airflowclub.com. Check out the video of the Airflow being pushed off a cliff and driving away (in the Library section). If anyone would like to see an Airflow close up, let me know and I’ll link you up with the closest members. fwd9@hotmail.com

    Thanks again for a nice article!

    1. Frank,

      Thanks for the kind words!

      I’ve seen the story that the Airflow was originally intended [i]only[/i] as a six-cylinder DeSoto in a number of secondary sources. Do you have an original source for that account? As it stands, I’m afraid I’m rather skeptical of it.

      It’s true that the 1932 Trifon Special prototype was a DeSoto-size, six-cylinder car, and Carl Breer does say that he and Oliver Clark started with a six-cylinder model in laying out the packaging for the Airflow; they wanted to determine the minimum dimensions necessary to achieve both the aerodynamic profile and minimum passenger space they were looking for. However, Breer makes no mention of intending to [i]only[/i] offer the Airflow as a six, and his account indicated that the decision about which brands would offer it was made later. All he says on that subject is that they decided it would be sold by Chrysler and DeSoto; he says nothing about any plan to market it as a DeSoto-only product.

      Breer does say that Walter P. Chrysler was very excited about introducing the Airflow to celebrate Chrysler’s 10th anniversary. Based on Breer’s description of WPC’s enthusiasm for the project, it’s hard to conceive Chrysler [i]not[/i] wanting an Airflow with his name on it — if somebody suggested otherwise, I’m not sure who or why. From a business standpoint, certainly, offering the Airflow only as a DeSoto six wouldn’t have made much sense. The development costs were undoubtedly high, and DeSoto’s annual volume was not; it hadn’t topped 40,000 units since before the Crash. Also, even if there were some original plan to only offer it as a six, why didn’t the U.S. Chrysler line get the CY?

      Now, given the antipathy some of the corporation’s management apparently had toward the Airflow project, it’s entirely possible that getting the individual presidents to accept it was quite a battle. I suppose it’s possible that DeSoto president Byron Foy was less opposed than his colleagues; I really don’t know. However, my suspicion is that if there was a debate over who would offer the Airflow, it was more a matter of internal resistance than any overarching plan of what the Airflow should be.

      It would certainly be fair to call the six the baseline Airflow, since the larger eight-cylinder cars were created by splicing additional sections into the body panels and frame, but I don’t know that that means the bigger cars were somehow an afterthought. From Breer’s account, I think it was just easier to start with the smaller version, to establish the minimum package dimensions. That makes sense — if you know you have acceptable passenger room on the shorter wheelbase, it’s easy to make it bigger, whereas if you base your engineering on the larger version, it’s harder to scale it down without compromising utility space.

      If someone can point me toward a primary source for the DeSoto-only story — first-person accounts of the meeting where it was decided, etc. — I’ll happily accept that, but otherwise, I’m inclined to think that story may just be a misinterpretation of Carl Breer’s account, one that has, as they say, grown in the telling.

      I wholly agree on the CW. I’m not keen on the idea of heavily customizing the Airflow to begin with — it’s relatively rare, of obvious historical interest, and already pretty wild looking without any help — and the idea of cutting up a CW is the sort of thing that gives historians night terrors!

  5. Aaron,
    In the text on page one, it states that the Rumpler Tropfenwagen was powered by a 2.5 W6. Is this a misprint of V6? Or was this a prelude to to todays W8 Volkswagen?

    1. Nope, that’s not a typo. The early Tropfenwagen had a 2,580 cc Siemens & Halske engine with three banks of two cylinders. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of it, but I imagine it was rather bulky.

  6. another expertly written and beautifully illustrated article on these avant garde art deco cars that were way ahead of their time in terms of both styling and engineering-please do an article on the history of De Soto

  7. I own a 1935 Chrysler Airstream c-6 Coupe.
    I’ve been able to determine thru internet research that there were 1975 like models made. What I can’t find is how many of them were standards and how many were deluxe. Does anyone know or know how I can find this info.

    Tx

    1. Dennis,

      The information I have indicates that the six-cylinder Airstream C-6 models weren’t grouped into standard and deluxe versions, only the CZ Airstream Eight. Your number is what I show for business coupe production, as well.

      1. Thank you for the reply that’s interesting to hear, but I’m still confused. I’ve seen, what I believe are photo’s of some C-6’s with parking lights on top of the front fenders & horns mounted thru the stainless grill work on the fenders below the headlites on ea. side of the grill..in addition these cars have 2 windshield wipers. In addition to that I’ve seen photos of C-6’s with no parking lites on the fenders – grill work on the lower fenders
        with no horns & also a single wiper. I’m confused about the differences, could it be as simple as diff. options? What are your thoughts.
        Tx
        Dennis

        1. The Deluxe models were introduced after the start of the 1935 model year. At least on CZs, the dual horns were initially standard and then were deleted on non-Deluxe Eights when the Deluxe was introduced; the horn layout you describe sound like the early and late non-Deluxe CZ arrangements. Chrysler’s factory production figures don’t distinguish between Deluxe and non-Deluxe CZs, probably because of the midyear change. Now, I don’t know anything about a Deluxe version of the six-cylinder cars — all of that applies to the Eights.

          Is it possible that some of the confusing pictures you’ve seen were actually mislabeled CZs? A quick image search just now revealed at least once set of photos labeled as C-6s that are pretty clearly late CZ Deluxes (they even have the winged "8" badges on the catwalks) and there was definitely that variation with the eight-cylinder cars. I could see the parking lamps being a dealer or owner add-on, but the horns do seem like a production variation.

  8. Finally! The story of the Airflow in enough detail for me to understand these beautiful machines. Thank you for this piece!

    They may not have sold well, but their influence was certainly felt around the world. You mention the Volvo Carioca and the <i>Fuseau Sochaux</i> Peugeots (the last of which were made in 1949!), but there is also the first "proper" car from the land of the rising sun: the 1936 Toyota AA. None survived, so Toyota actually built one for their museum in the 1990s.

    Along with Cords, Marmons, Franklins, shark-nose Grahams and the Zephyr, these Chryslers are the epitome of 30s American cars for me.

    1. I must admit had always been a little skeptical of the Toyota link, but the 2012 edition of Toyota’s official history specifically says the Toyoda Model AA took its inspiration from the Airflow. It wasn’t just the styling either; the engineers at Toyoda (not spun off of the parent company as Toyota Motor until 1937) recognized and sought to emulate what Breer and crew had done with the Airflow’s weight distribution and ride. Very interesting.

      1. I should add that while the Model AA was the first Toyota automobile, it was NOT the first Japanese car. The first Japanese-built four-wheeled automobile was made in 1904 and the first gasoline-powered car was in 1907. However, people really didn’t have enough money to create a sustainable domestic passenger car industry until much later. According to the numbers I’ve seen, it wasn’t until 1951 that Japanese companies built more than 2,000 passenger cars in a single calendar year.

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