Art Deco 1934 De Soto Airflow unappreciated then, desirable now

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Airflow
The restored De Soto looks to be in great condition

While the Chrysler Airflow is now considered to be an evocative high point of 1930s Art Deco design, the car was considered at the time as too weirdly avant garde, and it would go down as one of history’s greatest product failures, predating the Edsel and New Coke.

The Airflows most admired these days as collector cars are the short-wheelbase, 2-door Chrysler and De Soto models, such as the Pick of the Day, a 1935 De Soto Airflow SG coupe.

Airflow
The De Soto’s shape looks quite attractive today

While the Orlando, Florida, dealer advertising the Airflow on ClassicCars.com lists it as a Chrysler, the coupe is clearly a De Soto, as the seller elaborates in the comprehensive description. This striking model is embellished with flashes of Art Deco trim, including the dynamic De Soto grille design and rear-wheel skirts with winged badges.

“This car almost broke Walter Chrysler’s company, and the resulting reaction turned out to make this car a victim of ‘American Pop Culture Infamy’,” the seller says in the ad. “It broke the American tradition of ‘boxy, bulky-looking’ cars with a radical new design.

“The Airflow is the first car to be ‘streamline designed’ in a wind tunnel. Built with unibody construction … 50/50 weight distribution, positions passengers between both axles (instead of over), offer ‘flow-thru’ ventilation, and the first car to carry Lockheed hydraulic brakes (4 years before Ford).”

Airflow
The rear skirts are decorated with a winged flourish

The ad description notes the controversies that surrounded the Airflow at the time, aside from its radical styling, many of the insinuations propagated by competing auto companies.  Chrysler went to great lengths to show that the new design was stable, safe and efficient, while setting speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats due to the car’s aerodynamic shape.

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But to no avail, as the Depression-weary public failed to see the trend-setting nature of the futuristic design, much of which eventually became common practice in the auto industry.  Many of the unsold four-door Chrysler Airflows went to urban taxi fleets, and can be spotted in Hollywood movies from the era.

This De Soto painted in Burgundy Wine looks great in the photos, apparently holding up well after a 15-years-ago restoration, which the dealer says was applied to a rust-free Southern car. The coupe is loaded with the luxury options available at the time, as well as the model’s advanced features.

Airflow
The interior was restored in original style and materials

The car is powered by a side-valve inline-6 and 3-speed transmission with automatic overdrive, and the interior has been restored in its original style, with mohair upholstery and a faux-wood painted dashboard.  The gauges attractively carry on the Art Deco style.

The asking price for this rare survivor, which the seller says is one of just six restored De Soto SG Airflows known to exist, is a reasonable $59,500, or best offer.

To view this listing on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day.

 

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Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

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