At the 1934 edition of the New York Auto Show, Chrysler Corporation surprised onlookers with the introduction of the revolutionary Airflow series. At a time when the carriage-building roots of car design were still very much apparent, Chrysler’s wholly unconventional, aerodynamic sedans and coupes looked as though they came from another planet. Not only was the styling a revelation, but its construction introduced advanced new principles not yet seen in the automobile industry. The genesis of the Airflow began back in 1930, when Chrysler engineers Carl Breer, Fred Zeder and Owen Skelton (known as “The Three Musketeers”) began experimenting with wind tunnel testing of streamlined scale models. Their goal was to create the most efficient shape possible for an automobile, even going so far as to consult with the pioneering aviator, Orville Wright.
More than merely a styling exercise, every aspect of the Airflow’s design and construction was carefully considered for maximum aerodynamic efficiency. The engineers realized that unitary construction would be much lighter and more rigid than a traditional body-on-frame design. In turn, that allowed them to use lighter springs for a more comfortable ride, and with less wind resistance, standard engines could push the car to higher speeds. Thanks to the lighter body, the engine could be moved further forward, allowing for a more spacious cabin and better weight distribution with four passengers on board. Quiet, comfortable, and efficient, the Airflow indeed was The Car of Tomorrow. Chrysler threw a tremendous amount of resources at the project, offering both Chrysler and shorter wheelbase DeSoto models. Such was their confidence, Chrysler dedicated the entire 1934 DeSoto lineup to Airflow-based cars.
As with many groundbreaking designs, the buying public was slow to accept such a radically different automobile, even going so far as to question its safety. The dramatic styling was perhaps too advanced for the time, and despite initial positive reaction, production problems with the unitary body caused delays and quality issues, and the Airflow seemed doomed from the start. Chrysler tried to save face with a series of redesigns that better conformed to mainstream styling at the expense of the original drama. Fearing slow sales, DeSoto added the conventional Airstream to the line in 1935. Today, with the benefit of eighty-five years of hindsight, we see the significance and far-reaching influence of the Airflow. While it was a relative commercial failure, it was at least a decade ahead of its time. The principals of drag reduction, unitary construction, and weight distribution that were so carefully considered by Breer, Zeter, and Skelton are fundamental aspects of car design today, and we can thank the Airflow and its brilliant designers for forging that path. Today, the car they created by the Three Musketeers defies its former reputation, standing as one of the most important American cars of the 1930s.
Presented with a well-preserved older restoration, this 1935 DeSoto SG Airflow 5-passenger coupe is a fetching example of Chrysler Corporation’s cutting-edge streamliner. 1935 marked the second year of production for the Airflow, distinguished by a revised grille treatment, proudly topped with a goddess mascot. Out of a total of 6,797 so-called “Series II” DeSoto Airflows built in 1935, a mere 418 featured this pretty two-door coupe body. The restoration was well executed and thoroughly maintained in excellent condition. The paint, believed to be the factory-correct shade of Gargoyle Gray Poly, shows nicely with a consistently glossy finish, and just a few minor touch-ups and imperfections found on close inspection. The chrome and exterior brightwork are outstanding, with nice straight bumpers and high-quality, finely maintained plating on the intricate grille. Thanks to the inherent strength of the all-steel Airflow body shell, the panel fit remains excellent, and the doors open and close with satisfying precision.
Although classified as a mid-market car compared to the more luxurious Chryslers, DeSoto’s SG Airflow still feels considerably more upscale than competitors thanks to the generous, chair-like seats and well-insulated passenger compartment. With no wood joints to flex and squeak, the Airflow’s plush cabin is remarkably quiet. Like the body, the interior of our example presents in excellent condition, with the fine quality restoration aging gracefully. Attractive tan fabric upholstery is clean, taut and appears in excellent order. The distinct front seats feature exposed chrome framing. Carpets, headlining, door panels and interior fittings are in similarly excellent condition. The dash features lovely original instruments, and options include a heater and a roller blind for the rear window.
Power for the SG comes from a simple and robust flathead inline six, displacing 241 cubic inches and producing around 100 horsepower, which was plenty to give the lightweight Airflow brisk performance. Good quality paint finishes, and proper hardware and hose clamps lend a tidy, period-correct presentation. These engines are famously bullet-proof, and this example runs very well, sending power through a 3-speed synchromesh transmission.
In its day, the Airflow was misunderstood and blighted by public misinformation. Today, however, we recognize it as one of the most important cars of its time. Particularly in DeSoto guise, it remains a tremendous value: An approachable, friendly classic that encourages regular enjoyment. Few vehicles in history pushed the boundaries of convention quite like the Airflow, and this charming 1935 DeSoto Coupe represents an outstanding value in the world of pre-war collectible motorcars.