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Mon, Oct. 21

Dream car<BR>Airflow coupe 1 of only 8 in world

PRESCOTT VALLEY – A streamlined marvel 20 years ahead of its time, the Chrysler Airflow coupe was so expensive and radical in shape that only 400 sold when it came out in 1934.

That marketplace dud is now an object of admiration, attracting car buffs intrigued by its pioneer engineering.

Russ Parker says only eight Airflow coupes still exist in the world; the rest succumbed to rust and ruin. He's proud to own one of the survivors, and extols the aerodynamic shape that forever changed boxy automotive design.

Chrysler claimed the Airflow had 200 concepts new to the industry. It sold for $1,500, three times the price of a Ford.

"Just look at these chrome seat frames," Parker says, swinging open the driver's door to expose a luxurious brown interior. "It's got a fancy dash, and what a ride! Nobody made a car like that then."

The chrome cradle allows air to circulate beneath the spacious seats. That's only one of the Airflow's ultra-modern features which include fenders that curve smoothly out of the body sides, a starter on the gas pedal, power brakes, automatic choke, a long hood boasting a distinctive chromed grill, and much more.

According to Chrysler Corporation's bulletin, "Story of the Airflow Cars, 1934-1937," Chrysler Corporation executive engineer Carl Breer got the idea for the Airflow while watching a squadron of Army planes in 1927. He ordered engineers to build a wind tunnel for testing various car shapes and introduced the Airflow series (comprising a coupe, sedan and limousine) six years later.

A standard production Airflow Imperial coupe set 72 stock car speed records during a one-day trial run at the Great Salt Desert, Utah. Among them were an astonishing 95.7 mph for one mile, 90.04 mph for 500 miles and 84.43 mph for 24 hours covering 2,026 miles.

"In another unique test, a stock Chrysler Airflow was deliberately run over a 110-foot cliff in Pennsylvania where it tumbled end over end until coming to rest, surprisingly enough, on all four wheels," the publication reads. "Then it was driven away under its own power."

Parker believes the Airflow inspired the design Ferdinand Porsche submitted to Adolf Hitler for a "people's car" – the now familiar Volkswagen Bug.

Parker, a semi-retired carpenter and building contractor, originally bought his coupe in San Diego in 1961. He twice sold it and bought it back, most recently in 1978.

Born in Winslow, Ind., Parker joined the Merchant Marines at a young age. He traveled through nine countries and 30 states but didn't learn how to drive an auto until he was 22, married and a father.

"I never owned a new car in my life," he said, praising the solid construction of vintage autos. "I don't drink, smoke, gamble, play tennis, golf or fish. I just monkey with old cars."

Parker and Alberta, his wife of 54 years, moved to Prescott Valley 2-1/2 years ago. Mrs. Parker is enthusiastic about her husband's hobby. She helps maintain the shine on his old autos by washing them, a panel at a time, with a little vinegar water and then rinsing immediately.

Parker politely declines to say how much his Airflow may be worth and turns down all offers from prospective buyers.

"My wife wouldn't let me sell it anyway," he jokes.

Parker will display his bronze, two-door sensation during the Prescott Auto Enthusiasts 11th annual Custom Comp & Cruise Car Show on Saturday, June 3, on the county courthouse plaza.

The car show will feature street rods, antiques, classics and specialty vehicles. For the first time, the event will include a swap meet, which will run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The car show begins at 10 a.m.

The family-oriented club will raffle off more than 50 prizes and award trophies in 11 categories. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Prescott Elementary Learning Disabled Programs.

Admission to the public is free. For more information, call Dan at 445-1511 or Bib at 771-2773.

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