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No, that’s not a typo. That’s a true fact. Imagine a classic 1930s car for a moment: It has a flat, upright windshield and a flat grille. Its fenders pontoon out form its body and its headlight canisters stick up above those. It has a long, flat roof that tapers slightly down at the rear to a curved rear window.

Modern scientists have used the latest wind tunnels to conclusively prove that the curved rear end of those old cars is one of the most aerodynamic aspects of them. One of the most interesting parts of this story is the rumor that old cars are more aerodynamic traveling backwards originated in the 1930s–and you can trace it to the Wright Brothers!

But first, the most recent test. The Ontario Tech University Oshawa is located near Toronto. It operates one of the world’s most advanced wind tunnels. After a series of tests, the experts there concluded that at 50 mph, a 1932 DeSoto is 10% more efficient facing backwards (Driving Canada). But they are far from the first to make this claim.

Promo photo of a 1934 Chrysler Airflow parked next to a train.
1934 Chrysler Airflow | Stellantis

In 1927, Walter P. Chrysler (founder of DeSoto) began developing a completely new type of car. His engineers contracted Bill Earnshaw and Orville Wright to build a wind tunnel to test wooden scale models of their designs.

Their tests showed that the old DeSotos were 20% more efficient facing backwards than forward. Their tests were also instrumental in creating the groundbreaking design of the 1934 “Chrysler Airflow.”

Before Walter P. Chrysler unveiled the new Airflow’s design, he began to troll traditional car design. In one legendary stunt he reversed the seat andcontrolls of a 1933 DeSoto and hired a retired racer to drive it across the country. When he finally unveiled the 1934 Airflow, it was impossible to ignore.

Like other revolutionary vehicles, the Airflow was polarizing. It won both the “best looking” and “worst looking” awards at the New York Auto Show. But buyers embraced it, and it was exactly the success the new brand needed. And, of course, it forever changed car design.

Next, find out how the rowdy first automobile race puts modern motorsports to shame, or see Jay Leno’s Chrysler Airflow yourself in the video below: