1934 Chrysler Custom Imperial Airflow
The John Scotti Collection
Lot No. 5114
Auctioned on Saturday, May 10, 2014
Sold for $213,400
Though it was incredibly modern in looks, the public wasn't quite ready for it. Following the wake of the Great Depression, the Airflow was just too advanced and too different for many consumers. The collectors and enthusiasts of today nevertheless covet and appreciate these radical cars, which foreshadowed many modern design elements. Chrysler launched the Airflow in 1934, to great fanfare, at the New York Auto Show. It adhered to the design axiom that "fashion follows function".
Credit for the Airflow is properly given to engineer Carl Breer, who with Owen Skelton and Fred Zeder formed Chrysler’s “Three Musketeers”. The streamlined shape was the result of groundbreaking wind tunnel research with the assistance of aviation expert Orville Wright to study which forms were the most efficient shapes in nature that could be suitable for an automobile. The Airflow’s semi-unitary “truss bridge” chassis was based on contemporary aircraft construction principles. The straight eight-cylinder engine was placed directly over the front axle, which allowed the seats to be located entirely within the cars wheelbase, resulting in a roomy and comfortable passenger compartment and a remarkably smooth ride. Needing superior handling dynamics, an innovative suspension system was designed.
The engineers chose to look into ways that a vehicle could be built, by applying what they learned about shape, to utilize monocoque construction to strengthen the manufacture of the car while reducing its overall drag, which also increased the power-to-drag ratio as the more streamlined body allowed air to flow around it instead of ‘being caught through upright forms, such as radiator grilles, headlights and windshields'. The windshield was composed of two sheets of glass that formed a raked 'vee' both side to side, and top to bottom instead of a flat panel of glass.
At a time when automakers like Ford, GM and even Chrysler continued to use wood structural framing members in their car bodies, the Airflow utilized a full-steel body to carry its passengers which rested between the wheels instead of upon them. The rear seat was deeper, and the front seat was wider than in other vehicles. The Airflow possessed a better power to weight ratio, and its structural integrity was stronger than any other similar models of the day. Chrysler called it "The first real motorcar". It was an engineering triumph, incorporating a combination of features rare when the Airflow was introduced, but eventually to become commonplace in automotive design.
Having received a full rotisserie restoration, this rare Airflow is concours show quality. The body, paint, chrome, brightwork and glass are all in excellent condition. Similarly, the soft green leather upholstery and interior is absolutely exquisite. The aircraft-inspired gauges are all like new with crystal clear lenses and polished bezels. Not a single stitch appears out of place on the well-appointed compartment. The rear seating area displays cloth jump seats, rope-type grab handle, footrests, divider window and sofa-like armrests.
The futuristic (for the period) Airflow has distinctive bumpers, waterfall-type grille and hood ornament. It is also enhanced with fender skirts, dual taillights, rear-mounted spare in metal cover, artillery-type wheels and wide whitewall tires. It would be difficult to locate and purchase a finer example of the acclaimed Chrysler Airflow.