1937 Chrysler C17 Airflow

1937 Chrysler C17 Airflow

Chrysler’s bold innovations had no appeal for consumers and critics alike for their Airflow automobile design.

The Chrysler Airflow was introduced in January 1934 and was produced under both the Chrysler and De Soto brands until 1937. It was one of the first full-size American production car to use streamlining. Chrysler built there own wind tunnel in 1930 at their Highland Park, Michigan site to begin studying the effects of wind resistance on automobiles. They soon discovered that cars of the time were actually more aerodynamic going backwards then forward.

There were other innovations introduced; all steel body, unibody construction, the engine was moved forward over the front wheels, the passenger compartment moved in front of the rear axle which all contributed to a superior ride and safer handling characteristics.

Chrysler’s problems with the Airflow design were exasperated by early production problems. The body required many welds using new techniques. Many of the early models had major manufacturing flaws, including engines breaking away from their mounts at highway speeds. General Motors launched an advertising campaign that further hampered the public’s acceptance of the new design and production techniques.

Finally with sales at an all-time low of 4,600 units Chrysler discontinued the model line. It would not be until 1955 when Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look” cars that Chrysler would again begin styling cars imaginatively.

1937 Chrysler C17 Airflow
1937 Chrysler C17 Airflow

Shirley and Bruce Elliot, Newtonville Ont. have owned their 1937 Chrysler C17 Airflow for twenty years. It was purchased with 90,000 miles (145,000 kms.) on the odometer and since has had the engine completely rebuilt, it has since had 20,000 miles (32,000 kms.) added.

“The engine was pretty tired when we bought it,” said Bruce Elliot. “Perry Automotive had all the parts and now it purrs along nicely.”

The body was completely free from rust, the original owner had never driven it on Ontario roads in the winter, he would drive the car to Florida where he stayed until spring. The car has been completely stripped to bare metal and repainted. The engine is a 323 cid in-line eight and cruises along at 110 km per hour. The Airflow is a 5-time National winner (USA) at Airflow meets.

story and photo by bill samuel