The new Tesla Cybertuck debuted to mixed reviews. It was but the latest manifestation of Elon Musk’s eccentric genius and vision. There is, however a question. Was this revolutionary truck a glimpse of the future or was it just plain crazy? Back in 1934 a vehicle that was just as futuristic at the time made its debut and the reviews were even less favorable. And it was also a manifestation of the future as seen through the eyes of a visionary, Walter P. Chrysler.
As with the Edsel, Chrysler launched an extensive promotional and marketing campaign before the public was even given a glimpse of the Airflow. As the new model was the first to be designed with engineering focused on aerodynamics, the company launched a publicity stunt in which they reversed the axles and steering gear of a conventional 1933 model. This allowed the car to be driven “backwards” throughout Detroit. The stunt captured the public’s attention and related advertising campaigns called attention to the fact that most cars were more streamlined in the rear than the front. Promotion also noted that soon Chrysler would introduce the car of the future.
The Chrysler and DeSoto Airflow was heavily influenced by the then popular streamlining and Art Deco movements that was influencing everything from hotel construction to radio design. With the exception of costly custom models and special orders from companies such as Duesenberg and Packard, and the Czechoslovakian built Tatra, there wasn’t a car on the road that compared with the Airflow. It was sleek and low, the grille presented a smooth, rounded waterfall look, and headlights were built into the fenders rather than in the conventional design of pods on stanchions or bar that crossed in front of the radiator. In the rear, Airflow models encased the rear wheels through the use of fender skirts adorned with sedate but noticeable chrome accents.
Instead of a the industry standard of a flat panel of glass windshield, on the Airflow two sheets of glass were used in a racked “vee.” All windows used something new, safety glass. And as with the Cybertruck, in a vehicle debut a professional baseball player pitched a ball into a side glass with dramatic results. While most companies were still using a metal attached to wood framing construction method, the Airflow was built entirely of steel which provided superb structural integrity. The car also possessed a better power to weight ratio of most production cars.
As with the Edsel, initial models introduced in January 1934 were plagued with numerous problems, many were resultant of the rush to production and others came about because of the significant manufacturing challenges required to produce such a futuristic car. These problems as well as the resultant bad press, and the unconventional styling kept customers away in droves. Only 6,212 units had been produced by May 1934.
Publicity stunts, expensive marketing campaigns, refinements, and positive reviews were of little avail. The Airflow sold poorly, and in 1937 the company discontinued the model. As an interesting historic footnote many attributes of the Airflow would be incorporated in other models and influence automotive design and engineering for decades to come.
Today the Airflow provides a glimpse of the future as seen from 1934. And for the savvy collector that wants a vintage car that can be driven as a modern car, the Airflow is the best of both worlds. Take a look at this video from an Airflow promotion, and see if you are not inspired to take one for a spin.