In case you hadn’t noticed, street rodders like the past better than the future. It’s always been that way. In the ’30s, Chrysler engineers, inspired by the Art Deco designs then popular, came up with a futuristic automotive design that was aerodynamically superior to the boxy body styles of the day. In addition to the wind tunnel–tested streamlined shape, the engineers incorporated many forward-thinking elements, such as an arched grille shape, fenders pulled into the body, rear skirts, a V’d windshield, and headlights mounted in the body instead of hanging on the outside. They also brought the engine and the seats forward for improved front-to-rear weight distribution. The radical redesign was efficient, stylish, and way ahead of its time. In 1934, Chrysler and DeSoto incorporated these elements into a new model. The rest is history. The Airflow bombed.
Today the Airflow remains as an early example of a “car of tomorrow”, and the design that was rejected back then eventually became standard. All it took was time.
In Ventura, California, there lives a guy named Ken Hubbard, who has been involved in this hobby since the early ’60s. Ken has always been interested in building and driving something out of the ordinary. When he decided to take on a ’35 DeSoto Airflow as a street rod project, he went farther out of the ordinary than usual.
The instruments are old with new workings from Redline Gauge Works. The LimeWorks banjo st
The car had been sitting under a tarp for 30 years in the nearby town of Ojai, owned by an old man (almost 100) with a small collection of cars. Eventually, the DeSoto was moved to Ventura, and was spotted by Ken. He made an offer and ended up buying it for $9,000.
One advantage of being out of sight for so long was that the body was fairly well preserved—not cherry but not thrashed, and with most parts intact, hardly any dents, and no more than the expected amount of rust.
When he started thinking about exterior modifications, Ken’s theory was: Don’t mess with failure. The body design is so unusual that there is no reason to modify it. Repro parts are practically non-existent, but Ken says he was amazed by the availability of parts once he started looking. He was able to collect what he needed through parts collectors, N.O.S. sources, and patient hunts on eBay.
Many of the minimal body modifications were made by Matt Noble from Ventura, including functional alterations to the hood. The spare tire cover was removed from the rear. Ken and Greg Bates used the roof from a Ford Taurus to fill the top, and also filled the rear side windows (giving the sedan the appearance of a very rare Airflow Town Sedan, which came with those windows eliminated). The bumpers are stock, and the headlights are N.O.S. Ken cast lenses for the stock taillights. The replacement running board trim was made by Robert Cranston at Thinman Fabrications in Binbrook, Ontario, Canada. Jim Hazlewood in Thamesford, Ontario, built the doorjamb rocker scuff plates. Ken delivered the DeSoto to local painter Squeaky Frugal, who loaded his gun with PPG black paint and shot the reflective finish. The few bits of brightwork were provided by Vern’s Chrome Plating in Gardena, California.
The resto-rodded exterior rides on a completely redone chassis. Noble boxed the DeSoto framerails, braced them with an X-member, and added a C-notch to bring the body close to the ground, and a three-link rear suspension to locate the rearend. A Fatman Fabrications Mustang II–style suspension was added at the front. At both ends, handling and ride are upgraded by a Panhard bar, Doetsch Tech shocks, and air springs from Slam Specialties.
The DeSoto Airflow wheels were cut down from 16 inches to 15 by Stockton Wheel and the DeSoto hubcaps were kept in place. Modern radial rubber wasn’t available in 1935, but the engineers would’ve wanted it if it was. Ken selected P205/60R15 BFGoodrich Radial T/As for all four corners. Disc brakes weren’t available either, but front and rear Wilwood 11-inch discs handle stopping duties now.
Things are far from stock under the hood, where a 350ci LS1 replaces the Chrysler inline-six flathead that originally powered the car. A pair of block hugger headers from Rewarder handles the gases. Kenz Muffler in Oxnard fabricated the 2-inch exhaust system, with glasspack mufflers sweetening the exhaust note. The engine’s 375 lb-ft of torque would be wasted without the Chevy 4L60E transmission to deliver it to the 3.08:1 gears in the Chevy 10-bolt rearend.
Swinging open the suicide doors reveals another beautiful Ron Mangus interior, designed and built consistent with the Airflow’s elegant vintage styling. New custom seats were constructed incorporating the original DeSoto tubular frame. Mercedes leather was used to cover the entire interior, and Matt Noble’s driveshaft tunnel and raised floorboards were carpeted with tan German square weave. The original Deco-style gauges in the stock dash were rebuilt by Redline Gauge Works and installed in the ’35 by Kevin McMillan (who also installed the car’s hardline and softline plumbing). A LimeWorks column and banjo steering wheel fit the overall look. Ian Campbell added the modern sound system. Air conditioning from Old Air Products keeps it all comfortable.
The firewall was pushed back an inch to fit the Chevy LS1 engine into the DeSoto’s narrow
The mixed reaction this car got almost 80 years ago has become universally favorable. Some of the design details that were unfamiliar in the ’30s have been standard stuff for a long time. But Airflows still look unfamiliar and strange. Maybe that’s why it has so much appeal for Ken and why he and his wife, Lea, enjoy it so much. Ken says that one of the fun things about driving the DeSoto is seeing the looks on people’s faces. “Very few people have ever seen one and can’t believe how ugly it is!”
Just the Facts
Model: Airflow Sedan
Owner: Ken & Lea Hubbard