CC Video and Analysis: Optimism Before Failure, Part 2 (De Soto in 1957)

I found this DeSoto dealer filmstrip posted by on YouTube.  It struck me as quite different from most other filmstrips of this type in that the producers actually visited DeSoto dealerships around the country and asked the dealers about their experiences selling cars.  Things are going great–especially when it comes to selling the lower-priced DeSoto, the Firesweep.

The Firesweep was a new offering in 1957, designed to bridge the price gap between the Plymouth Belvedere and the DeSoto Firedome.  Most DeSoto dealers were dualled with Plymouth, so this made a lot of sense.  The Firesweep was built on a Dodge chassis, but with DeSoto styling and interior trim, and the smaller Dodge 325 V-8.  So how well is this new car selling?  Let’s ask . . .

Dealer Al Wagner of Youngstown, Ohio. Love the facial expression!


Al Wagner got a Firesweep demonstrator.  Most of his sales are conquest sales from other brands, especially Pontiac.  Al’s boys rang up twenty Firesweep sales in the month of February!

Sid Brand of Leo Adler DeSoto-Plymouth, Detroit, Michigan.


Sid hired six salesmen away from competing Pontiac, Buick, and Mercury dealerships in the city.  “They know competition thoroughly, and they know how to beat competition!  We believe the contacts these men have will help us win more conquest sales.”

Now let’s meet Ed Start, Sales Manager at Stewart DeSoto-Plymouth, Gratiot Avenue, Detroit.


Ed explains that Plymouth customers were disappointed because they couldn’t get immediate delivery on a new 1957 Plymouth.  But Ed’s salesmen were successful in getting these customers to buy the low-priced Firesweep instead “without too much trouble.”

Now on to Glenn Walker DeSoto-Plymouth, also on Detroit’s East Side.


Gene Charles, Sales Manager, Glenn Walker DeSoto-Plymouth.


Sometimes a customer wants a specific color DeSoto, and in a hurry!  The factory may not be able to supply it in time.  Gene explained how his dealership solved this problem.  They place advance orders for DeSotos in all white with neutral interiors . . .

. . . then the dealership paints the car with the customer’s choice of color.  Customers pay for the two-tone option, which covers the dealer’s cost for paint, labor, and moldings.  And everybody’s happy.  But it does raise the question:  What constitutes “original paint”–the paint the car left the factory with, or paint applied by the dealer prior to delivery?

Anthony Metzner of the Amory Garage in Albany, New York.


Lastly we’ll hear from DeSoto dealer Anthony “Tony” Metzner who so eloquently describes the situation this way:

“Let’s face it–when I first started getting Firesweeps it cost me dough to get them in shape for delivery.  And I had to get that dough back!  Know who’s paying that dough back?  Owners of Olds, Mercurys, Pontiacs, and Buicks, because we’re going after them hot and heavy!  Workmanship has improved now and we’re proud to show this car to our customers . . . They’re getting a better car than they’ve ever had before, and they know it!”

So much for the dealers’ perspective.  But what do DeSoto buyers think?

“My DeSoto Firesweep handles and rides like a dream!”

“Friend of mine bought a new Dodge 2-door hardtop and tried to tell me I had the same car with a different name and a different skin.  I told him my DeSoto was more like a Chrysler than a Dodge.  Yes sir, I’m darn glad I took this Firesweep!”

And for the female perspective . . .

“We like the new ride very much better than the Buick we traded in.  Never had a car with such hot performance!  People stare at the car when we drive down the street.  My friends say ‘Wow!’ when they see it for the first time!  Our neighbor has a ’56 DeSoto and was he surprised to see us in ours!  Guess he didn’t think we could afford one!”

Everything’s wonderful!  The cars look great, they drive great, the dealers are making money, and the world is on a firm foundation.  DeSoto Division sells 117,000 cars in model year 1957.

Next year the same basic car is offered, but with small styling changes.  New V-8 engines make their debut.  1957’s successful car is now better than ever!  But wait–something’s gone wrong!  Sales plummet to just under 50,000 units for ’58.  How could this happen?  What about all those hotshot sales tactics?

Just how many potential car buyers actually lost their jobs or had lower income due to the 1958 recession?  Enough to cut sales of an established medium-priced auto make in half?

It’s 1959–the recession is over, and other medium-priced makes recover, but not DeSoto.  Dodge sales were three times that of DeSoto, so it seems that more people preferred the radical ’59 Dodge styling over this relatively clean design.  Even powerful, gem-bright beauties like this Adventurer 2-door hardtop couldn’t attract buyers in sufficient numbers.

1960 rolls around, and DeSoto is all-new, with a design that’s even sleeker and more advanced than the “Forward Look” models were in 1957.  The cars now feature Unibody construction.    Everything is improved–except sales, which drop to a new postwar low of 26,000 cars.  The low-cost Firesweep–hyped so dramatically in ’57–has been dropped.  How are the dealers surviving?  Plymouth sales are also down, but hopefully they’re selling a lot of Valiants!  You gotta be flexible in this business!

It’s 1961, and the game’s over!  Shockingly, DeSoto (which in previous years always had arguably the best styling of all the “Forward Look” cars) releases this monster which looks like a mutated ’59 Lincoln!  Were they trying to kill off the brand on purpose?  I guess we’ll never know, but merely 3,000 copies were sold before production ended.  Customers who had unfilled orders were given 1961 Chrysler Newports.  I’m assuming all those DeSoto-Plymouth dealers became Chrysler-Plymouth dealers from here on out.

What happened to all those DeSoto loyalists?  Did they stay in the Chrysler family, or move on to GM . . . Ford . . . AMC . . . foreign makes?  How many of them held on to their beloved DeSotos far beyond the usual “trade-in time”, thus allowing their cars to be preserved even to the present day?

This filmstrip really is a window on a lost world.  I wish I could personally meet Al, Sid, Ed, Gene, and Tony–I’m sure they would have fascinating stories to tell, and they would tell them in an interesting way.  Without YouTube and this website, their names and faces would be totally forgotten.

I’ve used this analogy (which is probably outdated now).  If you look through your local phone book, and you see all these names–how many of these individuals do you know or will you ever meet?  Probably the smallest fraction of 1%.  And yet they’re all real people just like you, with lives, loves, careers, triumphs, tragedies, secrets, and foibles.  What stories could each of them tell?

Glenn Walker dealership building, 13333 E. Warren Avenue, Detroit, September 2023. (That is NOT a dual-axle Jeep, but a fault with Google’s street view camera.)


Things have changed so much since the confident, “solid citizen” days of the ’50s.  Much of the city of Detroit would be shockingly unrecognizable to the salesmen if they saw it today.  The industry too has changed in unforeseeable ways.  “Mega” dealerships now dominate, most car buyers now lease, and cars (SUVs and trucks, mostly) are basically computers and smartphones on wheels.  Everything’s more complicated, and the “personal touch” seems to be going away.  Most brands overlap in price, functionality and looks, so it’s hard to come up with solid reasons for preferring one make over another.  Your neighbors probably won’t care if you’re driving a Chrysler instead of a Dodge.

This is what they hit us with now:

Oh, yeah–this really makes me want to go down to “Boch” (botch?) and buy a car!


Wouldn’t they prefer to sell to people with GOOD credit?


New car depreciation will hit you harder than any change in gas prices. Why should I get $1000 off just because I went to college?


As New York clothier Sy Syms used to say, “An educated consumer is our best customer.”  Today’s dealership ads treat us like idiots.  They’re always screaming low-sounding numbers like “ONLY $199 PER MONTH!”  “0% FINANCING!”  “THESE DEALS WON’T LAST LONG!”  All these statements become meaningless once a deal is begun and the shell game of the options, the trade-in, and the financing comes into play.

I would like to see a car ad where the spokesman, in a calm and friendly way, briefly explains what some of the nice features are, why this car is the best in its class, and why it’s such a good deal.  This doesn’t happen, so I guess people don’t want to hear that?

What if DeSoto had survived into future decades?  It would probably be just another K-Car or minivan, with little to distinguish it from a Plymouth, Dodge, or Chrysler.  Eagle in a way was the new DeSoto, and the Eagle brand itself died a rather premature death.

The important thing is that DeSoto thrived and survived when it did, bringing us some of the greatest classic cars of all time.

See also:

Curbside Classic:  1957 DeSoto Firesweep–Curbside Service

Curbside Classic:  1993 Eagle Vision–DeSoto 2.0