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1934-1937 Chrysler/DeSoto Airflow

Plymouth Airflow

Walter P. Chrysler had high hopes for the Airflow, and so did Carl Breer, its chief architect. Both men felt this advanced design virtually reinvented the automobile, and they, therefore, expected an enthusiastic public response to the initial Chrysler and DeSoto Airflow models.

As we know, their hopes were quickly dashed by poor sales in the wake of several unforeseen problems. Had things been different, though, we might have seen a Plymouth Airflow.

The Airflow project reached fruition in 1933, largely under the auspices of the DeSoto Division. That same year, Plymouth introduced its first-ever six-cylinder car, the PC. Curiously, it was fractionally smaller in basic dimensions than its four-cylinder PB predecessor, but unfortunate styling made it look like a lot less car and it did not sell well.

Nevertheless, Walter Chrysler wasn't at all averse to "compacts," and he loved the Airflow. In fact, he saw Breer's bold new concept as the basis for an all-Airflow corporate lineup by 1935 or 1936.

It was at about this time that Breer showed his boss a copy of a new book called Horizons. Filled with drawings of futuristic aircraft, ships, and automobiles, it was written and illustrated by industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes. Mr. Chrysler was suitably impressed, and Bel Geddes signed on as a company consultant in September 1933.

When he arrived at Chrysler, Bel Geddes took on three tasks: suggest styling improvements for the forthcoming Chrysler/DeSoto Airflow; develop a 100-inch-wheelbase version, possibly for the Plymouth badge; and draw up proposals for a compact Plymouth even smaller than the PC.

While none of his face-lift ideas were seen on later versions of the senior Airflows, the Plymouth Airflow progressed as far as full-scale interior and exterior mockups as Project P-113.

It was more integrated and thus better looking than the production models, but by the time it was finished, the entire compact-car program had been canceled. Engineering resources were more urgently needed elsewhere, mainly for finalizing the 1934s. Also, Chrysler executives had decided that, based on the PC experience, future Plymouths ought to be larger, not smaller.

DeSoto Division at Chrysler also had toyed with compacts on the way to their final design for the Airflow -- at one point building a wooden mock-up of a 100-inch-wheelbase three-window coupe that would have served nicely as the basis for a Plymouth Airflow (had one ever been required).

Completed in mid-1933, it was more conventionally shaped, with freestanding headlamps, a 1932-1933 DeSoto-style "barrel" radiator, and a rumble seat. More predictive were its all-steel "turret" top, rear-hinged "alligator" one-piece hood, and interchangeable doors.

The 1935 Airflow and Airstream
A 1935 Chrysler Airflow Imperial C2 prototype
poses with its new Airstream running mate.

Ultimately, all these machinations were sidetracked by the production Airflow's disappointing sales and Chrysler's hasty regrouping around Ray Dietrich's more conservative "Airstream" look for 1935 and beyond. Even so, Walter Chrysler didn't give up on compacts -- or the Airflow concept. Neither did engineer Carl Breer, who continued streamlining experiments on full-size Airflows while investigating smaller extensions of the basic design. Significantly, the company launched a new series of compact-car studies in 1934, the year the Airflow debuted, under the "A-Series" designation.

Despite troubled sales, Chrysler continued to produce the Airflow. See what the 1936 model had to offer on the next page.

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