Car Show Classic: 1960 DeSoto Adventurer – Really, Really DeLovely

(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.