Chrysler Airstream is First Produced
The Chrysler Airstream was an automobile produced by the Chrysler division of the Chrysler Corporation during the model years 1935 and 1936.
The Airstream was a conventional looking automobile that was trimmed to evoke a feeling of streamlined design. A similar car, with the same Airstream name was also sold by Chrysler's companion brand DeSoto during the period.
The creation of the Airstream was an outgrowth of the unpopularity of the streamlined Chrysler Airflow, which consumers failed to embrace. The Airstream was based on the 1933 Chrysler "CO" model, which was carried over into the 1934 model year as the Chrysler "CA". When the Airflow failed to capture the attention of the buying public, Chrysler retrimmed the "CA", gave the car rear fender skirts, and rolled out a model that they hoped would appeal to Depression-era buyers. By marketing the Airstream alongside the Airflow, Chrysler could meet the needs of the public while hoping to produce enough Airflows to offset their development.
During its two years of production, the Airstream outsold the Airflow five to one in its first year, and nearly nine to one in 1936.
Chrysler discontinued the "Airstream" model name for both Chrysler and DeSoto at the beginning of the 1937 model year.
During the latter half of the 1970s, Scott Trenner was working his way through college by mowing lawns. For years he cut the grass at a vacant house in Baltimore. The last occupant had died and his son hired Trenner to keep the landscaping looking presentable.
Parked in the garage was a 1935 Chrysler Airstream that got Trenner's juices flowing whenever he saw it. Instead of sending a bill each time he mowed the lawn, he would drive clear across town to present the bill in person and to inquire if he could buy the car. This regular little drama played for years. In 1979, the owner acquiesced and agreed to sell his father's then-44-year-old car to the persistent grass cutter.
Trenner couldn't afford the Chrysler, had no need for it and no place to put it, but knew he had to buy it. He towed the Chrysler to the home of his parents, where he parked it for almost seven years. With a little effort he soon got the six-cylinder, L-head engine running.
In January 1985, he took his then-50-year-old Chrysler to a restoration shop. Amazingly, they completed the job in 18 months. Not wanting to impose any more on his parents, Trenner then imposed on his grandmother, who let him park the newly restored black Chrysler in the parking garage in her retirement condominium building.
That move proved to be a bad idea, as a number of the elderly residents there had poor driving skills. Trenner returned to find his car had been hit twice, in the right rear fender and on in the driver's door.
He retrieved his dented car, repaired the damage, and thereafter stored it in a private facility until 1999 when he moved to his own house.
Trenner is quick to point out that his handsome Chrysler is an Airstream and not an Airflow model. In 1934 Chrysler enthusiastically introduced the Airflow, a dramatically different streamlined car with every advanced concept available at the time. It proved to be too innovative and was a sales disaster.
By 1935 Chrysler realized the public was not embracing the Airflow design and quickly resurrected the more traditional design, dubbed it Airstream and salvaged sales previously lost to the competition.
The Chrysler Airstream touring car blended in nicely with other cars on the streets in 1935. It sold with a base price of $860, weighed 3,048 pounds with an all-steel body and 12,790 were manufactured. As with all Chrysler products from the beginning, this car featured hydraulic brakes.
The one-piece windshield could be hand-cranked open at the bottom for fresh air, just in case the cowl vent wasn't sufficient. Because of that arrangement, the vacuum-operated windshield wipers were suspended from above the windshield.
Chrysler designers didn't go wild with the use of chrome, but they did install five vertical strips of strictly decorative chrome under the chrome dual trumpet horns beneath the chrome-plated headlight buckets. "I love this thing," Trenner says.
Riding on a 118-inch wheelbase, the car, an inch longer than 16 feet, is supported by 6.50x16-inch-wide white sidewall tires.
A single taillight on the left rear fender was standard equipment on this vehicle in 1935. Inside the touring car's trunk is a horizontal platform near the bottom. The spare tire, jack and tools are stored beneath the shelf, while the shelf provides a level place for luggage.
Chrysler boasted of "floating power" in 1935, which really amounted to rubber motor mounts. In order to be content, the 93-horsepower engine needs 6 quarts of oil and 4.25 gallons of coolant. Below the 100-mph speedometer is the odometer, which reads 96,500 miles after almost 70 years, or an annual average of less than 1,400 miles a year going back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first term in office and the beginning of Social Security.
As he makes himself comfortable behind the three-spoke steering wheel, Trenner is cognizant that he is sitting above the battery under the driver's seat. A confident Trenner says, "It always starts."