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New Zealand Classic Car - - FEATURE CAR - Pho­tos:

he year was 1936, and the winds of war had blown the shack­les of the Great De­pres­sion away. In Ger­many, Hitler was pre­par­ing for bat­tle, and, at the same time, launch­ing the Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle. Both his idea of a peo­ple’s car and the car it­self were more than slightly rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

In Mus­solini’s Italy, Fiat was in­tro­duc­ing the Topolino, the lit­tle Fiat that looked like a shrunken Amer­i­can coupe of the era. With its al­most- 600cc mo­tor and stream­lined body shape, this car was also des­tined for suc­cess.

France had its own se­lec­tion of ground­break­ing au­to­mo­tive de­signs as well. Peu­geot and Citroën were both pro­duc­ing cars de­signed to slip through the air more ef­fi­ciently than the pre­vi­ous ‘sit up and beg’ body styles the au­to­mo­tive world had been pro­duc­ing al­most ev­ery­where.

Across the At­lantic, in the US, ev­ery­thing was dif­fer­ent. Amer­i­can au­to­mo­tive en­gi­neers were still over­com­ing wind re­sis­tance with power. The idea of mak­ing a small, cheap car was less im­por­tant than the idea of mak­ing a larger, more com­fort­able one. The US was the land of low-price gaso­line, where more peo­ple drove more cars. Pro­duc­tion fig­ures dwarfed those from Europe, mo­tors were three to five times big­ger than the en­gines pow­er­ing their Euro­pean cousins, and the body­work looked ‘Amer­i­can’ and was of­ten more than twice the size of that in Europe.

At this stage, the Volk­swa­gen was still more than 12 years away from its Amer­i­can mar­ket de­but, though sur­pris­ingly, the lit­tle Topolino made its way to the US and — even more sur­pris­ingly — to New Zealand assem­bly lines al­most im­me­di­ately.

The first wave of Amer­i­can car de­vel­op­ment had passed, and the Amer­i­can mo­tor in­dus­try was re­shap­ing it­self — from many small com­pa­nies there

aero­dy­nam­ics was that the straight up-and-down ra­di­a­tor grilles and wind­screens of the then-cur­rent Amer­i­can mod­els caused these cars to be up to 30 per cent more aero­dy­nam­i­cally ef­fi­cient in re­verse.

Chrysler, as al­ways, was mo­ti­vated to make cars that per­formed bet­ter in all ar­eas, and two years ear­lier had al­ready an­nounced the launch of the al­most rev­o­lu­tion­ary ‘Air­flow’ mod­els.

The Air­flow mod­els were the first mass-pro­duced cars to move away from the stan­dard chas­sis-style con­struc­tion. These new cars used a hy­brid girder and uni­tary con­struc­tion method that gave them strength and rel­a­tive light­ness. This was a fore­run­ner of today’s mono­coque con­struc­tion style. The new Chryslers were also rad­i­cally styled and looked as dif­fer­ent as the other com­pet­ing brands looked the same. Chrysler man­u­fac­tured and sold this new model un­der the De­soto and Ply­mouth brands as well.

Un­for­tu­nately, the look of these cars was per­haps too dif­fer­ent for the av­er­age buyer, so, in spite of their ad­vanced en­gi­neer­ing — and re­gard­less of the mar­ket­ing ploys used — sales of the Air­flow tanked. The then­mod­ern and rounded de­signer bod­ies that had been care­fully crafted in a wind tun­nel us­ing the lat­est aero tech­nol­ogy avail­able im­pressed very few, and buy­ers ig­nored them in their tens of thou­sands. pro­duc­tion and the re­sult was the ‘Airstream’ line of mod­els, which re­mained in man­u­fac­ture dur­ing 1935 and 1936.

Hop­ing to de­velop the slow-sell­ing Air­flow mod­els fur­ther, Chrysler kept pro­duc­tion go­ing and, at the same time, in­tro­duced the newly de­vel­oped Airstream ve­hi­cles to the mar­ket. Un­der­neath, these cars re­tained much of the Air­flow tech­nol­ogy, but the ex­te­rior re­sem­bled — or was at least sim­i­lar to — the styles of com­pet­ing com­pa­nies’ ve­hi­cles.

Ef­forts were made to re­tain some of the stream­lin­ing lessons learned in the pre­vi­ous model’s de­vel­op­ment. This can be seen in the teardrop head­lights on the Airstream, but mar­ket tastes de­manded that Chrysler drop the idea of in­te­grat­ing the head­lights into the front guards — an idea it had in­cor­po­rated into the Air­flow de­sign but which wouldn’t be­come stan­dard auto de­sign for an­other cou­ple of years.

Again, these cars were in­tro­duced as Chrysler, Ply­mouth, and De­soto mod­els. The new Airstream body shape im­me­di­ately changed the com­pany’s

clutch re­leased, but the rear wheels turned in re­verse. With re­verse se­lected, they would turn for­ward. This wasn’t be­cause ear­lier mod­els had shown they were more aero­dy­namic in re­verse — the diff head had been in­stalled up­side down, so a dis­man­tling and cor­rect re-assem­bly of the diff sorted that prob­lem.

The car has trav­elled just over 160,930km (100,000 miles) in its life, al­though only 300 of those have been since restora­tion, as Kerry suf­fered a stroke in 2010, not long af­ter its com­ple­tion, and passed away in 2014. The car, and the large col­lec­tion of which it is a part, are now in the care of Kerry’s son, Ke­van, and daugh­ter, Tracey, who con­tinue to carry on the fam­ily car-col­lect­ing tra­di­tion. These days, Gavin, Rick, and Gavin’s son, Scott, work a few days a week to en­sure the cars are all in per­fect con­di­tion and can be driven at any time.

An­other part of the col­lec­tion is a four- door sedan of the same model — which was Mr Todd’s per­sonal car. These ve­hi­cles chron­i­cle New Zealand’s very im­pres­sive mo­tor­ing his­tory, and pre­serv­ing these older cit­i­zens of the mo­tor­ing world is a worth­while ex­er­cise. There are very few of them left, so, thank­fully, the Dud­son fam­ily un­der­stands and ap­pre­ci­ates what they are, what they rep­re­sent, and the place they have in our over­all his­tory.

When these were new cars, who could have imag­ined that the mas­sive Chrysler Cor­po­ra­tion would one day be owned by the Ital­ian group that was then mak­ing the diminu­tive Topolino? Or that the New Zealand com­pany that was as­sem­bling and sell­ing Chryslers was also as­sem­bling — maybe only at a pre-mar­ket in­ves­ti­ga­tion level, the records don’t ex­plain the de­tail — the same Topolino?

Kerry Dud­son pre­served the 1936 Chrysler coupe be­cause he had a pas­sion for early Amer­i­can cars. This was the last ve­hi­cle that Kerry Dud­son was heav­ily in­volved with, and it is a fit­ting legacy to his pas­sion and drive to cre­ate an im­por­tant col­lec­tion.

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