Saturday, March 2, 2013

Cookie and cars: 1961 DeSoto

A little automotive history on how you kill a car brand, in this case Chrysler's DeSoto.

By 1959 Chrysler Corporation was in disarray:

1) It's management was recovering from a scandal that would force its newly elected CEO from his job.
2) The company was reeling from a disastrous 1958 model year recession and product durability issues
3) It's carefully crafted product line of Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler and Imperial model line up that was designed to take buyers from the least expensive models to the most expensive prestige cars in a buy up fashion like GM did with Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac had, begun to unravel.

There were many, many other stupid things Chrysler was doing in these years, but in my opinion, they were the big four.

DeSoto sales took the brunt of the 1958 recession, dropping by half.  And 1959 sales figures weren't much better.  Someone made the decision to kill the DeSoto brand name and replace the vacuum created by offering the Chrysler Newport, a bargain level Chrysler.

But how does one kill off a 32-year old car brand with a loyal following?   For DeSoto, it was easier than most.  Since it really didn't have its own stand alone dealer network, Chrysler didn't have to buy dealers out. But because Detroit in those days didn't like to be seen killing anything off, they decided that the best way to do the deed was to let DeSoto twist in the wind, and then act surprised when no one wanted them.

Just like Ford did to Edsel, Chrysler did to DeSoto.  Reduce the offerings, make it unappealing, and when no one buys it, then kill it.   Stupid, and expensive.  But that's the way Detroit operated for so many years.

The DeSoto was stripped two most affordable models for 1960.  The Firesweep and the Firedome were the ones that made financial sense to consumers, so they were killed off.  This left the Fireflight and the top level Adventurer, the most expensive models.  Adding insult to injury, for 1960, which were good looking cars, the name "Fireflight" appeared nowhere on the car.  For the most part, it was just "DeSoto" except on car titles.  You also cut out the station wagon, it's practical body style, and kill off the sexy convertible while detuning the engine. Remember, in 1960 station wagons were selling like gangbusters, and the horsepower race is surging.

The result?  The worst sales year in nearly twenty years.  So now that you have hobbled the car, what final insult do you foist upon it?

For the final blow in 1961, Chrysler stripped the car of those two remaining models.  Henceforth no prosaic models.  All DeSoto's were now just DeSoto's.  And they were ugly.  Purposefully ugly.

This isn't pretend.  Its the real deal. 

Since the DeSoto was by this time a Chrysler in all but name, it got the ugly canted headlights that Chrysler debuted for 1961.  It also got the ill conceived top fins, now in their final year, that replaced the gracious tail lights of 1960.  But while Chrysler got a inverted trapezoid grille (which it would use in 1961 and 1962), DeSoto was was left with this mess.  Instead of a grille, it got two.  The bottom grille connected the headlights, giving the car a wide smile.  The second grille, using an unrelated texture and shape and cove bore the letters DESOTO, with the S elevated slightly, giving it an odd, off balance look.

Then Chrysler delayed the roll out while it introduced its new model, the bargain basement priced Newport.  1961 Newport was about as sexy as your grandmother's panties, but it was a Chrysler at a bargain basement price.  And they sold like hotcakes.

When the DeSoto finally hit the streets the result was like automotive poison.  No one wanted one because no one likes to drive and own an orphan.  And even under the best of circumstances, no one wants an ugly orphan.

47 Days after it was introduced and with under 2,500 made, Chrysler killed the DeSoto in November 1961.


  1. yet what's-her-name in the coral suit still manages
    to have an orgasm when she touches the door handle.

  2. Looks like a mercy killing.

  3. Cookie, if you haven't seen it, you'll love this website:
    American Car Brochures

  4. I almost bought a '57 Fireflight (coral & cream) but chose a '64 Newport convertible (Royal Turquoise) instead...

    1. Would love that car. Wanna swap for a 62 Oldsmobile?