Written by independent automotive journalist Steve Statham
If there’s one thing Detroit automakers had well-sorted by the 1950s, it was cradle-to-grave marketing. The “car for every purse and purpose” philosophy – as GM’s Alfred Sloan so notably put it – was alive and well. The big manufacturers offered a portfolio of brands, offering cars for everyone from the young factory worker buying his first car to his boss in the corner office, and everyone in between.
Chrysler Corporation had five such divisions in the U.S. market in the 1950s, with the DeSoto brand filling in the slot between sporty Dodge and posh Chrysler in the corporate hierarchy. As such, DeSotos had a lot of flash. DeSoto management pushed bold styling, brilliant colors and evocative names, producing some of the most memorable cars in a decade known for flamboyance. For collectors seeking to capture the pure distilled essence of 1950s Detroit, it would be hard to beat a DeSoto.
Let alone a trio of them.
At Barrett-Jackson’s Palm Beach 2018 auction, three outstanding examples from the John Staluppi Cars of Dreams Collection will be offered at No Reserve. Each of them delivers the rarity, style and character that could only have come from a mid-century American automaker swimming in the confidence of the era.
Did we mention brilliant colors earlier? The 1956 DeSoto Fireflite convertible (Lot #717.1) offered for sale is a road-going bottle-rocket of color. Garbed in a Shell Pink and Charcoal exterior – the same colors it was painted when new – it’s the kind of carefree color combo that has long defined 1950s iron. The dramatic Charcoal sweep runs from just aft of the headlamps to the end of the tailfins, giving the car a forward-leaning presence.
This car’s good looks aren’t just about surface colors, however; it has been given a professional frame-off restoration, with everything new or rebuilt down to the last nut and bolt. This Fireflite incorporates the kind of detailing that so many modern cars lack, such as the Benrus DeSotomatic steering wheel-mounted clock that winds itself when the steering wheel is turned. As for the mauve interior, no automaker had taken such a bold approach in decades.
There is drama under the hood, too, in the form of the DeSoto Fireflite Eight engine – popularly known as the 330ci HEMI V8 – rated by the factory at 255 horsepower. It’s teamed with an automatic transmission.
Although Shell Pink makes an unforgettable impact, soon enough the DeSoto brand became more associated with golden hues. Mid-year through the 1956 run, DeSoto released a limited run of Adventurer models, and these were marked by considerable amounts of gold paint and gold anodized trim.
To see why the Adventurer series earned its spot as the last great DeSoto, check out the 1957 Adventurer convertible (Lot #720) offered at Palm Beach. Painted black with a gold sweep, black top, gold boot and correct-type complementary Adventurer interior, it would be impossible for this cruiser to pass unnoticed.
It is loaded with the best DeSoto equipment of the day, including AM radio with dual antennas, power windows, dash clock, power front seat, gray padded dash and four-wheel power drum brakes. The standard Adventurer engine was the dual-quad 345/345hp HEMI V8, and this one is hooked to a 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic. The engine, transmission, brakes and front end were all rebuilt during the restoration.
The DeSoto brand might have been nearing the end of the line as the 1960s approached, but you’d never know it by examining the 1959 DeSoto Adventurer convertible (Lot #718.1) crossing the block in Palm Beach. DeSoto was definitely not cutting corners with the Adventurer, even though the division ended up building only 97 convertibles and 590 hardtop coupes that year. Engine size and power were up again by then, as the previous HEMI was replaced by a 383ci V8. With dual Carter AFB four-barrel carburetors feeding it, the big-block produced 350 horsepower. The 383 in this car is teamed with a TorqueFlite automatic with push-button shift controls.
This ’59 convertible has all the comforts DeSoto had at its disposal, including a power-operated and swiveling driver’s bucket seat, power convertible top, power windows, power steering, power brakes, AM radio, clock, padded dash and the utterly unique Adventurer upholstery. The gold theme carries over through the quarter sweep, grille, nameplates, interior trim and panels, even engine components. You could search long and hard and not encounter another set of the rare Adventurer wheels covers with the bullet-shaped centers, like this car wears.
The end of the line for DeSoto arrived in 1961, but as this trio shows, Chrysler’s flashy division left with its chest out and chin up.
For up-to-date information on these and other vehicles in the John Staluppi Cars of Dreams Collection, click HERE.