As recently as 1957, DeSoto had a great year, with over 117,000 finny Forward Look motor vehicles produced. Things came to a sudden stop in 1958. Thanks to the aforementioned ’58 recession, all car sales took a hit. But DeSoto still fared worse than the average bear, with sales dipping down to under 50,000 units.
Of course, some of it was due to the fact that the “Suddenly it’s 1960” 1957 Mopars were beautiful pieces of junk. ’57 issues included water leaks and hysterically rapid rusting, but Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler fared much better despite facing the same gun-shy customers.
The 1959 DeSoto is my favorite DeSoto of them all, with much better-looking side trim than the oddly dipped trim on corporate sibling Chryslers (Windsors, anyway), and of course those great triple taillights. I like the Chryslers too, but the DeSotos just seemed to have the edge in their exterior ornamentation.
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 and a full model lineup, the 1959 DeSoto failed to launch. So for 1960, a seriously pruned-down model lineup was evident. And it looked much more like a Chrysler than before, with less and less DeSoto-only trim bits and parts.
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. It was no longer the sporty muscle DeSoto, as it had been in 1956-59.
The Firesweep and Firedome were also gone. The ’60 Fireflite was now in the ’59 Firedome’s spot in the lineup. 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, you can perhaps see why DeSoto was crashing and burning. More people were just getting the Chrysler and added snob appeal.
About 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 horizontal chrome windsplits on the taillights and different wheel covers. By and large, DeSotos were about a hundred bucks less than equivalent Chryslers.
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, with the exception of the lordly Imperial, 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. Again, no convertible, which is kind of a shame. It would have looked good.
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–optionally.
Despite the pruned model lineup, DeSotos still looked every bit the solid mid-priced car it always had been. The Adventurer interiors were especially attractive.
Look at all that glass area. Chrysler really knew how to do the light, airy roofline during these years. Especially on the two-door hardtops, with their wispy, airy rooflines. It makes the chunky, clumsy rooflines of today’s silver silvermist combovers look like something a third-grader would come up with. A third grader in the remedial class.
Granted, safety standards were much less intense than today. Heck, they were pretty much nonexistent, which is why the ’60s domestic rolling stock look so good. This type of roof wouldn’t fly in 2019, with roof crush standards, side impact regs, and curtain airbags.
Seriously, how can you not love the instrument panel of this thing. Two-tone steering wheel, triple-level gauge cluster, and the ever-present Torqueflite buttons off to the left. Everything was styled, even mundane things like the door release and horn ring.
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!
I first spotted it on a cruise through Davenport several years back. I was riding shotgun in my father’s 1960 Porsche 356B, and took this quick shot as we headed north on Brady Street.
Later in mid-2013 I spotted it again at the River Valley Classics cruise night and got some proper photos. And ogled the car for quite a while, as this was the first time I’d seen it up close.
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: This is a beautiful automobile. 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 gone forever. 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.
So many shows, the lion’s share of cars are red Camaros, Corvettes and Mustangs. Even late-model ones. Oh look, a 2016 Mustang GT, I haven’t seen one of those in…a couple of days. However, a mint-green over white 1960 DeSoto with giant fins is pretty hard to ignore in any environment. This one got a LOT of attention at both car shows where I photographed it. I salute this beautiful DeSoto, and their most excellent owners.
Now, sing! “It’s DeLovely, it’s Dynamic, it’s DeSoto!”
NOTE: video courtesy of Youtube.
I remember the older radio advert : ‘it’s DElovely, it’s DElightful, it’s DESOTO ! ‘.
I missed getting a ’49 DeSoto business Coupe in the early 1970’s that still burns me as I’m pretty sure it got scrapped .
Only those who drove a Forward Look MoPar could possibly understand what great road cars they were in spite of the prodlems .
Great car, but DeSoto previewed the problems GM would have in the 1970s and later in that leadership and/or funding couldn’t figure out or allow the brands to have distinct missions and distinct styling/technical differentiation to attract different segments, so a Chrysler and DeSoto ended up being minor grill and badging differences costing less than $100. Great photos of a car that usually got scrapped early and hence doesn’t get seen very often today.
Think in both cases that the move to unit construction made it more difficult to do sheetmetal differentiation. That problem would hit Chrysler first. Notice also the unit 60s Lincoln body stayed around a long time with few changes. Then the changes became more frequent with the 70s return of the full frame.
I owned a ’61. If you consider the ’61-’62 Chrysler headlamp styling, the DeSoto was a logical extension. Not “Lincoln” Not “bizarre”.
Lincoln did the 45-degree headlights first, in ’58, and the ’61 DeSoto grille looked an awful lot like a ’60 Lincoln grille with a unibrow. Chrysler must have liked the ’58-’60 Lincoln headlamp styling enough to add them to the ’61 Chryslers and DeSotos, I like both years but prefer the ’60 nose. A friend has a ’60 New Yorker convertible. It was written up here.
A friend photographed a ’61 New Yorker convertible at Hershey as well.
Tom, isn’t it true that Walter Chrysler created DeSoto after his efforts to acquire Dodge had been unsuccessful? Of course, Dodge eventually came aboard, leaving Chrysler with two brands occupying the same niche. What I actually came here to say that the subject of your article is a very handsome car…an island of clean, well-considered design in a sea of late 1950s excess. Too bad the build quality wasn’t equally impressive.
Tony, yes, that’s what happened. Walter P. wanted Dodge for years, but they kept rebuffing his offers. So he created DeSoto as a substitute. Then suddenly Dodge accepted their offer. But DeSoto was too far along to cancel, so they quickly had two new marques in their product line.
Quote: “And all 1960 Chrysler products had the unusual-for-the-time unit body construction (well, except for Rambler),”
Not all 1960 Chrysler products. Imperial was still body on frame and would be through 1966.
The Lincoln and T-Bird were unibody since 1958.
Yes indeed. Not just Ramblers.
And in Europe, Ford and GM (Vauxhall and Opel) had been happily making unit bodies, in the case of Ford for ten years by 1960. The latter’s Consul/Zephyr Mkll were far stronger than the later Falcon, but 200 lbs heavier – a bit like the overbuilt ’58 T-bird – just to be on the safe side.
Wasn’t this on the other site? I swear I’ve seen these pix before…
It was. I’ve revised it and prettied up the pictures-have gotten better at photo editing the past few years!
I’d prefer them on here, one, for a new audience, and two, so I can share my stuff without linking to Cantankerous Coot. 🙂
OK, great to know. Even better, my memory is better than I thought!
the 1960 Chrysler has the Astrodome instrument panel which is considered one of the great panels of all time – I’d bet it cost Chrysler more than $100 over the DeSoto panel, which was apparently cribbed from Dodge
that said, the DeSoto, sans those wide whitewalls, was a good looker. I remember when C&D ran a feature and called the 1960 Adventurer a “grinmobile”.