Car of the Week: 1935 Chrysler Airstream

By Brian Earnest

There are probably a million different reasons why a guy could get attached to a particular old car. Cameron Dall’s motivation for wanting a 1935 Chrysler Airstream was simple: It reminded him of his dad.

“Yeah, my father had a car like this before he went into the service in World War II,” said the Mount Prospect, Ill., resident. “His father was a traveling salesman and every two years he got a new car. He probably bought a new car in 1935, and then got another one in 1937, and that’s when my dad got the car.

“I always wanted one because he had one, and I started hunting around probably 22, 23 years ago, around 1990, trying to find one. I came across this one, and it was an eight-cylinder. My dad had the six-cylinder … but I called around and talked to just about every guy in the Chrysler Club, and one fella told me, ‘Kid, once you go with that eight-cylinder, you’ll never want to go back to the six-cylinder.’ So I bought it.”

Dall’s first old car was an Airstream CZ and that was soon followed by another 1935 Chrysler, this one a Deluxe Airstream model, which he is currently having restored. Dall found his first Airstream in Albany, N.Y., and he believes he is the fourth owner. The car shows 77,000 miles on the odometer today, but it apparently didn’t move for many years.

“[The previous owner] had a lady across the street who had a husband who passed away, and she came to him asking, ‘Can you help me, my husband died and we’ve got this old car.’ I guess they had property in Detroit… So anyway, he had to go get this car for her, and he said it was like opening King Tut’s tomb. He opened up this old garage and there were cobwebs all over, and there was this old Chrysler sitting in there. When he trailered it back [to Albany], he said there was just a cloud of dust coming off the car all the way home.

“So the guy I got it from kind of did it backwards. He worked at Ford and was a body guy and he did all the body work and some of the chrome work, but he didn’t do any of the mechanicals. Then he retired and I think his wife said, ‘Get it running or get rid of it,’ so he said, ‘Make me an offer,’ and I was able to buy the car.”

The previous owner had repainted the car black — the same color it was from the factory — and Dall opted to leave the car that way. He decided to tackle almost everything else on the car, however, including a new interior, engine rebuild, brakes and suspension. “I think the only thing we didn’t do was pull off the front clip and put new motor mounts in it. Everything else was done to the engine,” he said. “And I had a few things chromed … It has one Trippe light in front, and that’s exactly the way my dad had his. I tried to re-create the car that my dad had before World War II.”

The Airstream model was a new offering in 1935, and one Chrysler probably didn’t plan on when it launched the radical new Airflow design the year before. The Airflow was svelte and streamlined with an alligator hood and wind-cheating design that seemed like a good idea at the time, but was snubbed by the buying public. Chrysler was quick to react, however. After sensing that the Airflow was not the answer — at least not immediately — the company had Raymond Dietrich design a car with a more conventional profile that still offered some Airflow styling cues. The result was a handsome but traditional-looking steel-bodied machine with a raked windshield, V-shaped grille work, teardrop fenders and headlamps and a trunk in back. The one-piece windshields tipped out for ventilation, and there were also vents in the cowl.

The Airstreams were offered with either six- or eight-cylinder engines. The base straight-eights such as Dall’s were dubbed the CZ series. There was also a fancier Deluxe version of the CZ eights, and a combined total of 9,297 of the eight-cylinder models were built for the model year. Up the ladder, there were also two Imperials that had similar styling and were also given the Airstream name.

The eight-cylinder Airstream CZ models used 121-inch-wheelbase chassis, which was three inches longer than the six-cylinder offerings. The 16-inch wheels had steel spokes. Hydraulic brakes and synchromesh transmission with three-speed floor shifting were standard.

Options included trumpet horns, sidemounts, radio, heater, clock, cigar lighter, seat covers, spotlights and a trunk rack. Dall’s car was originally a bare-bones model with few add-ons. He has added a second windshield wiper, which was optional, but kept the single tail lamp.

The CZ eight four-door sedans such as Dall’s car carried an MSRP of $975 and weighed 3,213 lbs. A two-door coupe, roadster, four-door touring Brougham and four-door touring were also offered in ’35. All of them proved to be far more popular with buyers than the second-year Airflows.

“One of the things I really like about these cars is I think it’s got one of the greatest Art Deco grilles ever made,” Dall noted. “It’s got a lot of pieces and a lot of things going on that make it very intricate.”

Dall says he knew the CZ Airstreams weren’t exactly plentiful when he bought his car two decades ago, but he’s got a new appreciation for how rare they are since then. “I’ve actually never been to a car show to see one. I have talked to many guys around the country that have them, but no, there is not a lot of them around,” he said. His Deluxe model is even more unique these days. “I only know of like four Deluxe Models in the whole United States,” he added.

Dall is a school teacher, and he gets plenty of attention when he shows up in the school parking lot a few times a year with his ’35. The kids get a kick out of the old Chrysler, and it gives Dall a chance to get some more seat time. “I teach middle school, and the kids are like, ‘When are you going to bring your old car again?’ … I try to bring it on nice weather days. I always drive it a couple times a year.

“I’m not one of those guys who is [always worried]. If I get caught in the rain, it’s no big deal. I want to enjoy the car, and it’s nice for other people to see it, too. It’s a lot better than having it sit in the garage.”

It won’t be long before Dall has his Deluxe on the road as well, which will give him two 1935 Chrysler Airstreams to pick from on sunny days. He figures that will be twice as much fun. And his dad, no doubt, would approve.

“I don’t have any plans to get rid of either one of them,” he said. “With that connection to my father, this was the car I always wanted.”


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4 thoughts on “Car of the Week: 1935 Chrysler Airstream

  1. Magnum

    I’ve always believed that most of the Chyrsler products of the ’30s and’40s were under appreciated compared to their contemporaries. Build quality and engineering were certainly equal to, or ahead of most cars of the period.
    Henry Ford would have done well to put his ego “on hold”, and paid attention to what Walter P. and his people were doing regarding brake systems, suspensions, body structures, etc, years before Dearborn finally got the message..

  2. Rick

    Back in the 70s I used to read about how underpowered the Airstream was and that they weren’t very good cars. In the past few years I read nothing but praise for the car, but nothing could have really changed except the perceptions of those who write about the cars. Opinions sure do differ!


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