By Jacques Gordon
The 1934 Chrysler Airflow was ahead of its time not just because of its styling, but also because of its advanced design. The stiff all-steel unit-body (unibody) rode low in the frame, total weight was less than other cars its size, and the weight was evenly distributed over the axles. Combined with the car’s aerodynamic styling, the Airflow was quieter, more comfortable and more fuel-efficient than other cars costing twice as much. But as has been well-documented, that aerodynamic styling proved unpopular and only 55,000 were built over four years; disappointing even in that depression-era market.
Chrysler modified the body style significantly after the first year of poor sales, but the shorter-wheelbase DeSoto Airflow remained in production through 1937. The unrestored 1935 SG model shown here was the top-of-the-line edition, one of only 418 built. It’s equipped with a Comfortair windshield fan made by the E. A. Laboratories of Brooklyn, New York. That company made electrical accessories for bicycles, aircraft, marine applications and automobiles, including heaters, horns, wiper motors and lighting equipment. During WWII they made aircraft lighting equipment and gun sights.
While “flow-thru ventilation” was readily available on many cars by turning the windshield cranks at the top of the dashboard, all other forms of climate control were optional in those days, even in the Airflow SG. Add-on electric or vacuum-operated fans were intended for defogging the windshield, although with no source of dry air they were only marginally effective. During warm weather the fan could be directed to blow air at the front seat occupants. An optional (aftermarket) heater was available for cold weather, installed in the passenger side foot well. Most were equipped with a single-speed blower fan (all cars had 6-volt electrical systems), but some relied on air flowing through an open a foot well vent when the car was moving (note the chrome handle in the bottom right of the bottom picture).
Walter Chrysler was a pioneer of automotive air conditioning, having purchased the company that became Chrysler Airtemp in the 1930s. Existing equipment was too large and heavy for automotive applications, and although they developed technology that eventually made Chrysler air conditioning the most efficient and compact of its day, it wasn’t deployed until the 1950s. Still, when A/C on other cars was a dealer-installed option hung under the dashboard, Chrysler was first to offer built-in air conditioning with face-level vents mounted in the dashboard.