(first posted 8/4/2013) Today, many non-car people have never heard of DeSoto. That’s a shame, as the marque, which existed from 1929 to 1961, had some memorable cars–even if most of them were Chryslers under the skin. Naturally, some of the flashiest of them were built during the Jet Age, with plenty of fins, bright colors, and chrome. This 1960 Adventurer two-door hardtop looks very stylish, but at the time they were introduced in the fall of 1959, poor DeSoto had less than two years to live.
As recently as 1957, DeSoto had a great year, with over 117K produced. But things came to a sudden stop in 1958. Thanks to the ’58 recession, all car sales took a hit, but DeSoto still fared worse than most, with sales dipping down to under 50K. Not good!
Of course, some of it was due to the fact that the “Suddenly it’s 1960” Mopars were beautiful pieces of junk, but Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler fared much better despite facing the same gun-shy customers.
The 1959 DeSoto is my favorite DeSoto, with much better-looking side trim than the oddly dipped trim on corporate sibling Chryslers (Windsors, anyway), and of course those great “tri-tower” taillights.
The brawny Adventurer returned as well, looking sharper than ever. But it was all for naught–sales slid again, this time to 45,724. Rarest ’59? The Adventurer convertible, which saw only 97 copies. Even the pricier ’59 Chryslers did much better, with 63,186 built for the model year.
Despite having an attractive look, a full model lineup, and Chrysler engineering (or was that a minus by this time?), the 1959 DeSoto failed to launch. So for 1960, a seriously pruned model lineup greeted the shrinking number of DeSoto buyers. Not to mention the fact that they looked even more like a Chrysler than before.
Wagons were gone. Convertibles were gone. And the special high-performance Adventurer was gone as well. An Adventurer did return, but it more or less took the place of the ’59 Fireflite, as the top-trim model–much like Chevrolet did with the Impala in 1959.
The Firesweep and Firedome were also toast, though the 1960 Fireflite was in the ’59 Firedome’s spot in the lineup, more or less. The $3014 Fireflite four-door sedan was the price leader. When you consider the $3194 price tag for a ’60 Windsor–and the added prestige of the Chrysler nameplate (yes, owning a Chrysler still meant something back then; K-cars and PT Cruisers were far off in the future) you can perhaps see why DeSoto was crashing and burning.
As you can see in this comparison shot, the only things that really set the DeSoto Fireflite and Adventurer apart from the Chrysler Windsor and Saratoga were a full-width grille, a full-length, vertically-scored side trim molding, little chrome windsplits on the taillights, and different wheel covers. Oh, and on average, DeSotos were about a hundred bucks less.
That, of course, doesn’t mean the DeSoto was a bad car. Chrysler had gotten most of the ’57 Forward Look troubles fixed by MY 1960. And all 1960 Chrysler products had the unusual-for-the-time unit body construction (well, except for Rambler), torsion bar suspension, and good handling. These were good road cars in their day.
As was the case with the Fireflite, the upper-level Adventurer was offered in three body styles: four-door sedan, four-door hardtop and the sporty two-door hardtop. Adventurers added a padded IP, variable-speed wipers, a deluxe steering wheel, bumper guards, full wheel covers and Torqueflite automatic as standard equipment. These same items were nonetheless available on Fireflites–at extra cost, of course.
Despite the pruned model lineup, DeSotos still looked every bit the solid mid-priced car it always had been. The Adventurer interiors were particularly attractive. And you know how much I love green, so today’s featured car especially impressed me!
Look at all that glass area! Chrysler really knew how to do the light, airy roofline during these years. It makes the chunky, clumsy rooflines of today look like something a third-grader would come up with. You see, back then, people liked to see out of their cars, and were not fooled into thinking their car was a bank vault for the mere fact that they couldn’t see out of the thing!
And seriously, how can you not love the insrtument panel of this thing. Two-tone steering wheel, triple-level gauge cluster, and the ever-present Torqueflite buttons off to the left. And it’s green! Remember green interiors? And red interiors? And blue interiors? What the hell is wrong with having COLORS inside new cars?! Okay, okay, calm down Tom…
The seats on this Adventurer were green and white vinyl, with fabric inserts. A cool detail is that the lighter colors in the fabric are reflective. I have no idea how hard-wearing this material is (or how hard it may be to source today), but it sure looked good!
You may remember this DeSoto from my Curbside Cruising post late last year. I have been sitting on these photos for months now–a shame, because it is such a beautiful car.
Recently, I spotted it again at the River Valley Classics cruise night, and with Mopar week green-lighted by our Executive Editor, I knew the time had come to share this Adventurer with you adoring Mopar fanatics!
The Adventurer hardtop coupe retailed for $3663–that is, if you didn’t add the fake spare tires, wire wheels, or other extras this one sports. The 3945-lb. coupe saw production of 3,092, making it the second rarest ’60 Adventurer. First and third place belonged to the four-door hardtop (2,759) and four door sedan (5,746).
Power came from a 2 BBL 383 CID V8, good for 305 horsepower at 4600 rpm.
All DeSotos shared the 122-inch wheelbase and 217-inch overall length. As you may have guessed, this was shared with the Windsor, though Saratogas and New Yorkers got a 126-inch stretch and 219.6-inch length (the Saratoga was 0.2 inches shorter overall than the NY–219.4–for some reason).
Folks who own classic cars can be some of the nicest people. As may be apparent in some of the shots, the DeSoto was a bit boxed in at the back of the Dahl lot, but the owner was nice enough to pose the car for better pictures, just before he and his wife left the show.
I will say it again: Isn’t this car beautiful. If you did not know one thing about the DeSoto marque and saw this car at a show, it would be hard to believe there was less than a year before the nameplate would be in the wind. The car market can certainly be fickle, can’t it?
Here we can see the front bumper guards, which account for the Adventurer’s 217″ length. Fireflites, which did not come with the guards (they were extra), was a bit shorter overall, at 215.4 inches. Any DeSoto was a cool ride, though that probably wasn’t the case by 1963 or so, when the marque was gone. I imagine many 1959-61 DeSoto owners took a sharp hit on depreciation when production ended for good on November 30, 1960.
Yes, there was a 1961 DeSoto, but the front end was so bizarre (like a ’60 Lincoln with an A/C register above the grille!) I believe the stylists were phoning it in–they probably knew the end was near. Still, they were the last of the line. There weren’t even any model names this year, just a “DeSoto,” in two-door hardtop and four-door hardtop flavors. Only 3,034 were made, and unfilled DeSoto orders received Windsors after production halted.
Everybody doesn’t need to have a pro-street Camaro or “mod-rodded” Mustang to enjoy old car ownership. In fact, having said Camaro, Mustang or Corvette is a good way to get ignored at shows. A mint-green over white 1960 DeSoto with giant fins, however, is pretty hard to ignore in any environment. I salute this beautiful DeSoto, and their DeLovely owners!
Now, sing along! “It’s DeLovely, it’s Dynamic, it’s DeSoto!”
NOTE: video courtesy of Youtube.
Beautiful car,I could live with this one even put up with the toilet seat!
…and the light green color.
The only thing keeping DeSotos from falling into Graham or Frasier territory is the Baby Boomers who remember the brand. In another decade, DeSoto will be joining those ranks, along with Edsel, Hudson, Nash, Kaiser, Willys, Studebaker, AMC, Rambler, Continental, Imperial, Packard and the Beetle as the Boomers die off.
DeSoto is just another tombstone erected during the 1958 Recession. While it lived on until 1961, the cold it caught that year was terminal. Oldsmobile, Buick, Pontiac, Studebaker, Dodge and Lincoln also caught the 1958 bug, and fell into critical condition during this time. Had the other brands held on for a few more years, it is possible these other brands could have also failed. The fact that so many mid-level brands failed during the Recession, helped resurrect the other ailing name plates as it opened enough breathing room within the Market for them to get a second chance.
1957-1958 took out the auto industry and Detroit suffered tremendously for it’s chicanery for easy auto loans, over expansion, dealer stuffing and poor planning. Every mid-level auto brand during this time went flat broke from the highs from a decade earlier. Marketers had mystified auto executives into a myth that mid-level luxury brands had a rosy future with a high profit potential. Liberalism convinced America that a national economy could be fine-tuned by Washington, allowing for economic growth for generations to come. The crash in 1957 hit hard as a result.
Detroit was over extended and there were too many brands selling the same kind of car for all of them to survive by the end of the decade. The 1958 Recession exposed, for the first time, the fractures within the Market that Detroit ignored. GM was convinced it’s 5 tiered brand structure was sancrosanct and inbred Detroit auto marketers convinced Chrysler and Ford to spend a billion dollars copying it. The Independant auto brands became roadkill as the big Detroit Three filled the Market with finned mid-level automobile makes no automobile market could have absorbed.
The 1957 Chrysler rocked the industry and damaged the Corporation. What it sold that year was offset by what it cost the brands for years to come. By 1959, after two lackluster years, Chrysler’s gamble had to be paid off. Not everyone could survive reality. Dodge was saved by pilfering Plymouth sales through the Dodge Dart. Chrysler was saved by pilfering DeSoto sales through the Chrysler Newport and Windsor. Plymouth was saved by robbing Valiant in it’s cradle. DeSoto had nowhere to go. Had Valiant failed, it would have been Plymouth’s demise thirty years earlier. Had Dart failed, it would have been Dodge’s funeral. Each brand during this time was forced to roll the dice to pay for the fiasco in 1958.
Ford killed off it’s billion dollar Edsel, in order to salvage Mercury. Lincoln was on the chopping block. Continental was gone. No Detroit make had the luxury at this time to just write a check to offset the losses incurred during this downturn.
GM had Pontiac and Buick in the sick house. Oldsmobile held it’s own during the Recession with its bizzarre 1958 design. Olds got lucky. Buick and Pontiac, howerver, didn’t get lucky. Buick could have easily joined DeSoto in 1961’s obits, but was fortunate enough to have escaped GM purging. Pontiac got lucky in newfound popularity with its 1959 “Wide-Track” sales campaign and had a renaissance during the 1960s.
All these dead car brands were pretty good. They went out of business not because they weren’t good cars. They went out of business because their parent corporations couldn’t afford to offset their massive 1957-1958 losses without cutting these brands loose. The death of the mid-level luxury brands saw the rise of the compact, subcompact and intermediate cars. The US marketers were dead wrong. American car buyers didn’t want the same car in thirty similar shapes, colors and flavors. Instead, American car buyers wanted a choice in cars.
Also, DeSoto went into the 57-58 recession in a weakened condition – it had been an afterthought from the beginning. It started life either as a negotiating ploy to make the owners of Dodge Brothers Co. think that Walter Chrysler didn’t want to buy Dodge, or as a Plan B after early talks to buy Dodge fell through. Either way, not a strong start. DeSoto was the weak sister of the Chrysler line from the beginnng. As a Chrysler-clone selling for a lower price, it should have handily outsold the more expensive Chrysler, but it never did. In the 50s, where GM had 3 body shells to share among its four lower divisions, Chrysler had only 2. There just wasn’t that much room between the top Dodge and the bottom Chrysler.
Defense spending impacted the auto industry throughout the 1950s, as it was drying up. The Department of Defense under GMs Charlie Wilson saw defense contracts go from GM competitors, to GM. As defense contracts wound down, Wilson ensured that GM didn’t catch its share of the downturn. The Korean War also needed US automakers, but by 1956, the added income that War generated had vanished from Detroit.
The Missile Race under Kennedy, plus the inclusion of NASA, were both boosts to the US auto industry. Multi-million dollar contracts for all missile, satellite and space programs helped offset losses suffered after the 1958 Recession.
The 1958 Recession played a significant role in Detroit’s history as it demonstrated an inability to produce profitability within the US market when based only on auto sales. Diversification for the auto manufacturers, finding global markets and partnerships and breaking away from strict dependence upon the US auto market became obvious by the late 1950s.
Too often the 1957-1958 US Recession is viewed within a Keynesian economic model which misses some significant economic developments which took place during that time. This model places too much emphasis on “big ticket” consumption and it warps what happened in Detroit and Kenosha as a result of Americans tiring of chrome, fins and big cars – which is like claiming the Great Depression was caused by Americans tiring of building dams and skyscrapers.
Vanilla Dude – you’re spot on too. Chrysler’s downturn was offset by juicy aerospace contracts from the government. Packard’s accelerated downfall was by the same ax swung by Charlie Wilson as they prior to shutting down East Grand in Detroit was more or less in the jet engine business – building Packards was a sideline.
JP – makes you wonder that in hindsight, if it wouldn’t have been better off for Chrysler to NOT to have brought back the Desoto after WW-II. I’m thinking much like LaSalle. Good during the depression years to offer a semi-premium “value added” brand, but irrelevant after the war.
The assessment about the “same car in a myriad of different colors and flavors” does seem to hold true as there weren’t any major differences in performance or room and the fact that by the late fifties, performance and comfort levels of a higher priced Desoto, Olds, Buick, Mercury, etc., could be realized by a decently equipped member of the low-price three.
The latter would especially come home to roost in the 1960s with the advent of LTDs, Caprices, etc.
“Visit your DeSoto-Plymouth dealer……and tell him Groucho sent you!”
There was a DeSoto Rebel in 1962 for South Africa which was a warmed up Valiant/Lancer.
I spotted a vintage DeSoto Rebel promo ad http://www.flickr.com/photos/hartog/7712085708/in/set-72157629924846492/
Also, the Dodge Dart/Polara sold as DeSoto Diplomat also in South Africa.
Thanks for the link Stephane there’s some nice South African cars in there
Nice car I saw an earlier Adventurer at the drags recently very rare cars here.
What’s wrong with green interiors?…red interiors….white interiors?
Simple. Bureaucratic Detroit…tends not to draw the most imaginative of people. And those who have imaginations quickly learn to choke it down.
Old VW, the pre-Golf company, showed that gray felt carpeting could still sell. Later Japanese imports drove the point home…with the only interior color gray or black, the things still outsold comparable Detroit models.
So…since color insides weren’t selling…why bother? Americans want gray and black…they can have gray and black!
I’m going to respectfully suggest that it may have been the other way around: the auto makers took away the color choices as a cost-cutting measure. I don’t necessarily think demand had dropped. Reducing the number of paint choices went right along with this penny-pinching mentality.
But today, when over 60% of new cars sold are white, silver, or black, it might be nice if some carmaker decided to offer red, blue, green, or white interiors again. They could even do just the tops of the seat cushions and leave the sides and backs gray or black, maybe carry the color to door panel inserts.
The Germans will do red occasionally, and blue is not necessarily unheard of, albeit at extra cost.
White is one of those things that looks nice in the showrooms but not in the real world.
You can get red on the Genesis coupe too. Just spotted this one at the local dealer this afternoon:
I think part of the problem with red/green/blue interiors is that between the departure of glitz in favor of Euro-stark, and plasticy organic designs from the 90s to today, tend to make colored interiors look like something Fisher Price would make for toddlers. They don’t make grey or black Cozy Coupes, so there’s no connotation to it.
The 1994 and 1995 Tbirds and Cougars Had an option of grey, tan, green, red and blue(no black was even offered, it was actually dropped from 93 in favor of green for 94!). Yet when you look inside one, particularly the Cougar with the monotone dash, it’s extremely jarring. The DeSoto, as well as most period American cars have a lot of detailing and additional contrasting color to break things up quite a bit. I think that’s much the reason the current cars offering actual color inside are only doing so with seats and maybe door panel inserts. I think those clamoring for a full blown red interior(dash, carpet and all) in a new BMW would be quite turned off when they actually see it past the seats.
Such a breathtaking car! Minty fresh! It has such great lines and proportions. And the interior is equally stunning. The whole interior design, especially the dash and instrument panel, makes the square cheap phony wood and velour of the brougham era seem retrograde.
I want that green car. That ridiculous “car of the future” styling is calling out to me. It would be the perfect car for commuting from your fully-automated house to your job at the Space Needle…
As for bi-level grill on the final DeSoto, it’s so dang ugly that I’m guessing that they were trying to NOT sell cars. Something that ugly cannot be the product of mere indifference or carelessness. No, that kind of ugly has to be deliberate. It seems like a good way to get off the hook with the dealers, to just give them a car they can’t sell.
Good lookin car ain’t ESP in that mint green lovely..poor old 61 only a mother could love it,lol
Ah, good ol’ Groucho, perpetually leering out from behind his podium. One of my favorite TV shows as a kid. “Say the secret word, win a $100,” and that goofy duck would flop down. His sidekick George Fenneman trying to keep him in control. There are a lot of YouTube commercials of Groucho peddling the DeSoto, quoting the taglines “Drive a DeSoto, then decide,” and “DeSoto, the look and feel of the future.” Except the future for DeSoto was pretty bleak after 1957.
This is still a stunning looking car, fifty+ years down the road. But as has often been noted, the ’59 was the last true DeSoto, with those trademark triple-taillights and dashing side spears and other unique design cues that still set it apart from its Chrysler brethren. I just love those ads above for the ’59 Adventurer, and the Firedome, touting “Nassau plaid” upholstery in “Caribbean sun colors.” Another world. Although that dash is a tour de force of juke box styling, it was cribbed from the Dodge that year, yet another cheapening element of the oncoming demise. A sad decline to a DeLightful, DeLovely marque.
I was lucky enough a few years back to come upon a ’61 DeSoto, tooling along a main street in my old west L.A. neighborhood. In great condition, it was unmistakable as I approached. It was one of those “OMG” moments. I hadn’t seen one of those in decades, in fact, the ’61’s were scarce as hens’ teeth even in car-centric L.A. in the early ’60’s. It literally took my breath away to actually pace alongside that car for several blocks, a true “blast from the past.”
I pretty sure that’s George Fenneman’s voice on the DeSoto commercial posted above. We had a small stand alone DeSoto dealer for a while in the mid ’50’s across Main St. from a sizable Studebaker / Edsel store. Not so later on.
Fabulous car. Though I have never been a big fan of mint green, this DeSoto (and the 55 New Yorker from Friday) have brought me around.
In the late 80s, there was some young guy driving a mint green 61 DeSoto 4 door around the north side of Indianapolis. I knew they were rare, but not that rare. It must have come from one of his grandparents, because it was so nice. Unfortunately, it was starting to get rusty, and then one day I saw it with some front-end damage from a minor collision. Talk about parts nearly impossible to find, the front clip from a 61 DeSoto would be one of them.
This 60’s Vee-d grille was something I never really understood. It was the only line on the car that I didn’t really like. Oh, well. If you only find a single facet of any post 1958 Exner design that you don’t like, I guess you are doing pretty well.
DeSoto trivia – I once learned that DeSoto offered four (count em, 4) separate convertibles in 1959. One each for the Firesweep, Firedome, Fireflite and Adventurer series. Of course, each one sold in absolutely paltry numbers.
I think 1960 was my favorite year for Chrysler styling…I really like this DeSoto, but I think prefer the clean ’60 Chrysler a bit more (guess I’m not alone…I think the ’60 300F is one of the most sought after years of all the letter series Chryslers)….and the coupe roofline is particularly attractive. To me it looks like they were trying to make the automotive equivalent of an airplane (or maybe spaceship?)…back when youngsters were busy building models of airplanes and rockets, I can imagine being bowled over when these first came out, when one saw them for the first time.
I wonder if there was concern going from ’59 to ’60 when most of the Chrysler cars (all but Imperial?) went to unibody, especially after the quality issues they had when they brought out the ’57’s? I know that AMC and Studebaker already had unibodies, but converting pretty much the whole car line over in a year seems pretty daunting…though Valiant was a new model, it was also unibody when it came out in 1960, I’m sure there were concerns with structural rigidity when corrosion sets in, and they had lots of problems with the 57’s that would seem to be even more of an issue with unibodies. But of course, since then we’ve had many other corrosion prone makes that were also unibody but I also read somewhere they were using some sort of steel that was more corrosion prone back then, and probably didn’t have all the chemical treatments to slow down the corrosion, I’d guess there was some concern about it.
Although AMC had them, Studebaker did not go to a Unibody. They were BOF right to the bitter end.
The Mopar Unibodies (and I think Chrysler came up with the “Unibody” name) were quite well built. From the 1960 up through the fuselage cars at least, they were always very tight and solid from a structural standpoint. The biggest problem any of them ever had with rust was the 1967-76 A body that would suffer rust-out in the crossmember where the torsion bars anchored. One would eventually give way and that corner of the car would land on its bottom suspension stop. The condition was usually fatal, because there was usually enough rust everywhere else by then that there was no sense in fixing it. Still, even in the worst of conditions, it normally didn’t happen for at least 10 years.
I remember helping a friend put an air shock on the right front corner of an old Dart to hold it up. Originally a New York car that he moved to California in. The striker plate area of the left door post was also gone, so the driver’s door was secured shut with a rope.
Thanks, didn’t know that Studebaker was body on frame…I guess there weren’t that many makes yet in the ’50s that had unibodies…let alone made as a monocoque. Guess Chrysler was vigalant about the design, so it wasn’t an issue (to the extent that by ’67 the Imperial went Unibody, which I would guess would indicate their confidence by that point). I think AMC called it “Unit Body Construction” or something to that effect, I think it is pretty neat that they were an early adopter of the practice.
Also on the demise of DeSoto, it is interesting that it took place so close to the time of the Valiant debut as a division (of course that didn’t last long…guess Valiant was part of Plymouth maybe even before DeSoto was withdrawn)…but as some of the other Dodge models also got smaller (Dart) I wonder if it was an early trend towards smaller or at least lower cost cars?
Of course Plymouth and Dodge got burned in ’62 when they downsized their largest models, so it wouldn’t seem that all of the market was ready for smaller sizes (maybe wanted low cost but still large size?), and they of course did go back to making larger full size cars, but it seems a less pronounced version in the ’80’s when they eliminated their large cars leaving only the M bodies as the largest (exterior) size. Maybe elimination of DeSoto was kind of a step towards less expensive (or even smaller) sized cars? Also wonder about the cab market, which was pretty big DeSoto presence…wonder if this is when Checker took some of that market after DeSoto was ended?
zwep, Hudson and Nash were the U.S. pioneers of unitary construction. Ford and GM stayed with body-on-frame for quite some time in their full-sized cars and the GM intermediates, though the 1960 compacts ditched the full frame. And Chrysler made the Imperial unibody in 1967 because Imperial was demoted to the Chrysler body. Until that time, it had its own body, but in 1967 it had only its unique front suspension with an extra long subframe and extra long torsion bars.
The demise of DeSoto, like the demise of the Edsel and Continental divisions at Ford, had much to do with the fact that Cadillac and Packard prices weren’t keeping up with inflation. When Ford began gearing up the Edsel, that hadn’t happened yet. As the dollar devalued, luxury car prices were effectively cut. In short, the difference in price between the “low priced three” and the luxury cars got narrower. That left less room for the middle price marques. Alfred Sloan at GM had a wise philosophy of giving division heads a lot of freedom, so their three middle divisions were quite good at finding unique markets–Pontiac with sportiness, Buick with fuddy-duddyness, and Olds with some good engineering and by selling very large cars cheap. This was all a natural progression of the Olds, Buick and Oakland brands from before GM was created. It is no accident that all of the brands that were not created by men of vision, but created by a corporation to fill a market niche–Imperial, Continental, LaSalle, DeSoto, Mercury, Plymouth and Rambler–are long dead.
As for taxicabs, DeSoto’s main claim to fame was a miserly six cylinder engine in a big, seven passenger car. Then New York City repealed the law that required taxis to have jump seats, and suddenly any old “Low Priced Three” sedan would do. As for size, that sort of peaked about 1958, then again about 1976. It was always a matter of consumers demanding more and more size in a sort of irrational exuberance, until they found they were having enough difficulty maneuvering their yacht without a tugboat that they bent its corners up in a parking lot. Of course, gas prices have their effect too. Then, as they say, the pendulum would swing the other way.
I don’t want to get into too much of a tangent here, but since we’re on the topic of Mopar unibodies, this reminded me of a thought I had from another thread. Carmine commented in another article with an ebay link to a restored 61 Dart (I believe conversation regarded column shifts, so I didn’t want to get off topic), which, during the restoration, showed a separated frame from the torsion bar crossmember forward, with the actual unibody being from the firewall back as separate units. Just as GM would use on the X/F bodies a few years later.
The Big Chryslers and Custom 880 retained the 1960 style construction through 64, and I believe the 65+ C bodies retained the separated front frame as well. By the fuselage era they added isolated mounts between the front frame and unibody, ala K-body SeVille.
The A-bodies as well as the shrunken 62s(and subsequent Bs) went to the full unibody construction with the crossmember, front frame rails, core support and upper control arm mounts all integrated with the rest of the body, with the only the lower control arms and engine mounts on a separated K frame bolted to the unibody frame rails. That layout seemed to be WAY ahead of it’s time. Ford’s 60s/70s unibodies all the way up until the Fox, as well as GMs 62-67 Chevy II had their K frames and lower suspension mounts permanently integrated, requiring the engine to be dropped in from above during assembly, rather than from below as an assembly. Virtually every unibody today is designed in that Mopar style! Be it RWD or FWD.
Didn’t know that was the case, I’ve seen photos of Chrysler cars being assembled and the engines going in through the bottom, this seems like a pretty good idea on the assembly line…guess putting in the subframe later helps with this
I suspect that one reason the Rambler sold so much better than the Studebaker was that it had unit-body construction — and marketed the heck out of it. Studebaker was still on the modified “flexible” frame construction from 1953. If I recall correctly, Consumers Reports complained about the Studebaker Lark’s squeaks and rattles.
Not only did Studebakers stick with BOF ’til the bitter end, they never did shake the “flex” issue all the way, although with the truncated wheelbase on Larks, it dissipated somewhat.
“Any DeSoto was a cool ride…”
I remember the Happy Days episode, where Richie had the family car on a Friday night. He was telling Potsie: “NOBODY cruises in a DE SOTO…”
Back when the marque was still a memory, it apparently wasn’t that cool.
The car on the show was even a DeSoto Suburban – the long wheelbase 8 passenger one. I would imagine kids looked at those like later kids looked at station wagons and minivans.
It’s been about 30 years since I saw Happy Days, but I remember occasional De Soto references. Wasn’t there an episode where it got crashed and Howard was wondering what to buy seeing as De Soto was gone?
I think Mrs C was talking him into buying an Edsel much to Ritchie & Joanie’s disgust.
Not knowing all the prices, and the “mid-price” field was pretty crowded, did the Edsel introduction hurt DeSoto more than the others? In my memory, DeSoto, slid in between Dodge and Chrysler would have been roughly equal to Oldsmobile and Edsel. Also, in a recession, the very rich are ok, but others who needed a new car might go down to a lower price class, hurting Ford, Chevy and Plymouth less.
I think what happened was that DeSoto got squeezed hard between Dodge and Chrysler. The Chrysler name had more cachet and as Tom noted, a Windsor wasn’t a whole lot more expensive (especially if you consider that people financed cars, then as now); on the flip side, you could have a very similar Dodge with more equipment for less money. DeSoto’s place in the grand scheme of things had never been exactly crystal clear, and so Tex Colbert’s decision to give the divisions more autonomy (which encouraged internal competition) really hit DeSoto hard. Add to that the recession and it was RIP, DeSoto.
Edsels outsold DeSoto, a sure sign things weren’t too good.
Edsel managed to outsell Desoto in ’59 because Edsel went down a price class and were competing against Ford, Chevy, Plymouth and Pontiac Catalina.
Final Mopar Week question, when did Exner’s “toilet seat” first appear? Was it 1960, or earlier?
I believe it was optional on the 57 Imperials.
“How could DeSoto go from having one of its best years ever in 1957 to out of business in 1961?” is a question that has been asked many times. The short explanation is that 1) the worst economic downturn since the 1930s decimated the middle priced field, and 2) Chrysler was hit harder than anyone else due to a backlash over the quality problems with its ‘57s (in hindsight, that 1957 sales figure for DeSoto was deceptive, because 1957 turned out to be an anomaly for Chrysler). But there’s got to be more to it than that. No other established middle priced brand went under during the 1958-61 recession, and no other Chrysler brand seemed to suffer from all of that anywhere near as much as DeSoto did. Some thoughts on this, overlapping some of what Aaron posted earlier:
While it had been motoring on just fine for thirty years, DeSoto was probably the weakest of any of the established Big Three brands. It sales were probably the lowest of any nonluxury Big Three brand. It had a less well-defined image than any other Big Three brand (“a car that is similar to, but somewhat cheaper than, a Chrysler” seemed to be it). Even Chrysler itself didn’t seem quite sure what to do with DeSoto at times. As I understand it, DeSoto was originally greenlighted at a point in time when Chrysler’s planned acquisition of Dodge Brothers had fallen through; had Chrysler known that the Dodge deal was going to happen, DeSoto may have never existed in the first place. Once Dodge was brought on board, there was even initially some indecision over where to position DeSoto in relation to Dodge.
After ranking as the #2 U.S. automaker between the early 1930s and early 1950s, Chrysler struggled mightily during the 1950s. Going through that while being the weakest Big Three brand was hardly an ideal situation for DeSoto. In internal corporate politics, Chrysler and Dodge had the power, and Plymouth and DeSoto always got the short end of the stick. When Chrysler decided to streamline its divisions in the late ‘50s, DeSoto and Plymouth got combined together. As the ‘50s wore on, the various Chrysler brands increasingly began stepping on each other’s toes, looking to increase sales volume by expanding into each other’s market territory. DeSoto benefitted from this in ’57, with its new Firesweep, which pushed down into Dodge territory. In the bountiful year of 1957, there was enough to go around for everyone. But DeSoto probably had a lot more to lose from this trend than it had to gain, with powerful brands both above it and below it looking to expand. Things soon changed when the economy went downhill and the backlash began.
Once DeSoto found itself in trouble, Chrysler seemed to do little to try to prop it up. Each year, the response to poor sales the previous year seemed to be prune the lineup further. If DeSoto was going to survive, I think it needed to have a decent year in 1960. Sales in 1958-59 had been frighteningly low, and things had likely reached a point where potential customers were getting nervous about buying a brand that might not be around much longer. Chrysler seemed to undermine that by cutting the DeSoto lineup from four models to two and pricing the Chrysler Windsor more-or-less in direct competition with it. As discussed in the article, the ’61 DeSoto seems completely mailed in, both in terms of its styling and its model lineup. IIRC, Chrysler Canada saw the writing on the wall and didn’t bother offering 1961 DeSotos north of the border.
In hindsight, though, Chrysler was better off losing DeSoto when it did (just as Ford was better off without Edsel). The 1960 Chrysler Windsor was the future, not the 1960 DeSoto. The U.S. auto market was transitioning away from the “Sloan system” to a setup where each brand was expected to sell cars in a variety of shapes and sizes — compact, intermediate, ponycar, etc. The old lines between each brand’s market territories were becoming blurred, and it was more important to pour resources into developing new classes of cars than in propping up another brand that would require yet another permutation of each product line. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the resources Ford expended on the 1960 Falcon and 1962 Fairlane were far better spent on those projects that they would have been on trying to sustain Edsel. As the smallest of the Big Three, Chrysler would have had a hard time maintaining five separate brands and was better off entering the post-1960 era with one fewer. By the late 1970s, cars sold by the three brands they had left were beginning to look the same, and two of the brands (Plymouth and Dodge) were largely overlapping each other in terms of market position. What would Chrysler have done with a fourth brand?
Great analysis. Merging DeSoto into the Plymouth division was the death knell. I didnt know that.
Pontiac was also in trouble in the 1950’s as a mid-price brand, being barely above Chevy, but “Wide Track” and youthful marketing saved it.
Spot on, MCT. Desoto was created at a time W.P. wanted to fill in a price gap and the Dodge widows weren’t sure about selling. I believe it was MY 1933 that Desoto and Dodge switched positions in the Chrysler lineup. Also, post-war Mopar history has it Dodge division execs/sales guys were extremely whiny and that most post-war Chrysler brass (much like GM brass being Buick guys) were Dodge guys. As history points out, many factors brought down Desoto. The worst was Dodge and Chrysler competing directly against Desoto decimating their (Desoto) sales. The price spread was also too thin between the marques and no matter how much exposure Desoto got in advertising (sponsored on “You Bet Your Life” through MY ’58) . . . car buyers couldn’t see ponying up for the Desoto (I can get a loaded Dodge for about the same money; I could move up to a Chrysler for about $20 more a month in payments). Sad.
GM having a huge market share kept all their brands alive after 1958. Had enough power and $ to keep them going. Plus new images at BOP starting in 1959. Out with stodgy jukeboxes and in with sweepy. And again, in 1961, clean trim standard size cars.
Don’t you mean “unfilled 1961 Desoto orders got Chrysler NEWPORTS instead?” Newport pretty much filled in the Desoto gap, per se, until the Dodge 880/Custom 880 rolled along in ’62. The latter had the entire ’61 Desoto interior lifted over – seat patterns, door panel, dash and all – moved over to the 880.
It looks like a giant Valiant to me. I love the 60 Chrysler Boomerang taillights by comparison 10x better. This car changed all the things I liked with added gingerbread.
I love the individuality of each car back then. WOW! I sure do miss the 5 variations on one car that went on back then.
I’m about to purchase a 1949 DeSoto with suicide doors. I’ve noticed that a nicely restored DeSoto can be purchased for around $17,000. Is the value of a DeSoto not recognized well or not as valuable? With that said, I’m gonna purchase it for $1500 dollars and it needs much need TLC. This will be my first restoration project. I want to do a project with my father!
You buy an old Desoto for love and no other reason, because they really aren’t worth that much. Be careful with a car that needs too much TLC because TLC tends to cost money. Suicide doors would make it a first series 1949, which is like the 46-48 models. The second series 49 is what most people think of when you say 49 DeSoto.
Good luck with it.
A 1959 Adventurer convertible sold for $330,000 at Barrett-Jackson. Black with gold trim. Stunning beauty.
Thanks. I’m really interested in buying it. I would like to restore it and then give it to my dad. I have pictures, may I post them and maybe get a little feed back. My first restoration car. I have an idea of what I’m getting into but I can’t resist the solid look they have so I don’t wanna pass this opportunity. Thank you!
Another thing that killed Desoto (and Imperial) was changing market trends. As mentioned earlier , most makes adjusted to these changes by becoming multi-line producers. People simply got tired of one-line makes….no matter how many variations were offered in them.
The first such variations were in (surprisingly) sports models. The Chevrolet Corvette in 1953, The Ford Thunderbird in 1955, and The Studebaker Hawk in 1956 marked the beginning of this. Plymouth and Desoto both had sports models planned, but neither one (the Belmont and the (original concept) Adventurer respectively, made it past the concept stage. Chrysler, instead, chose the original C 300 (still another full-sized variant) to compete against THOSE cars.
The SECOND wave of variations were compact cars. Kaiser’s Henry J. in 1952, was the first of these…but it was ahead of it’s time. But, the later success of the Rambler American and the Studebaker Lark pointed the way to the future. Ford ,in response, launched it’s Falcon, and Chevy it’s radical Corvair ,later augmented by the Chevy ll when it was decided that that Corvair was a little TOO radical. G.M.’s B-O-P cars all introduced compacts (Special, F-85, and Tempest) . Chrysler launched it’s Valiant (later Plymouth Valiant ). Dodge also wanted a piece of the action, and got it….with the Lancer. Ford also planned another compact , The Edsel Comet (which was later reassigned to Mercury about a year or two later, due to the failure of that make).
Desoto, however, had no plans for a compact, and it was that lack of preparation and shortsightedness, that also, among the other factors mentioned, that sealed it’s demise.
Not that introducing a new compact Desoto in 1960 would have solved the problem, but it COULD have possibly staved off the division’s death until the economy improved…as well as building consumer confidence in Desoto’s future long another for buyers to embrace it’s full-sized offerings again.
I doubt the 1958 recession had much to do with the demise of DeSoto. Things like shutting down divisions of companies take time and lots of planning. They don’t happen overnight. The plans to scrap DeSoto were probably made around 1955 or 56 and the slow process started moving. One major headache was that they had to deal with the dealer network. Chrysler probably thought they would be finished with all of the red tape by the time the 1961 model year rolled around so they quickly rebadged a Windsor to become the ’61 DeSoto which was built until the deals were finalized and dropped the day after that.
Would be interesting to see the paperwork on how the division came to be closed down, who-knew-what-when, and how such a thing unfolds.
I tip my had to any owner keeping one of these nice for the love of doing so–at least the couple is in this together, which has to help a lot!
Meanwhile, an ad extolling the ’61’s unibody:
I know this posting is a rerun, but I’ll add my 2 cents anyway. As a former DeS owner, I loved the brand. But in 1960, the dashboard of the Chrysler was alone was enough to be worth the slight price premium.
The demise of DeSoto was, as noted by others, in the planning for at least five years. With a long-established brand name having a loyal customer base and dealer organization, it would take the corporation that long to fully integrate all facets without alienating customers and/or incurring legal costs.
Gretchen, a well-off widow lady in her 50’s in our small town had a white ’60 Fireflite two door hardtop, one of the few ‘fancy’ cars in town. She would sport her older aunt and blue-haired friends for outings in the DeSoto, all finely-dressed including fancy hats. My mother used to say, “there goes Gretchen and the girls with the grandma faces.”
Gretchen traded the ’60 DeSoto for a ’64 Dodge Polara four door hardtop in a pretty light turquoise, surprisingly not a Custom 880 which was more directly comparable. After four years, the Polara was replaced with a ’68 Chrysler Newport two door hardtop in that awful medium green metallic with an off-white painted top which totally lacked the glamour of the DeSoto or even that Polara. There were ’70’s Newports thereafter every four years but none are memorable now.
Beautiful car. I love the finned Mopars (in other people’s possession, thank you), and I love green cars, and I really love a green car with a polytone green interior. Among the things that catch my eye about this one:
1. Those Big Gulps—urk. I mean, it’s nice to see that they drive and enjoy their car and don’t just moon over it and only take it out of a dry-nitrogen capsule rub it with a lint-free cloth, but those Big Gulps—urk.
2. The amber front turn signal lenses. The originals and any genuine repair parts would’ve been colourless; amber front turn signals and parking lights didn’t come along in the US until 1963. These on the DeSoto are probably aftermarket accessories bought in or after that year. I don’t say this to disparage the car, the owner, or the turn signals—it’s just something I noticed.
The late-aughts Honda CR-V always reminded me of the ’61 DeSoto:
Stumbled across this Desoto website. I am 72 and have had many Chrysler products. I was an management employee as was my wife. They have a generous employee lease program.
Hemi Magnum, Chargers, Challengers and assorted Darts, vans and trucks. My father started me early with a 50 Dodge, then two 54 Plymouths- then a 57 dodge -all with the old flathead six.
One car I had as a teenager was a beautiful, 1961, blue, 2 door, Desoto Adventurer, hardtop, with a strong 383, and a row off buttons on the dash to operate the modern, 3 speed, “Power-Flight” transmission.
Unfortunately I couldn’t keep the velocity down and had to give it up due to speeding tickets and climbing insurance costs. It was similar to, but much better looking than the fast Chrysler 300H.
It would nice to have one of the TV restoration shows do a rebuild on that beautiful car.