Let Jay Leno Tell You Why the 1934 Chrysler Airflow Was So Revolutionary

Meet America’s first aerodynamic car.

byMáté Petrány|
Chrysler News photo


If there's one car Jay Leno often mentions in his garage videos, it's his 1934 Chrysler Airflow. This now-rare luxury car was once a very forward-thinking, misunderstood engineering experiment, which the aging Walter Chrysler's team just couldn't manage to sell in large enough numbers, eventually calling it a commercial failure. 

It was eventually toned down in styling after 1934 but was finally phased out after 1937. Less than 30,000 units left the Highland Park assembly line before Chrysler would move on to a much more conventional design for 1938.

Jay Leno's pride and joy, a first-year Chrysler Airflow Imperial CX is a LeBaron-bodied six-seater built on a 137.5-inch wheelbase, and one of the only three surviving CXs today. Perhaps inspired by Europe's Tatras and designed in a brand-new wind tunnel using aviator pioneer Orville Wright's know-how, the Airflow became America's first streamlined car full of clever comfort features and Art Deco touches.


Tatra (and Zeppelin) designer Paul Jaray actually sued Chrysler claiming the Airflow was a copycat. However, Tatras were rear-engined cars with air-cooled V8s, Chrysler's aerodynamic tourer featured a straight-eight flathead mounted way forward over the front axle. This reliable cast-iron engine produced 122 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque for a top speed just over 100 mph, and was quite and comfortable cruising at up to 80 mph thanks to a three-speed transmission with overdrive and freewheeling.

Behind the controversial waterfall grille, Chrysler added more venting points than any of its competitors, making sure the air could really flow through this car at any given speed. The 1934 Airflow debuted with triple adjustable air slats behind its fenders, two just in front of the windshield channeling air to your feet, a split-windshield that also cranks open, side glass that disappears into the doors with the vent windows included, plus two more vent windows on the C-pillars.

With no side mirrors in sight, the Airflow was advertised to be a 20 mpg luxury car, which Chrysler added that "the water actually runs up through the windshield during a rainstorm, while no dust collects on its back." 

That's great news because Jay Leno's is such a California car, that it's missing both of its individually activated wipers.

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