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Thursday, July 23, 2015

This Barn Find Chrysler Airflow Tells an Interesting Story


Copyright © 2015 Bold Ride LLC.

Sometimes a car is too forward-thinking for its own good. The Chrysler Airflow is one of those cars. While famously a commercial failure, the Airflow pushed engineering boundaries to the limit in the 1930s. The goal was not to punch a hole through air like contemporary American cars…but instead glide through it. 
To that end, it was largely effective, and the press admired its radical design. It launched in 1934 to “oohs” and “ahhs,” but the buying public wasn’t much interested, and after four years on sale, the Airflow was shuffled away into retirement. Too much, too soon.

This 1934 Chrysler Airflow CU is one of those polarizing cars. It recently came up for sale on eBay, and despite its rather aged appearance, it has led quite the interesting existence. More on that in a minute.


The sleek Airflow was the brainchild of Chrysler engineer Carl Breer, who together with Owen Skelton and Fred Zeder (Walter Chrysler’s “Three Musketeers”) postulated that boxy cars simply weren’t the way forward. The trio spent years testing over 50 scale models in wind tunnels until the Airflow’s shape was finally decided as the winner. In the process, they discovered the typical boxy cars of the day were more aerodynamic when driving backward. Oddly enough, one Airflow was actually driven backwards through Detroit as a publicity stunt.

Advanced aerodynamics aside, the Airflow also adopted a then-radical unibody design and tubular frame. Its straight-eight engine was shifted as far forward over the front wheels as possible, in order to seat all occupants between the axles and provide Chrysler marketing’s “Floating Ride” level of quality. Top-of-the-line CW Imperial models even employed curved windshield glass—a big deal for the day.

Next to its futuristic design and Great Depression untimeliness, the Airflow also had a third problem. Mechanical gremlins allegedly haunted some early production models, due mainly to the complex tooling and production techniques needed to produce the car. Just over 11,000 sold in 1934. Regardless, the Airflow is truly one of the great innovators in American car design, and this barn find Airflow is a sepia-tinted survivor of a time long gone.


According to the seller, this Airflow CU was purchased in 1935–after it lingered on an Oregon car dealer’s lot–by a young trapper and fisherman, who had been living in the Alaskan frontier. After a brief romance in Portland, the trapper shipped his Airflow back to Dillingham, Alaska, where it would remain the rest of its life. At one point, it even served as a local taxi.

It was then tucked away in storage for years, and passed down to the original owner’s grandson upon his passing in 1995. The seller notes parts have been taken out for restoration, which explains the gutted interior, though most if not all are said to be included.
The real question is, do you restore it, or do you leave it in all its untouched, patinated splendor?