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1934-1937 Chrysler/DeSoto Airflow


1937 Chrysler Airflow

Time finally caught up with the 1937 Chrysler Airflow, and in more ways than one. Now four years old, the design that had seemed so radical back in 1934 was more or less established orthodoxy in Detroit. Perhaps it hadn’t been so “wrong” after all . . .

Nevertheless, the end was clearly in sight for Chrysler’s aerodynamically inspired car. DeSoto threw in the towel after three disheartening years to rely solely on its more popular Airstream-styled models. Chrysler, having already tooled up for 1937, had little choice but to continue with the Airflow for one final year.

1936 Chrysler Airflow
The last Airflow lineup was a brace of C17
Chryslers for 1937. Only 4,370 of these four-door
sedans were built.

Known simply as the Airflow Eight, this Series C17 was essentially the previous year’s Imperial C10, riding the same 128-inch wheelbase and retaining its 323.5-cid engine. Only coupe and sedan body styles were fielded, each priced at $1,610. They were arguably the best-looking Airflows of all, sporting yet another new “nose job” marked by a gently rounded and raked grille, plus reworked hood louvers.

The main mechanical change was adoption of a Bendix-built vacuum power brake system. But all this was little more than a token effort, and after precisely 4,600 of the 1937s had been built, the Airflow was consigned to history.

In the end, the Airflow was a breakthrough automobile doomed by rumor. After all, it was a rumor about a competitor’s streamliner -- a car that, ironically, never materialized -- that led Walter Chrysler to rush the Airflow to market before it was really ready.

And it was the rumors resulting from that botched introduction that sealed the cars’ fate almost before they’d had a chance to prove themselves. Perhaps it only goes to show the truth of that old axiom: “haste makes waste.”

Yet if it accomplished nothing else, the Airflow will always be remembered because it prodded a somewhat reluctant auto industry into embracing new technology and design concepts. It undoubtedly influenced the development of the Lincoln Zephyr, and it accurately forecast the shape of cars to come later in the 1930s and into the 1940s.

The French-built Peugeot 402 borrowed heavily from the Airflow's design.
No, it’s not an Airflow but a 1939 Peugeot 402B,
a frank copy of the forward-thinking Chrysler design.

Moreover, its impact wasn’t limited to Detroit. The French-built Peugeot 402 was a frank copy of the Airflow, right down to its rounded nose and waterfall grille. And the soundness of engineer Carl Breer’s original design was confirmed in Germany by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, whose “people’s car” for Adolf Hitler was nothing less than a scaled-down derivative of the rear-engine Airflow prototypes.

Sadly, the Airflow seems destined to be remembered mainly as a “loser,” as it has been for so many years, and that’s a shame. The car that blazed more new design trails than any other deserves a better fate.

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