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Chrysler "Airstream"

gkelly3gkelly3 Posts: 38
The Chrysler "Airstream" (1934-37) was in many
ways the most technically advanced car of its day.
Yet, it was a commercial flop-people were not ready
for such a radical design. It had a slew of
innovations-all-steel body, aerodynamic design, low
slung body, etc. How many of these cars were
produced-and, has anyone ever driven one? How do
they compare to a modern car?


  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 24,387
    The Airstream was the car that came out to replace the Airflow once Chrysler noticed that it was going to be a failure.

    I'm not sure about production figures, but I think they peaked in 1934, the first year. DeSoto, which relied solely on the Airflow body, sold about 14,000 that year. Chrysler, which had the Airflow and a conventional body, sold about 11,000 Airflows (I think) From there, sales went downhill.

    Sales flop that it was, though, the Airflow got the automobile out of the horse-and-buggy days and into more-or-less the shape of cars today...integrated trunk, body between the wheels instead of over the rear axle, etc.

    I've also read that they could do 100 mph with little strain, and in a publicity stunt, an Airflow was pushed over a 100 ft cliff, where it rolled end-over-end. It landed on all four wheels, and was driven away.

    Compared to a modern car, I'm sure they'd be slow and sloppy, but for the time period, they were probably some of the best handling cars around (I can't speak from experience, I came in about 35 years after they went out).

    The closest "modern" comparison would probably be a 1980 Volare with a slant 6 and stock tires. Fairly heavy, fairly sturdy (if you find one that's not rusted out), not much horsepower but torquey enough to get you around.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    They were interesting cars, and innovative relative to other American cars of the time, but not innovative relative to European cars, which were far ahead of us at that time. I've driven Airflows and their cousins, and they had decent power ( I doubt 100 mph!) and they were fairly easy to drive, regarding steering and braking, as compared say, to a 1934 Packard or Ford or Chevy.
    Nice ride, too, for that time period. But by modern standards, they feel like big old cars, just as you might expect.

    Mostly their failure was, I think, a lesson in "being ahead of your time, but not TOO far ahead", which can be deadly in the marketplace. Consumers need change, but not too radical. YOu can recall, say, the resistance to the first Ford Taurus, and to the current Audi TT and VW Bug. Most automakers play it pretty safe. Chrysler felt so "burned" by the experience that it was years and years (decades) before they ever tried anything bold again. The Airflow failure put a big of a damper on American innovation, that wasn't really broken until 1955, when cars got really "modern", at least in looks.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    It wasn't until the '57 model year that Chrysler came out of its styling shell, and with a vengeance. Plus torsion bar suspension and, in '58, fuel injection. I guess history repeated itself, because they got real conservative again in the early '60s. Kind of like they went into Exner denial. I think the '57-58s really were several years ahead of the competition ("suddenly it's 1960"). The basic Forward Look was clean, although the details were often their downfall.

    And now for something completely different: Shiftright, have you driven any of the hi-perf MoPars from the Exner era? The V800 Plymouth, D-500 Dodge, DeSoto Adventurer, Chrysler 300. Apparently even the cheaper names were serious cars, with big brakes and H-D suspension. I'd love to own a 300C, but I've read that even the standard cam is so lumpy they're not real happy around town. That's why I don't have one--not.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 20,345
    Also made an Airflow. Not sure what the differences were. Probably cosmetic stuff.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    Yeah, the torsion bar suspension worked quite well (it wasn't a new idea by any means, but it was new in America), but the fuel injection was pretty mediocre...same for GMs injection. The usual American car nemesis for the 50s and 60s---neat ideas and lukewarm development once they were introduced. The best injection of that era was Mercedes Benz (1955), and it worked very well.

    I wouldn't say any of those 50s or 60s car "handle" in any modern sense of the word, but they could be stiffened up so that they would corner reasonably flat and not exhibit much of the typical American body roll problem. The power was great, but the big problem of course with American cars of that era was the brakes...the cars were under-braked for all their power, and way too heavy. Still, those 50s/60s engines had tremendous torque and were fun to drive in a straight line. Top end speed wasn't very high, though, compared to modern cars, and going 120 mph was, I recall, a pretty scary experience due to the not so sophisticated suspension and braking package.

    But I'd own a 300C in a red hot minute. I think the 55 is a lovely car without those monstrous tail fins of the later models. I know some of you like Virgil Exner but I guess you remember how I fantasized about having him dragged out of his styling office and shot...just my little prejudice, sorry Virgil!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    I think most old cars do improve their handling with modern radials in terms of not breaking loose on the road (because sidewalls are stronger) but it wouldn't help the body roll....and in many cases, radial tires will create shimmy or road wandering in old cars, since the radials are gripping so much better and transmitting better feel to the old suspension systems. Still, I'd try 'em. Another good idea would be more modern shock absorbers, if you could fit a really high quality shock like a Bilstein. I have no idea of they would make shocks for such old cars, but it would certainly help get rid of that "floating" feeling.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 20,345
    Is it a red and white Fireflight 2 door?

    I knew a guy who had one in high school. The rest of us had Chevys and teased him a bit.

    But, that De Soto had the D-500 engine! It would SMOKE a 327 Chevy and would chirp the tires when the torqueflight shifted into second!

    It also had the WORST brakes in the world and it couldn't handle!

    He bought it for a song...nobody wanted an orphan I guess.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 24,387
    Close, it's a red and white Firedome 2 door, the cheaper trim level for the big DeSoto. There's a pic of it in the ugliest cars of all time forum.

    Your friend in high school, did he swap the motor out? The '57 Fireflite should just have a 341 Hemi 4bbl (mine is a 341 2bbl). I think the D-500 was a 354 (or somewhere therabouts) hemi that was an option package for the Dodges. Even the DeSoto Adventurer that year only had a 345 Hemi, although it put out 345 hp.

    Your friend in high school kind of reminds me of myself in college. I drove a 1969 Dart GT with a 225 slant six. This was around 1989-1992, so naturally my friends made fun of it...even though it would smoke most of their cars. One of my friends had a POS 1980 Honda Accord (sorry, Isell ;-) and anything would smoke it! Then one day, he showed up in a 1986 T-bird, loaded with just about everything, all bragging and arrogant...until I walked his overblown Fairmont like the dog it was. Well, the '69 got totaled, and a few weeks later I showed up with a primer-black '68 with a 318 and dual exhaust...I think my friends were afraid to make fun of it...
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    Yes, the D-500 was the hot Dodge set-up, available on any trim level as I recall. (So was the Plymouth V800.) In '57 the D-500 engine was the previous year's 300 engine, the Chrysler 354 (don't remember the hp). There was also a D-501 that had been, I think, the optional engine on the '56 300.

    It's fascinating to go back to the mid '50s and find out there was a horsepower war going on. Most people know about the hot Chevies, but quite a few manufacturers were using either multiple carburetion, hot solid-lifter cams, huge engines or some combination of the above. This tapered off in the late '50s--Ford completely checked out for a few years--but there were still some very quick 348s and 389s.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    Well, it was a good time for that sort of thing...gas was cheap, people were forgetting the awful war they went through and wanted big, new, modern, powerful cars--and the road-building energy in the 50s was remarkable....long, straight and relatively empty. Perfect place for a large, heavy powerful car.
This discussion has been closed.