Cars

Goin' with the 'flow

This is a very special Father's Day weekend for 87-year-old Harold Walton. All four of his kids will be on hand to help him celebrate, but perhaps just as importantly, today will be the first time he gets to show off his prized 1936 DeSoto Airflow at a car show.

"My dad was kind of a Dodge dealer in Oberlin. I remember seeing that Airflow... I saw the coupe and that sloping back on it really impressed me. I wanted one from then on," Walton said.

He came close a couple of times, owning a '36 DeSoto Airstream and later, a '37 Chrysler Airstream. "They weren't nearly as stylish. They were more conventional-looking," Walton said. But those were the cars that the parent companies turned to when the futuristic aerodynamic shapes of the Airflows didn't catch on as hoped.

The Airflows also were targeted by other car manufacturers.

"They were way ahead of their time. There were so many rumors from competing car companies," Walton said.

One involved the then-new hydraulic brake systems, which one story said made an Airflow's front bumper guards dig into the road, catapulting it end-over-end — a highly unlikely scenario.

DeSoto turned out just under 22,000 Airflows between 1934-36, while Chrysler, which had more body styles of Airflows, produced about 29,400 of them from 1934-37.

Walton was willing to bide his time, though. "I've only waited 65 years," he joked. "I'm a patient man."

"He has wanted one since the early '40s, and through helping out all of his children and family all these years, he had pushed it back as a priority," said his son, Ed Walton of Chicago.

Harold Walton worked as a federal mediator, president of the local United Way and until recently, served as a driver for the Red Cross.

The dream of owning an Airflow endured over all those years. "Only last year he found one that he felt justified to spend the money on," Ed Walton said.

At first glance, it appears to be a really nice showroom-stock survivor, with crackled black lacquer paint, bias-ply wide whitewall tires and all of the brightwork that dressed up the unusual profile still intact.

But when Harold Walton slips behind the wheel and fires it up, the car produces a pleasing rumble that doesn't sound like Grandpa's antique showpiece. "Oh, yeah, it's a hot rod," Harold grins. "It has a '41 Chrysler engine in it," he said.

Although still a flathead 6-cylinder, that engine has been pepped up with a pair of carburetors, a free-flowing air box and a split exhaust manifold that flows into a pair of glasspack mufflers, with dual exhaust tips exiting under the rear bumper.

The interior, with its plush furniture-like seats and diamond-tufted upholstery, is believed to be mostly original, including the wood-grained dash board with its twin glove compartments at either end.

"It's been rewired. It has a whole new wiring bundle in it and new lights. And we put a radio in it, too," the proud owner said. The Airflow has been converted to a 12-volt electrical system and even has a power radio antenna mounted in the left rear fender.

It still gets about with the help of a 3-speed manual transmission and an overdrive unit operated by means of a dash-mounted button marked "Gas Saver."

"I do drive it. We go out around the section a time or two... so it doesn't get too many cobwebs in it," Walton said.

Today, the Airflow will be putting in an appearance at the 26th annual Wichita Area Mopar Club meet at Sedgwick County Park. Ed, an avid Mopar restorer/collector who found the Airflow for his dad, will be there, along with brother Chuck Walton and sisters Lee Carney and Ginny Walton.

Ginny will be driving her silver 1965 Barracuda coupe restored by Ed. In the process, the original 273 V-8 was replaced by a more potent 340 V-8 equipped with an Edelbrock intake manifold and 750 cfm carburetor. It also was treated to a late model 904 automatic transmission and a 3.23 Positrac rear end. The Barracuda received a bright red Legendary Interiors interior kit, too.

"I bought that car from a kid who worked at the David's store back in the '70s," Harold Walton recalled.

"I got it on Father's Day two years ago," Ginny said. "It was a gift from Ed to Dad... to me because 1965 was the year I was born," she said.

"It will scoot down the road," she said. "I really like to drive it, but I don't take it out much. I'm afraid somebody is going to mess with it," she said.

In any case, the two cars and the whole family will be part of a mini-Walton family Mopar reunion this weekend. What a fitting Father's Day this will be for this tight-knit family.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle

  Comments