The Airflow DeSoto
Some argue that the DeSoto was the "first" Airflow, in the sense that Carl Breer and the Chrysler engineers he led designed it first, probably with no intention of developing a Chrysler version. The 1932 Airflow prototype Trifon, which still exists, is much like the first Airflow DeSoto, the 1934 series SE. (Trifon photo Creative Commons license, credit Greg Gjerdingen from Willmar, Minnesota.)
The 1934 Airflow DeSoto was offered as a two-door coupe, a two-door brougham, a four-door sedan and a four-door town sedan, which was the sedan with the rear quarter windows deleted. It was powered by a 241.5 cid in-line flat head six with a 6.2 compression ratio, rated at 100 hp at 3400 rpm. Transmission was a three-speed manual with freewheeling and optional automatic clutch. All models had the same base price, $995.
For 1935, the Airflow DeSoto was designated series SG. DeSoto also introduced a more conventional car, the series SF Airstream. It outsold the SG by a large margin, partly due to the substantially lower price ($220 lower for the 4D sedan). For the Airflow, DeSoto modified the radiator grill and hood, raising the nose to give the new models a more conventional "prow" look. A conversion kit was even offered to dealers to update 1934 models to the new look. The brougham was dropped, and the price of all models increased by $20 to $1015. Engine performance was unchanged; an optional overdrive transmission was offered. You can tell the updated 34s from the 35s in viewing the front -- the 34 hood was wider above the headlights, and so was the updated hood. The 1935s have a more straight-edged hood. The 34 front bumper center section had two bars, and this was changed to a simpler design for 35 (see photos). DeSoto thinking was pretty clear -- the waterfall front end was too radical, so they restyled the 1935 and offered the update for 1934s to gain a more conventional look. Times and tastes have since changed, however, and the original 1934 Airflows are now better appreciated than they were.
For 1936, the Airflow DeSoto gained an external trunk, giving it a less sleek appearance. The sedan spare wheel was brought inside. The arrangement was much more practical than the earlier trunks, which had access from inside the car, behind the rear seat back, only. The fabric and wood top panel was replaced with a steel panel. Notable styling enhancements and art deco touches make this model easy to spot. The grill is reminiscent of the Chrysler building in Manhattan. Stylish grills decorate the sides of the cowl. The exterior door handles have elaborate trim. The drive train was not much changed, except that the transmission was redesigned to incorporate the automatic overdrive unit inside the same casting. Many of the S2 parts were unique, making restoring these cars even more a challenge. The price was raised again, to $1095 for all models. The Airstream DeSoto for 1936, the S1, sold well, with many being purchased by taxi companies.
According to one Airflow expert, all or nearly all the Airflow bodies were built in 1934. The differences (external trunk and steel roof panel for 1936; trim variations) were added later. Inside a 1936 sedan trunk, for example, there is a visible, rather crudely welded seam at the top where the trunk has apparently been spliced onto the body. Yet there are surprising examples of engineering refinements year to year in the cars.
From the firewall back, the Airflow DeSoto sedans and coupes share most sheet metal with the regular wheelbase Airflow Chryslers: the 1934 CU, 1935 C1, and 1936 C9. The Chryslers have longer wheelbases, longer hoods, and other refinements owing to their eight-cylinder engines.
An attempt to catalog DeSoto specifications was published in an Airflow club newsletter years ago. Allpar.com has a good treatment of the history of DeSoto models and specs as well.
1932 Airflow prototype, called Trifon
1934 Airflow DeSoto series SE
1935 Airflow DeSoto SG
1936 Airflow DeSoto S2
1936 Airflow DeSoto Door Handle
A screen-grab of a 1936 DeSoto S1 taxi from a scene in the 1944 film "Arsenic and Old Lace."
Top of the Chrysler Building, Manhattan