Today, automakers love to brag about low drag coefficients, but that wasn’t the case when this 1934 Chrysler Airflow Imperial Eight was built. This car was one of the first designed for low aerodynamic drag, but it ultimately proved to be ahead of its time, as Jay Leno explains on this episode of Jay Leno’s Garage.
The Airflow is known for its streamlined bodywork, which was designed with the aid of wind-tunnel testing, a novelty at the time. Under the skin, it had some other notable design features. The engine was pushed forward over the front axle to maximize interior space, and the floor was lower than typical cars of the period. The Airflow was also one of the first mass-produced cars with an all-steel body.
This car is powered by a 299-cubic-inch flathead V-8, which makes 122 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque, according to Jay. Drive is to the rear wheels through a 3-speed manual transmission. Top speed was somewhere in the vicinity of 100 mph.
1934 Chrysler Airflow on Jay Leno’s Garage
Leno’s car is a CX sedan, which was the highest-end version without a coachbuilt body. The car is notable for its opening two-piece windshield. Just three of these cars survive (out of 25, according to our research), but more of the high-end CW versions were saved, according to Jay.
The aerodynamic Airflow cars were sold from 1934 to 1937, and all were marked by a bold new teardrop design. Cars made after 1934 had fewer grille slats and then a more-traditional grille to try to gain customers.
While aerodynamics would become an integral part of car design in the coming decades, the Airflow was a sales flop. Customers didn’t like the styling, and Chrysler soon went back to building more conventional-looking cars. Chrysler was also slow to ramp up production, and some customers got impatient, Jay said.
Despite being more than 80 years old, Leno said the Airflow is still very usable, with adequate power for modern traffic, a comfortable ride thanks to a cabin placed between the axles, and minivan-like space for passengers. While the Airflow name came from the car’s aerodynamics, this car also features several means for air to flow into the passenger compartment, including that opening windshield and wing windows front and rear.
Watch the full video to learn more about the Chrysler Airflow and see Jay drive the car on the streets of Los Angeles.