Thursday, July 10, 2014

DeSoto Airflow Facelifts

Streamlining was in the automobile styling air in the early 1930s as American manufacturers were becoming increasingly desperate to add features to their cars in order to entice buyers as the Great Depression worsened.  Before the 1934 model year, streamline details were minor, almost notional.  Side valances had been added to fenders, grilles and windshields were slanted a few degrees backwards -- not very much, in other words.  But the dynamic, engineering-oriented young Chrysler Corporation drastically accelerated the streamlining trend by introducing its wind tunnel tested Airflow design on its Chrysler and DeSoto brands for 1934.  The Wikipedia entry on the Chrysler Airflow is here.

Most auto buffs are aware that the radical new design proved to be a marketing flop, as the above link mentions.  Chrysler acted quickly, adding the conventional-looking Airstream design to its previously all-Airflow Chrysler and DeSoto brands for 1935.

The present post features DeSoto's Airflows because they are less well-known than the Chrysler variety.  The relevant Wikipedia entry is here, for readers interested in general information.

The link notes that the DeSoto Airflow had a significantly shorter wheelbase than its Chrysler cousins, creating a stubby look that might have been an additional factor (besides the radical basic shape) related to slow sales.

Nowadays, with a large variety of vehicle types and shapes on streets and highways -- in some cases strange and even ugly ones -- Airflows in retrospect don't seem very odd.  To some eyes, including mine, they hold a certain charm despite some questionable styling details.   But what happened happened, so we now take a look at what Chrysler's stylists did in their failed attempt to try to save the DeSoto Airflow line back in the mid-1930s.


1934 Chrysler Airflow
This is to set the scene, a typical Chrysler Airflow four-door sedan.  Airflows also came in two-door sedan and coupe versions, these having a stronger fastback appearance and no spare tire hanging at the rear.

1934 DeSoto Airflow
This is a two-door sedan version. The difference in length from the Chrysler is located in the zone between the front axle and the dash; compare this photo with the one above.

1935 DeSoto Airflow
DeSoto and Chrysler Airflow facelifts for the 1935 model year were concentrated on the hood and grille. This was because the rounded noses on the 1934 cars were an obstacle to sales in an era where essentially all cars had high and often long hoods. So the 1935s were given raised hoods and more distinctive grilles at some expense in aerodynamic efficiency.  By the way, the car shown above is a coupe, with the most aggressive Airflow fastback styling.

1935 DeSoto Airstream
Here is a 1935 DeSoto Airstream. Note the similarity in grille embellishments compared to the Airflow. However, the Airflow's bulged grill is what was called "fencer's mask," a brief fashion in the mid-30s.

1936 DeSoto Airflow
The last model year for DeSoto's Airflow was 1936, and little was done to change its appearance.   The grille has a curved bar added to it along with a more arty set of V-bars, and that's about all.  Chrysler Airflows continued into the 1937 model year, and their grilles were kept in synch with those of its mainstream line.

1936 DeSoto Airstream
Here is a 1936 DeSoto Airsteam.  Its grille is noticeably changed from the 1936 version, unlike the inexpensive fix for the Airflow.

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