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Dodge Airflow Tanker Trucks – Streamlined And Noteworthy

Dodge Airflow Gasoline Tanker Truck

By Michael Lamm:  In 1935, Dodge began building a series of trucks that used styling cues from Chrysler and DeSoto Airflow automobiles. They had waterfall grilles similar to Airflow cars, and most seem to have been made for major petroleum producers, among them Esso (Standard Oil of New Jersey) and Texaco.

The cabs of these trucks were similar, but the wheels and tanker portions differed considerably. All had rear fender skirts, and some carried a large sign behind the seat that said Custom Built. Who fabricated these tankers remains a mystery. Dodge did use the Airflow theme on other types of commercial vehicles, including stepvans. It appears that the trucks remained in use until 1939 and possibly later.

Editors note: We thank Micheal Lamm for sharing these Dodge Airflow Trucks with us. Be sure to check out A Century of Automotive Style here – a SAH Cugnot Award winner authored by Michael Lamm and Dave Holls. If any of our readers can add more to this story about who designed them, and where the trucks were built and used, please send us a comment. Photos courtesy National Automobile History Collection, Detroit Public Library.

  • Unlike Airflow automobiles, these Dodge trucks (top photo) used freestanding headlights. A sign visible through the driver’s window says “Custom Built.”

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  •                            Esso’s version used fender skirts, lots of marker lights and biplane bumpers.

Dodge Airflow Gasoline Tanker Truck

  • Texaco trucks carry 1938 and 1939 New York license plates and might have been used at the 1939 World’s Fair.

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  •        Compartments behind and ahead of the fender skirts gave the Texaco trucks some trunk space.

Dodge Airflow Gasoline Tanker Truck

  • This photo (below) appears to show Airflow trucks after construction in a body manufacturing facility. We don’t know, though, where or when the picture was taken. The second truck from the right appears to be freshly painted. Note the wrecked conventionally-styled Dodge Truck on the left. 

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15 responses to “Dodge Airflow Tanker Trucks – Streamlined And Noteworthy

  1. David, at a swap meet a few years back, a gentleman was going through all the literature I had for sale and asked if I had any Dodge Brothers literature. He told me they dropped the “Brothers” sometime in the 20s. The lead picture has it quite plainly, so what is the date that it was no longer Dodge Brothers ? Thanks, jb

  2. I am almost certain that one of these trucks is currently at the “NATMUS”. It is unrestored, but complete and is a neat stylish truck. It is on display down stairs.

    (I will try to get a photo for your readers this week)

  3. The “Dodge Brothers” name was dropped from advertising in 1931, but the triangle logo remained on the vehicles. In 1939, Dodge’s 25th anniversary year and the 10th anniversary of Chrysler’s purchase of Dodge, the “Dodge Brothers” name was finally dropped completely.

    In December 1934 the 1935 Dodge Airflow trucks began to appear. Regarding the Essolube Motor Oil truck Thomas McPherson in The Dodge Story stated the following: “All were specially-built to order, and construction of a fleet of 29 was completed in January for Standard Oil Company of New Jersey and California. Identified as the K-52 Special with Code T-19M, they were rated at 4 tons. Gross vehicle weight was 22,000 pounds.” He goes on to say it, “. . . had and L-head 331-cubic inch 100 horsepower 6-cylinder engine, 190 inch wheelbase and a 1,200 Heil tank. Some of the fleet vehicles had a 200-inch wheelbase and used the same powerplant.” Very noticeable are the six lug nuts of the front wheels on the vehicles produced before 1939.

    McPherson states that from January 1935 to December 1936 112 Dodge Airflow trucks were built. Socony-Vacuum Oil Company ordered some of these. These trucks were, made by Gar Wood Industries, apparently used the same engine as the late 1934 models, but were capable of carrying 1,250 gallons of fuel. These also had the same ton-rating and vehicle weight. McPherson further stated that, “Some models had 1,500-gallon tanks made by the Heil Co. of Milwaukee, Wis. All Dodge Airflow trucks were built in Detroit.”

    There were earlier Texaco tanker trucks than those pictured above. McPherson stated that from May 1937 to January 1938 a total of 25 LM-70, 188 inch wheelbase, and LM-71, 205 inch wheelbase, Dodge Airflow trucks were built. These sill had the six lug nuts on the front wheels. During the same timeframe, a further 25 T-36 models were also built. These early Texaco tankers have round rear wheel covers flush with the entire rear body section, but the 1939 and later trucks had round covers inside of the wide and heavily sculpted fenders as shown above.

    “From December 1937 to February 1940 Dodge turned out about 70 of the RX-70 and RX-71 models,” stated McPherson. There is at least one surviving photo of two of these trucks being built for Schlitz Brewing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The bodies of the beer trucks were built by the Barkow Auto Body Co., of Milwaukee.

    In addition to the fender and front lug nut differences mentioned here, in 1939 the front fenders became deeper, the hood louver panels changed, and the headlight buckets became the same color as the body of the truck. McPherson stated, “The 4-ton vehicle’s wheelbase was 205 inches and the engine remained unchanged.” He finishes his description of these trucks with the following paragraph.

    “The last of the fabulous Dodge Airflow trucks were building in February of this year [1940]. The total number of these vehicles built since production began in December 1934 is yet unknown, but it is known that they were built for several different uses.” He shows one more Texaco truck with a Gar Wood Industries body above this paragraph.

    Don Bunn, in his book Dodge Trucks, states, “Texaco was a major user of Dodge trucks with Gar wood Industries Tank Division’s bodies in the early to mid-1930s. He describes the cab of the Airflow bodies as, “. . . not equipped with a rear window as most were employed as tank trucks.” He also stated that, “Airflows were never regular production trucks; they were hand-built as special jobs.” He continues later in the book, “Dodge purchased tank bodies from Heil or Gar Wood and mounted them at the truck plant. Cowl mounted directional signal lights, and chrome plated grab handles were standard. Tank cover hatches on top of the tank were equipped with a handle similar in design to the hood ornament.” Not every picture that I have seen shows the signal lights. In fact, he shows a 1938 model without these lights that was used by the Dodge factory to transport fuel or oil.

    Bunn is much more specific about production numbers. His last entry in the book for the model is as follows: “The final Airflow truck series were the RX-70 and RX-71 with 188in and 205in wheelbases respectively. This series dated from December 1937 and continued until February 1940. Approximately seventy-four trucks comprised this series. All told, approximately 261 total Airflows were build between December 1934 and February 1940. ” He also notes that there is one on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit.

    At least one of Dodge Airflow truck was either built as or converted to a fire engine. Walter McCall’s book American Fire Engines Since 1900 shows the 1936 Teaneck, New Jersey Dodge Airflow squad and booster truck. It looks huge and imposing. I’d love to find and own it – even though it would definitely not fit in my garage.

    • Just to flesh out Ace’s comments, the K-52/T-19-M trucks were available in both 190 and 200″ wheelbases with the 29 unit production spread amongst these two models for 1934-35. S/N 8344621 to 8344649. The next series of K-52 Specials also shared the same two wheelbases . S/N 8649499 to 8649610.

      I’m confused about the LM-70/71 series trucks. These vehicles carried engineering codes of T-36-M-188 and T-36-M-205 respectively with a total of 50 trucks produced between them. S/N 8649611 to 8349660.

      The RX-70 models carried engineering code R-44-M-188 while the RX-71 were T-44-M-205. Both were produced in the same serial number block beginning 8349671 and ending 8349745.

      All of the Airflow Trucks were rated at 4tons. The only other 4ton trucks Dodge built at the time were the G80/81/82/83 series from 1931 to 1934 and the TKD series diesels of 1938-1939. Starting in 1939 and continuing until the beginning of the 1950 model year, all 4ton trucks were built in Canada.

  4. According to Burness’s spotters guide book, ” Dodge Brothers” became “Dodge” in August of 1935.
    The predecessor, Graham Brothers, became Dodge Brothers in 1929.

  5. There is a restored 1940 example in the Richardson Truck Museum in Invercargill, New Zealand that can be found on Flicker.

  6. The Henry Ford Museum truck is an excellent study of these designs. The truck was used as a construction water truck, cosequently, it was in very poor shape. presently, the truck was never made to run. Cost bwas most likely the reason.

  7. I am curious to know If some of the UNIQIUE “Airflow” Interior Features ALSO found their way into the cabs of these unique trucks ?
    Edwin. – 30 –

  8. I knew all along that these Airflows were built to order which explains why these units aren’t around anymore. I became intrigued with them only to find hardly any info until now. IAfter 5 years (off & on) you finally shine the light. Thanks

    • Our museum has a 1935 Dodge Airflow tanker, we need a head for the engine. We cannot find a “T” number only K52 on the firewall tag. Various casting #’s but none that help us. Can anyone help?

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