(first posted 10/27/2012) Has there ever been a toothier grille? Well, yes; the Buicks of the era. The 1950 Buick takes the cake in the deep-sea toothy-fish face sweepstakes. But DeSoto was nipping at Buick’s tail, starting with the 1950 model too. The 1953 marks the high-water mark for DeSoto dentification, as this shot posted by Impalamino at the Cohort attests. It has Iowa plates, but there’s proof on this fish-out-of -water that its owners visited the Oregon Coast in the early fifties. Did they catch it there, and lug it all the way back to Iowa?
Here it is: A window sticker for Mack Sherman’s Texaco Station, in Yachats, Oregon. From the look of it, I’d date its design as very much late-’40s. Considering the relative remoteness of the Oregon coast back then, Mack probably was still giving these out in the mid-’50s.
I strongly suspect that this Union 76 station now sits where Mack’s station did, considering that it’s the only service station in town. Curiously enough, it’s for sale ($475,000); I wonder if there are still some “Ain’t Mad At Nobody” stickers hidden away in a back drawer?
Yachats is a charming little village that has become Eugenians’ favorite coastal getaway spot. Without a harbor, though, it’s hardly the place to go fishing (surf-fishing excepted) for DeSotos. Good luck trying to land one of these whales that way.
Maybe the DeSoto’s superb patina got a head start from the salty spray of that trip long ago?
Since Impalamino couldn’t get a decent side shot, let’s get a lifeline from Google. Here’s another one, shot somewhere on a more California-looking coast.
Apparently, DeSotos were good transportation for desert vacations as well. With their 160 hp, 276 cu in Fire Dome (hemi) V8, they certainly were among the faster choices for a long-distance trip to Oregon in 1953 or so. The DeSoto hemi was a slightly scaled-down version of the Chrysler hemi, back in the days when such a thing was still being done.
Those were the glory days of the hemi, well before its higher build costs eventually did it in. Fire Dome: now that was a memorable name.
And there was a memorable hood scoop to embellish, if not actually feed, it.
Not that it propelled DeSoto to any great sales success: DeSoto was Chrysler’s Mercury, but didn’t last nearly as long. It was the same basic story of rigid pricing hierarchies established in the ’20s falling apart in the ’50s, when lesser brands offered ever-greater pizazz, and premium brands expanded downward. Those in the middle got squeezed–that is, unless they came from GM.
Hi ho, hi ho; it’s off to Oregon we go! That dash has a rather modern aspect to it, having just the three instruments. They’re so direct and uncomplicated; complexity would come soon enough. I wonder if there’s still some Oregon coast sand down in the recesses of this interior?
Hernando de Soto was an adventurous explorer and successful conquistador. His expedition pushed west, through the southern areas of the US, making its members the first Westerners to set eyes on the Mississippi. He died thereabouts, and it took a car named for him to finally reach North America’s West Coast–and now it, too, seems to have died somewhere near the Mississippi.
And here we have a rendering of DeSoto discovering the Mississippi (courtesy Bruce McCall):
LOL, DeSoto should have been the maker to put out an El Dorado model. Or perhaps a Coronado… 😛
Dan, there was a DeSoto Coronado sedan – a special trim option in 1955, with a white/black/turquoise paint job.
There was a Coronado too, for the “spring edition” line of 1954. One resides at a machine shop/garage off of Park Street in Alameda (no suprise!) . . . as soon as you come off the Park Street bridge from Oakland, I believe it’ll be your first left turn (Clinton Street?) . . . it is (sort of) tan over a creme colored body. Coronados were Firedomes. Powermasters were sixes for ’53 and ’54. They too, had to scoop. Rarity of rarities would be a ’53 or ’54 Powermaster or Firedome 8 passenger and limousine. ’54’s offered PowerFlie; ’53’s were still Fluid Drive derivatives. Drive a DeSoto . . . then decide!
DeSoto puts you there . . . automatically (hey, wait! That’s 1954!)
The Desoto looks solid for not being licensed for 40 years. A real restoration would cost a fortune. Get it running, a Earl Scheib paint job, and JC Whitney seat covers, I’d be good to go.
The necker’s knob is a must on those warm summer nights driving along the ocean, with a pretty lady close by your side. (However, find a very nearsighted lady. I can’t imagine a 53 Desoto sedan as a babe magnet.)
I’m sure it would be quite attractive to the ladies today. The interesting ones anyway.
Based on what I have read about those paint jobs – how many months would you give it before the rust started to come through again?
In that last photo it looks like Hernando’s ghost peering at us through the mist.
Most probably wonder, it’s pronounced YAH-hahts. Quite the article at Wikipedia.
Such a cool car today. In the mid sixties my science teacher drove one of these. It was horribly uncool then.
MikePDX . . . funny you mention that . . . I had a 7th Grade math teacher (this would be ’71-’72) that drove a very cherry and nice, ’54 Chevy Bel-Air four door sedan. White over turquoise . . . . which seemed quite ancient then . . . but I knew it then for what it was . . . and I would’ve LOVED to have had that car.
Powerglide with the full Bel-Air wheel covers, but looking more business like with blackwall tires. This would’ve been Davidson Junior High School in San Rafael, California. I’m trying to remember this guy’s name . . .
I’ll join you all on memory lane. My piano teacher in the late ’50’s drove one of these – a four door sedan in the tan over brown color scheme of the one in the ad above. It was in beautiful condition but I always worried about the DeSoto and her because she was old and not a very good driver. Rather than turn the wheels as she backed out of our driveway, she backed straight out, almost into the ditch on the other side, and only then turned the wheels to head off down our country road. Funny how well you remember these oddball things, especially related to cars if you are car crazed from a young age.
The poor girl is probably going to wind up on one of those bad Cable shows where they clear coat the rust, bag the suspension and try to get $20k for her.
At least she’s keeping good company with those classic Chevy trucks.
The alternative could (and may) be worse – crushed and sent to Shanghai.
PrincipalDan: “DeSoto should have been the maker to put out an El Dorado model. Or perhaps a Coronado.”
They did, in 1955, the spring selling version of the Fireflite, the Coronado model, which was a four-door sedan with a tri-tone paint scheme, turquoise body, white “fang” or sweepspear area, and a black top. Pretty snazzy color combo. I actually saw one of these in my neighborhood about five or six years ago when I lived in San Diego. There’s a picture of it in James Flammang’s “Cars of the Fabulous Fifties.”
Here’s the 1955 DeSoto Fireflite Coronado from the Flammang book. The Coronado designation is just below the Fireflite script on the lower front quarter panel
Now that I’m steeped in Southwest Culture I could have helped ChryCo come up with a whole raft of conquistadore themed models…
Desoto Cabeza de Vaca
Desoto Fray Marcos (perfect for a delusional man of the cloth)
Desoto de Leon (mid life crisis sports car)
I could go on…
The DeSoto equivalent of the ’55 Chrysler New Yorker St. Regis.
Wow, thanks, Don. I have that book but it’s not been off the shelf in a long time. There it is on page 222 along with the Papermate pens in matching colors. How well I remember those cool pens. Wish I still had one. I simply loved the ’55 DeSoto – my favorite great aunt and uncle bought a two-door Firedome hardtop new that year, in baby blue and cream. Gorgeous car and they kept it for ten years, trading it in ’65 for a new turquoise Chrysler Newport four-door hardtop, DeSoto no longer being an option (all of their previous cars since marriage had been DeSotos).
One of the neighbors owns one of these…a 2-door sedan, in red. And to his credit, he actually drives the thing around town on a regular basis. Love it.
This is weird, I’m almost sure I know where that car is: Muscatine, IA. I very well could have passed it when I was driving to a car show in Nauvoo a couple years ago.
Yeah, could be – the Iowa plate is from Muscatine’s county.
It is (was) in Muscatine, on the south end of town on highway 61.
The pictures are a couple of years old. I normally stick around the west side of Iowa, but I dated a girl that grew up in Muscatine. I spent a lot of weekends there.
That grill looks so much like a late ’40s-50’s Buick’s. I wonder of that was done intentionally, since Buick was to Cadillac what Desoto was to Chrysler.
Correction: Buick was to Cadillac as Desoto was to Imperial.
My grandmother, great-aunt and great-grandparents took a roadtrip from Alabama to my great grandfather’s sister’s home in San Diego, CA in 1953, in their 1953 DeSoto.
The stylized lettering on the hood and trunk is just superb. Along with the dash design, the car has a very modern vibe for its time.
From a 21st century standpoint, it may seem “modern” . . . the dashboard, certainly. The rest of the car still had elements of it’s MY1949 “three box” styling that Virgil Exner & Co. “softened” up by drawing down hoodlines, rooflines and adding more curvatures and less angluar boxy lines . . . not unattractive by any means . . . but looked a little stuffy and staid compared to FoMoCo offerings and (1954) GM designs . . . The Mopar $100,000,000.00 for ’55 would correct that.
At the time, Groucho Marx would refer to George Fenneman as “Firedome Fenneman.” Also, at this time, Fenneman was a co-announcer on Jack Webb’s “Dragnet” (“the story you’re about to hear is true . . . . “) Jack would thank George after a wrap-up plug for Chesterfield cancer sticks . . . ironically George Fenneman and Jack Webb would die relatively young from smoking related maladies . . . . (in their early 60s).
My uncle bought a black DeSoto 4dr sedan new in 1952. It had a six and was the first car that I had ridden in with seat belts. It was just a dusty farm car. He traded it in on a new 1959 Dodge with the 325 cu in V8 at Clark Dodge in Aledo, Illinois. It had a two-tone silver and chocolate brown paint scheme, the only one I have ever seen.
Mr. Cunningham’s car in early “Happy Days” episodes was a same era DeSoto. One show had Fonzie hopping up the car for Richie to win a drag race.
I think Mr. Cunningham’s DeSoto was a ’46, if memory serves.
Regards Billy Rockfish, “the DeSoto equivalent of the ’55 Chrysler New Yorker St. Regis,” well, kinda. The Flammang book also notes that in ’55 Chrysler had its own pair of spring specials, the Windsor Blue Heron, a blue-and-white version, and the Windsor Green Falcon, a green-and-white version. Never saw either one, though, these spring specials must have been rare as hen’s teeth even in the day. Funny about “Firedome Fenneman,” I remember him so well on Groucho Marx, he always seemed so non-plussed at Groucho’s humor.
Thanks, CA Guy, glad I got you to dust off “Cars of the Fabulous Fifties.” It is one of my favorites, seems I am constantly referring to it. I have written before, I have a special place in my car pantheon for the ’56 DeSoto, my grandmother having had a Firedome Seville two-door hardtop, charcoal gray and pink two-tone. She traded it in 1962 for a white Buick LeSabre two-door hardtop. I remember her saying she considered the ’62 Chrysler after the demise of the DeSoto, but she disliked the canted headlights too much. She was a die-hard Chrysler/DeSoto fan dating back to 1941, but reverted to the Buick when good ol’ ChryCo deserted her. And yeah, boy do I remember those Paper Mate pens. Seems like every kid in elementary school at the time had one. I had several at various times.
I believe that you are correct about Howard Cunningham’s DeSoto. If memory serves, it was a 1946-48 7 passenger DeSoto Suburban.
The Ain’t Mad at Nobody sign came down in 1959. We had bought a chocolate brown and white Ford Edsel in 1958. My mother did all the driving but finally my father, Harry Richmond got his chance! He gets out of the car and told the fellow he saw the sign. He asked for a free roadmap. Said “You aren’t mad are you?” “Oh no, never mad at anyone, sir, …fill ‘er up?” Well by the time we left, almost every free thing one could imagine happened and every item checked that could be checked on a vehicle at the time! The guy asked if we actually needed gas and my father replied “Indeed, the tank is damned near empty but it is cheaper at the other station…only they were out of maps. Tell ya what, I’ll buy one gallon ($0.18) from ya to get back there. You aren’t mad ard ya?” The guy kicked us off the premises, used strange language and shouted “Do NOT come back again …EVER!! Next time we drove by the sign was no longer there.
Cool story. Maybe he could have changed the sign to read, “Ain’t mad at nobody. ..’cept one cheap bastard in a brown and white Edsel”.
Quoting Paul: “Has there ever been a toothier grille? Well, yes; the Buicks of the era. The 1950 Buick takes the cake in the deep-sea toothy-fish face sweepstakes.”
My vote goes to the ’52 Buicks… in the example below, not only does it have a toothy grille, but it also has the big chrome fish lips to go with……
I post this picture of a DeSoto junkyard every chance I get. Mostly because I think that black FireSweep might be my aunt Geraldine’s car.
I think the DeSoto may be my favorite of the 1953-54 Mopars (with the possible exception of the Chrysler Imperials.) Of course, the smaller engine would be a demerit.
GM made it work because their 5 Divisions were so different. Chrysler Divisions were always so much more alike. DeSoto did have some pretty good years in the late 50s, but even then they were comparatively weak compared with the rest, and had been from the beginning.
GM’s divisions have a heritage that begin in the early days of the automobile, before 1910, except Pontiac. Chrysler itself is newer than that, and Desoto was started by Chrysler Corp. Dodge was older, and an independent make.
I guess I’m the only one who thinks this strongly resembles a 53/54 (?) Chevy but one that sits on a longer wheelbase so it doesn’t look so dumpy?
Actually, for a 53 Anything that picture of the yellow convertible is quite appealing…..almost as good as the same year Chrysler.
@Howard Kerr – I agree.
Could some kind soul describe to me the “parking” maneuver the lady in the two tone green Desoto is doing in that ad? I must have missed that one in driver’s ed.
It is the kind of parking that only became common with the wide availability of power steering. 🙂 With PS, the costs of bad parking approaches and multiple forward and back adjustments are reduced to almost nothing. Manual steering at least made you pay dearly for bad parking technique.
I’m not sure of the exact maneuver, but that appears to be a curved curb, which is making the green car look out of kilter to the one in front of her. But her rear wheel isn’t all that far from the curb, so whatever it is, it seems to have worked. 🙂
Gotta love that million-dollar ’53 Desoto smile —
Second only to 1950 Buick ….
My Grandpa Kuntz bought his ’53 4-door new, and drove it all over central Illinois (usually at illegal but very competent speeds on rural two-lanes) for about ten years, Then he retired, bought a trailer, and he and Grandma spent a few more years on the road while he sold farm and garden seeds to pay their way. When her health began to fail they moved down to Florida ca. 1968, where he reluctantly sold the car because it was bigger and thirstier than they needed, though at over 150K miles it was in excellent shape. I believe he bought a Rambler …
I got to drive it a few times, always with at least Grandpa aboard. It was my first experience with any sort of automatic, and after the old Ford and ’53 Chevy pickup I’d driven before it really was (in some forgotten writer’s words) like “sitting in the living room and driving the house.”
Hernando DeSoto was a brutal murderer, rapist, and thief. To commemorate him they named a car after him. Strange but true.
Yes, brutal murder, rape and thievery were the skill set required to be a successful conquistador. Nice, polite and honest was not a winning combination in the conquest business.
Yes, you are correct but, noone is naming cars after Hitler or Stalin.
Looking back through history, the view is not usually good. Those that came out on top were not very humane to those that were on the receiving end of colonization. No one was promoting those inhuman tendencies in naming these cars. No need to look that closely at those names. My ancestors were colonized people, I don’t think it’s always necessary to dredge up that history when discussing old Marques.
And all of us were joined together in one common thought
As we rolled down the long and winding interstate in our ’53 DeSoto
We’re gonna see the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota
Read more: Weird Al Yankovic – The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Minnesota Lyrics | MetroLyrics
The styling refresh on the ’53 Desoto did a lot to make it look more competitive with other makes of the era. Not a bad looking car at all, and much less stodgy then the preceding 1949 -1952 models.
The early ’50s had to be a time of shock for some people in terms of the driving ease and comfort that could be had if you were one of the few willing to pony up for all of the new power accessories available. From what I’ve been able to figure, you could add air conditioning to the ’54 Desoto in addition to the power steering, power brakes, and automatic transmission mentioned in the 1953 advertisement. Through in the available V-8, radio, and power windows, and you had a car that was from an alternate universe compared to the typical 1950 model that someone might trade in.
I love old ads like these that promote features available on a car………
As understand it, Virgil Exner oversaw the Chrysler/DeSoto 1953 restyle while Henry King led the Plymouth/Dodge studio. This may explain why the bigger car came out better than the smaller one.
I just stumbled on this page. Mack Sherman was my great uncle. My father spent a lot of his childhood years at that service station in Yachats, and those stickers are a part of family lore. It was wonderful to see a photo of one.
The 1955 Dodge cars are the same, it has elements of the 3-box styling, but it has small tailfins with a hint of the Forward Look.
Every year is interesting in its own way, but to me the 1957 is Peak Desoto. Basically
the same sheet metal as a Chrysler as usual, but the Chrysler has a more typical rear bumper and red tail lights. The DeSoto version makes the tail light base look like an extension of the bumper, split by the tail pipes. Nice work, Virgil (or underling).
I lived two miles from the ocean in San Francisco. Even that far away any scratch or nick that went down to pre-galvanized car steel would rust. On bike rides over some years I watched a van parked at a house facing the beach turn into Swiss cheese. 1950’s paint was a whole different issue – no car today would probably get that overall flat patina ever. Probably the amber fog lights are another clue about where this DeSoto lived in its youth?
DeSoto’s are definitely thin on the ground these days. I came across this ’54 two years ago, in east Vancouver.
Bet that grille/bumper weighs s much as some cars.