Parked Since 1982: 1935 Desoto Airflow SG

I’ve never understood why Chrysler’s Airflow was so hated by people back in the 1930s; I’ve always dug its aerodynamic styling and unibody construction, which was light years ahead for its time. This particular Airflow is a 1935 Desoto SG, and though it has been parked since 1982, it appears to be in fairly decent condition. Find it here on Hemmings in Mission Viejo, California, with an asking price of $13,500 obo.

The Desoto Airflow’s history can be traced back to to a concept car built by Chrysler back in the late 1920s. Carl Breer, Fred Zeder and Owen Skelton (referred to as Chrysler’s so-called “Three Musketeers”), all three of which were a part of Chrysler’s engineering department, noted that “both migrating geese and military aircraft flew in “V” patterns to optimize aerodynamics.” Convinced that aerodynamics played an integral part in the process of automotive design, Breer consulted aircraft engineer Bill Earnshaw and Orville Wright (one-half of the renowned Wright brothers), and built a wind tunnel, albeit a crude one, specifically fueled towards designing Chrysler’s next line of automobiles. After tests of conventional automobiles available at the time created huge amounts of drag (due to its upright design and body-on-frame construction), Breer discovered that a “body reversed on the chassis” and shaped “like the rigid airships of the day” would allow for easy air passage around its pointed nose, which made for a more aerodynamically-superior car. The problem was, despite the enhanced aerodynamics, styling was still a priority for car buyers at the time. A compromise came in the form of the 1932 Chrysler Airflow Trifon concept, which was kept on the hush-hush due to fear of public scrutiny. In 1934, the Airflow made its debut as both a Chrysler and Desoto model, with Desoto solely marketing the Airflow as its only car.

This particular Desoto Airflow is a 1935 SG four-door model and, with an original base price of $1,015, is one of only 6,269 SG sedans built for the 1935 model year. Overall, the body appears to be overall solid with only the passenger-side rear fender being a minor concern. Both bumpers appeared to have been painted at some point, so I would strip them down and have them rechromed. I would also have the grille and hubcaps refinished, and have the headlamp surrounds rechromed. The pastel blue is an interesting choice of color, but appears to be not factory-correct; Winchester Gunmetal or Platinum Gray would be a better-suited color. I would also ditch the wide-whitewall tires and swap in a reproduction set of black-wall tires.

Powered by a 241.5 cubic inch flathead I6 rated at 100 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque (it was the only engine available in Desoto’s Airflow), this car’s engine is currently not running for unknown reasons. Backed by a 3-speed synchromesh manual transmission with overdrive, Desoto’s Airflow can reach top speeds of 85 mph, so it can be driven just about anywhere once it is running again. I would inspect everything before an attempt of getting it running again, but from first glance it should not take too much for that to happen.

Though weathered, the interior appears to be original. The front seat does have some tears in it, so it’ll need to be redone, as will the dash and steering wheel, and most likely the carpet and rear seat; the water spots on the rear package shelf and side panels in the back part of the interior indicate that those will need to be replaced as well. The odometer currently reads 07,286, but most like it has rolled over at least once. On the plus side, the gauges are in good condition, and the door panels look like they only need cleaning. I am curious as to what is on the floor in the back-seat area on the driver’s side; it appears to be a speaker, but I have no clue what everything else connected to it is (if you know what it is, feel free to identify and explain it in the comments below). Overall, this car is going to need some mechanical and cosmetic work before it becomes road-worthy again, but once restored could sell for up to $50,000. I would restore it in either Winchester Gunmetal or Platinum Gray with an interior like this one. What would you do with this rare Airflow?

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. Bill Lawrence

    Those guages are works of art!

    • Jeff

      I agree the guages are a work of art….but check out that sun visor, that has a Service Record & Travel Log. Very nifty!

  2. Warren Westbo

    Stunning.

  3. boxdin

    That suitcase looking thing in the truck is a radio !!

  4. DrinkinGasoline

    I just soiled myself…can I get a nurse over here with a bed pan and some of those moisturizing wipes ?? I’m gonna need a sponge bath with dirty Airflow talk.

  5. RoughDiamond RoughDiamond Member

    Oh that’s just cool! That shifter lever is an early long handle 4-speed Hurst Pistol Grip prototype, but of course it’s not.

  6. Gunner

    What beautiful styling for an automobile that was ahead of its time. I would be proud to own this special car. Look at its lines. Wow. Get it running and drive it. I think the asking price is worth it. Anyone remember the film they made illustrating driving one off of a steep dropoff showing the safety of the car as it flipped over?

  7. David

    I remember the film. Other cars were still sheet steel over a wood frame that scattered in an accident. The airflow is all steel. The car was 10 years ahead of its time and had many advanced features, like the engine placed over the front suspension for better handling. One did vey well in stock form in the Peking to Paris race a few years ago. We had it in the museum for awhile and it had only a layer of dirt to show for its journey.

  8. Jon Hendrickson

    Looks like the head bolts are loose Is there somethin we should know?

  9. Jay E.

    I have seen these with base/clear paint in a light metallic green and they look amazing. The paint used in its day didn’t do anything to highlight the smooth lines like modern paints do. Really neat find. You do need to wonder what tacking the spare tire onto the back did to the airflow numbers. A new wind tunnel test or drag lofting program to get new numbers would sure be interesting.

  10. Sam

    What a great car! Culmination of art deco, everything ties together including the spare tire.

    This is a great project to finish and enjoy. I wonder which stylist left Chrysler to design the Divco milk truck?

  11. Paul

    This color actually works well for it. The contrast between it and the trim really highlight the Art Deco lines. The original ones in all silver/gray/gunmetal/whatever just sort of make it look like it’s made of tinfoil.

  12. 86 Vette Convertible

    IIRC when the AirFlow came out, didn’t Chrysler do an demo where they rolled it down a hill then drove it away from the bottom? That is one truly beautiful vehicle and hope someone takes it on and gets it back on the road.
    Funny thing, in all these years I have never noticed it did not have a trunk lid.

    This deserves to be brought back to all it’s glory and do a little flag waving to boot.

  13. MFerrell
  14. Paul B

    It flopped because it looked too different, especially at the front, and people did not find it beautiful. But looking at it now, it really was not that far ahead in appearance — by 1936 or ’37 a lot of other cars were catching up. Also GM, which had nothing so advanced in its portfolio or plans, launched a smear campaign against the Airflow, describing it as unproven and unsafe, and it worked. Of course, it wasn’t long before everyone was going with all steel bodies and then unitized construction. So the Airflow was a wonderfully advanced car that offered huge benefits to its relatively few courageous buyers. Among the many great features are seating areas completely between the front and rear axles. That gave a much better ride than the carriage-style cars of the day in which rear passengers jounced directly over the back axle. Not even that obvious benefit was enough to convince many people to abandon the familiar but old fashioned motorized carts they felt more comfortable buying at the time.

  15. David Miraglia

    a real beauty

  16. Dan

    They were hated because they were ugly as sin, especially when compared to other new cars in 1935.

  17. Jim Benjaminson

    Interesting remark about the smear campaign of the car being all steel rather than wood framed. GM had an advertisement that showed a hollow tube – which was easily bent by a person holding it (like crushing a Coke can when its empty). Then they inserted a wooden dowel into the hollow tube and tried to bend it – which of course it wouldn’t do – therefore steel over wood is much stronger. Plymouth then ran an ad about a railroad car rolling over onto a Plymouth with its safety all-steel body, and the occupants coming out unscathed. I don’t recall if a wood framed Chevrolet body got the same railroad car treatment or not but at this point Walter Chrysler stepped in and put an end to the tit-for-tat sniping……

  18. George

    i love this car, my kids love this car…just outrageously cool. i wonder what a modern bearing technology would do for that old flathead?

  19. Thomas Allen

    Anybody here willing to contribute to getting this car to Portland, OR and into my driveway? 😎

  20. M.Satchwell

    I have a Dinky Toy (uk toy) in cream finish of this airflow. Never seen the real car, suburb, l hope it is put back on the road. Very important heritage Mike

    • jackthemailman

      A DinkyToy of an Airflow? Wow, cool! And I am NOT being sarcastic. That really is cool. I think you’re lucky.

  21. David Eidsvold

    I going to check this car today , see what happens

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