COAL #1: The ’51 DeSoto

Same color, but ours was a two-tone with a dark blue top. Source:


The first family car I remember was our ’51 DeSoto. As far as I can tell, the ’51 hasn’t yet had its day in the CC sun, perhaps not surprisingly because the model year brought only a second minor facelift for the so-called “second series” 1949 models, Chrysler Corporation’s first new post-war designs.

The second-series models Chrysler Corporation unveiled early in the calendar year 1949 flew in the face of the burgeoning “longer, lower, wider” philosophy most effectively espoused by General Motors’ Harley Earl, beginning with 1938’s seminal Buick “Y-Job” concept car and translated into GM’s production cars for decades afterward.

Engineering-focused as ever, Chrysler not only resisted that trend as their ’49s were being developed, but consciously determined that their first truly new post-war cars would be shorter and narrower than their predecessors. Overall height, however, remained the same as the automaker’s pre-war sedans, catering to the conservative, hat-wearing folks favored by Chrysler chief K.T. Keller.

As a new car, the ’51 DeSoto Custom four-door sedan carried a base price of $2,438 ($28,790 today), but I’m guessing our DeSoto was purchased as a used car, perhaps influenced by my maternal grandfather’s daily driver at the time, a classy black ’51 Chrysler Windsor sedan.

One very vivid memory involves your writer, at age three or four, standing in the driver’s-side rear seat foot-well, hanging onto my father who was driving, and peering excitedly around his shoulder to see the odometer click over from 99,999.9 miles to 100,000.0. As I recall, the DeSoto also had a fairly impressive faux woodgrain instrument panel treatment (impressive to a four-year-old, anyway).

The ’51 DeSoto dash. Again, not ours. Source: Randy von Liski on


Aside from Hernando’s abstract visage on the hood ornament, other details that impressed me at a young age were the DeSoto’s toothy grille and substantial front and rear bumpers.  I also thought the delicate taillights, separated into three segments by their bright chrome trim, were quite attractive (the separate, barrel-shaped inboard backup lights, not so much). The DeSoto logo integrated just above the trunk handle was also cool, though I always wondered why it didn’t also include a central brake lamp, like Chrysler’s previous-generation models.



I must have missed Paul’s recent CC on the subject here but I never knew that DeSoto offered its own alternative to the ’49-’50 Kaiser Vagabond/Traveler “hatchbacks,” the “Carry-All Sedan” shown in the lower right of the screenshot above. The DeSoto seems to carry its spare tire in the conventional location, as well as retaining four operational doors (unlike the Kaiser, which mounted its spare inside a non-functional left rear door, which was welded shut in the Willow Run body shop). It’s a neat concept, definitely decades ahead of its time. Wish we had had one of those in the driveway, instead of our relatively boring normal four-door sedan.

At any rate, the ’51 DeSoto was the first Chrysler Corporation car in our family, having replaced a late-1940s Pontiac two-door sedan. Another Chrysler product- the Hansens’ first new-car purchase- would go on to replace the DeSoto, but that’s a story for another COAL…