It takes a special kind of person to own a pre-1945 car. The sort of man who isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty because no mechanic will even try to touch your car. Enormous, mechanically complex engines for which no spares exist and that are woefully inefficient by modern standards. To own one, you either have to be the car whisperer or have a particularly insane mechanic at your side. Is all that worth it? If so, which one would you pick?
I’ve nothing but respect for the people valiant enough to actually keep that sort of car on the road. Thanks to the magic of online auctions and 3D printers, it’s now easier to keep 70+ year-old cars alive and kicking. But it is still equal parts simple and complex. Simple, because of the straightforward nature of the engines and the electronics in comparison to modern cars: no variable valve timing and miles upon miles of wiring here. However, when something goes wrong and the fix involves replacing parts, the simple things can become complex (or at least expensive) rather quickly.
Personally, there are a few vehicles from that era that pique my interest. The amazing and innovative Cord 812 sedan would be a delight to own. I am now contractually obligated to mention the pre-selector transmission, where you first selected the gear and then pushed the clutch pedal. Doing so made an array of electromagnets and valves made the gearshift by vacuum. Interestingly enough, a modified and reinforced version of this gearbox would go on to be fitted to the Tucker Torpedo.
If I were feeling more traditional it’d have to be either a Cadillac V-16 or a Lincoln Model K. The Cadillac V-16 was a one-year wonder for Cadillac. Launched in the midst of the Great Depression, it shifted 4,076 units before being sent to the history books. The Lincoln Model K lasted way longer (1931-1939), so there’d be more to choose from.
However, the one car from the pre-war I’d buy without a doubt is a 1934 Chrysler Airflow. I just find its streamlined design very pretty. Which is more than what was said about it by the American public at the time of its release. Was this the first love-it-or-hate-it design by an American manufacturer? I’m not sure, but it certainly was polarizing–so much so, that Chrysler had to “traditionalize” it through yearly revisions until the final 1937 model bore more than a passing resemblance to a Ford. The original one, however, was inspired by streamlined trains and looked like nothing else on the market. I absolutely love it for its boldness and its clever engineering, even if they hadn’t quite sorted it out when it hit the showrooms and there was a slim chance the engine would separate from its mounts if you went above 80.
What about you? Do you also think the Airflow was the most desirable car made before the war? Maybe one of the cars I mentioned above, or something else entirely?