Our photo last week showed a bit of the 1934 DeSoto Airflow, a car that, like its Chrysler near-twin, was ahead of its time in design and styling. Unfortunately, it was too far ahead, and the public rejected it, preferring to stick with the squarish cars of the time.
A couple of years later, other automakers picked up on the aerodynamic styling, and some of them – notably the Lincoln Zephyr – became hits.
The DeSoto and Chrysler were so similar that we included guesses for both makes but chose a winner from those who knew it was the DeSoto.
Chosen randomly from the correct entries was the name Jo Ann Holbert, of Blythe, who wrote: “I believe that car may be a 1934 DeSoto Airflow. I wish I had it now!”
Holbert wins a gift from The Augusta Chronicle. Other readers identifying the vehicle were:
AUGUSTA: Carolyn Ogles wrote: “A futuristic car for that time. It was discontinued in 1936 to focus on more traditional designs.”
Tom Turner wrote: “The vehicle in the photo is a 1934 DeSoto. This was a tough one! Thanks –I love this feature.”
Walker Mobley Jr. wrote: “The photo is of a 1934 DeSoto Airflow or ‘Floating Ride’ concept by Chrysler. The rear-seat passengers were moved forward so that both front and rear passengers were riding ‘between the wheels,’ according to the sales brochures. This appears to be an early attempt at a unibody design in that this car had a ‘cage-type’ frame around the passenger, trunk and hood areas. This was probably the most streamlined auto on the American market at that time.
“A friend of mine had one in the 1960s, and we thought it was the most unusual thing we had ever seen. (Too much time has passed to remember how it was on the street.) Keep these coming!”
Sam Roney said it was the 1935 DeSoto Airflow: The aluminum block engine caused a lot trouble with cracked heads on them. I noticed the fins open on the hood area, so that tells me they needed extra cooling, but I don’t see the windshield looks like it pushes out, and the ’35 did.”
CANTON, GA.: David Anderson wrote: “Way before Ford stepped all over itself with the ill-fated introduction of the Edsel, Chrysler did it way better (worse?) with the Airflow. Introduced in 1934 as the only DeSoto offering and as an addition to the 1933 Chrysler carryover lineup, the Airflow was a failure from the start.
“Entire books have been written on the whys and how-comes, but basically it was just a little too forward-thinking for the time, and Chrysler simply underestimated the public’s resistance to such radical change.
“The Airflow was the first all-steel, unibody car at a time when nearly all other manufacturers were using steel panels over wood-frame bodies. GM and its dealers were quick to deem the car unsafe, saying, ‘That car doesn’t even have a chassis! That body can’t protect you the way a solid steel chassis can!’ Despite a much-publicized stunt where an Airflow was driven off a 100-plus-foot cliff and then driven away under its own power, the seeds of doubt were planted. By the way, I do not think the driver went over the cliff with the car!
“Aside from that, the front-end styling was shunned by the public because it was just too different from everything else. The DeSoto version was also seen as stubby and awkward since it was on a shorter wheelbase than the Chrysler version and with this being its only offering, DeSoto sales suffered drastically.
“Chrysler was quick to correct the front-end styling for the 1935 model year but it just was not enough. 1936 was the last year for the DeSoto Airflow and the Chrysler version only lasted one more year after that. Eventually all manufacturers adopted some of the Airflow’s engineering feats, such as pushing the wheels out further to the four corners, placing the engine directly over the front axle and of course the unibody construction. Such is the fickleness of the public’s acceptance.
“For the manufacturers, it’s a “sometimes-you’re-the-bug-sometimes-you’re-the-windshield” existence. With some factions giving partial credit to the Airflow influencing the initial design of the VW Beetle, it was definitely the bug.”
EVANS: PJ Rodgers said: “It’s a 1934 Desoto AirFlow.”
Paul Perdue wrote: “This week’s vehicle is a 1934 Desoto Airflow. It is on Time magazine list of the 50 worst cars of all time. The Airflow’s ‘worst’-ness derives from its spectacularly bad timing. Twenty years later, the car’s many design and engineering innovations – the aerodynamic singlet-style fuselage, steel-space frame construction, near 50-50 front-rear weight distribution and light weight – would have been celebrated.
“As it was, in 1934, the car’s dramatic streamliner styling antagonized Americans on some deep level, almost as if it were designed by Bolsheviks. It didn’t help that a few early Airflows had major, engine-falling-out-type problems that stemmed from the radical construction techniques required.”
Jerry Paul wrote: “This week my guess is a 1934 DeSoto Airflow.”
Larry Heath wrote: “The 1934 DeSoto Airflow. This was a smaller version of the Chrysler Airflow, also introduced in 1934. These cars had aerodynamic styling, which was really innovative for that era. These cars also had unibody construction rather than body on frame, which was common at that time.
“This was another situation where a car design was ahead of its time and never really caught on. There was also a perception that the unibody design was unsafe. In reality, the unibody was probably more safe than the traditional designs of the 1930’s.
“The DeSoto Airflow only lasted for three years before being discontinued. The Chrysler version continued into 1937 and then was also discontinued. Today it is a rare occasion to see an Airflow at any car shows.”
Bill Harding wrote: “Chrysler Corp. built the Airflow for the 1934 through 1936 model years for the DeSoto division, and through the 1937 model year for the Chrysler division. The Airflow was a sales disaster, and was targeted by General Motors’ advertising as an ill-advised purchase.
“Tests were performed proving that an Airflow’s all-steel unibody construction was safer than cars made of wooden subframing over which steel skins were applied. An advertising film showed an empty Airflow being pushed off a cliff, falling 100 feet, landing on its side, being righted, started and driven off, battered, but still roadworthy. Although the film was shown in movie theaters across the country, it didn’t help to stem the sales decline. Until the Edsel came along, this was the mother of car flops.
Lloyd Schnuck wrote: “The 1934 DeSoto Airflow. Promoted by Chrysler as a ‘futuristic’ aerodynamic model (two-door coupes and four-door sedans) but never quite caught on, produced in model years 1934-36.
“A shorter wheelbase than the Chrysler Airflow, unibody construction with a stiffer body, engine over front wheels resulted in good weight distribution and quieter than most of the era. Sold more DeSoto Airflows than the Chrysler counterpart but rumors that they were unsafe appeared. In a filmed advertisement of its safety, one went over a 110-foot cliff, then was driven away.
“Marque was named for Hernando de Soto in 1928 with production from 1929 to 1961.”
Jim Williamson said the 1934 DeSoto Airflow.
GIRARD, GA.: Henry Glisson guessed: “The 1945-35 Chrysler Airflow, dubbed ‘the magnificent turkey,’ and was never accepted by the public so it did not last long. However, it brought about tremendous advances in body engineering, engine placement, seating and ride, and its influence was seen later in other autos.”
HARLEM: Robert Powell said: “The car is a 1935 Chrysler Airflow.”
Mike Wallace identified the 1934 DeSoto Airflow.
MARTINEZ: Jim Muraski said: “This week’s vehicle is a 1934 DeSoto Airflow.”
Cheryl Cook said: “Well, I guess this week is that ‘challenge’ I was looking for! After much thinking and searching, I have settled on 1934 DeSoto as the year and make of the car. My brain needed a little more exercise!”
Joe Bert said it was the 1934 Chrysler Airflow with an art deco interior and straight-eight engine.
NORTH AUGUSTA: Lark Jones said: “I’m going with the 1936 Chrysler Airflow.”
PERRY, FLA.: Larry Anderson said: “It’s a 1934 DeSoto Airflow.”
THOMSON: Ken Richards said: “I think this is a Chrysler product. Somewhere around 1934, they had an Airflow model. The hood ornament makes me think it is a Plymouth.”
WARRENVILLE: James Covar guessed the 1934 DeSoto Airflow.
WASHINGTON, GA.: Ken Thompson wrote: “I was immediately able to identify the car as being a mid-1930s Chrysler or DeSoto Airflow. I understand that both Dodge and Plymouth stuck to more conventional designs.
“After some research, I believe that, based on the hood ornament, it is a 1936 Chrysler Airflow.”