By on April 13, 2013

While researching the topic of the “blackout” cars of 1942, that had painted rather than plated trim due to wartime restrictions on strategic metals, I came across this promotional postcard for the 1942 DeSoto, the second American production car to feature hidden headlights, advertised as “airfoil lights” . “Boy,” I thought, “Now that’s a sleek, streamlined car, I’m surprised I don’t remember it,” well until I saw a photograph of an actual ’42 DeSoto.

Not quite the same, is it? While the hidden headlights, the grille treatment and lack of running boards are modern for their day, the real “rocket body” is rather stodgy, certainly not nearly as sleek as the car on the postcard.

We live in an era where every contour in a production car that deviates from its concept show car is noted and discussed. I can’t help but wonder how many potential DeSoto customers were disappointed to see that there was some bait and switch going on with the new 1942 De Soto, as advertised. So far, I’ve only found a couple of instances where DeSoto used an actual photograph or a properly scaled drawing in advertising for the ’42. Almost all of the period advertising uses some variation of the drawing above. All of the drawings make the car look lower, wider, and sleeker than it actually was. The one photo illustrated ad uses an elevated front 3/4 beauty shot, a perspective that makes the roofline look much lower. The one ad that uses a properly scaled drawing emphasizes the stolid reliability and safety of DeSotos with “7 out of 10… still running”. I can understand why they didn’t use the racier streamlined drawings for that particular advertisement.

For the rest of the car’s marketing, it’s pretty obvious why DeSoto’s marketers went with the drawings. It’s a much better looking car. I think I know where they got the idea for those drawings too. That lower, sleeker look is reminiscent of how car designers do a preliminary sketch of a car, exaggerating for effect. Perhaps consumers 70 years ago were more tolerant of such exaggerations in advertising.

DeSoto Cyclone concept by Alex Tremulis

The drawing in the ad could have originated with sketches at the Briggs body company’s design studio, where Alex Trumulis and Ralph Roberts worked on the Chrysler’s first concept cars, the Newport and Thunderbolt. Chrysler was a bit slower than the other two big Detroit car companies to style cars in-house, relying mostly on the designers at Briggs instead. Like the ’42 DeSoto, the Thunderbolt sports cars and at least one of the dual cowl Newport parade cars had hidden headlights.

If you look at Tremulis’ stillborn DeSoto Cyclone concept car, which was supposed to be Chrysler’s third concept car before World War Two intruded, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that Tremulis probably had a role in the design of the 1942 DeSoto. The design patent for the ’42 DeSoto’s front end was granted to Robert Cadwallader,  Chrysler’s head stylist, but it’s not unusual for styling executives to put their name on others’ work. Harley Earl’s name is all over GM design patents for designs rendered mostly by designers who worked for him.

There’s also a bit of similarity between the drawing style in the DeSoto ads and Tremulis’ Cyclone sketch. I doubt that Tremulis drew the actual images used in the ads, but again, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that the ads were influenced by design studio drawings of the car.

In some ways I’m reminded of another Chrysler concept car, by Pininfarina. You may have heard of the so-called Exner-Ghia concepts, idea and show cars that were primarily designed by Virgil Exner Sr’s staff at Chrysler in Detroit and then built in Italy by the coachbuilding craftsmen at Ghia. Before Chrysler picked Ghia they had a competition between that shop and the one of Pinin Farina. Ironically, Pininfarina more or less followed the supplied drawings while Ghia did their own thing, producing the Plymouth XX-500, which looked nothing like a late ’40s Plymouth. Ghis still got the deal because of their outstanding metal work, finishing details, and incredibly cheap by Detroit standards pricing.

The drawings used in the DeSoto ads remind me a little of the original drawing on which Pininfarina’s Plymouth concept was based (well, that and Van Dyke Parks’ work for Little Feat). That car’s been lost to history and it’s nearly as well known as the XX-500. The Peninfarina Plymouth was one of those obscure idea cars that Detroit forgets, but David Fetherston and Tony Thacker were able to track down a concept drawing and a photograph of the finished car for their book on Chrysler concepts.

As you can see, the finished Pininfarina Plymouth had a low, sleek roofline, not as low or as sleek as the ’42 Desoto drawing or as on Tremulis’ Cyclone, but hardly as upright as the production DeSoto (am I alone in seeing some Porsche Panameralike lines from the A pillar back?). As drawn, the 1942 DeSoto was a great looking car, as built, not so much. To be honest, I think it’d be a cool idea for someone like Troy Trepanier or Murray Pfaff to take a ’42 DeSoto and  turn it into a real version of the drawings used in advertising that car.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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80 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture? Antique Auto Advertising Edition...”


  • avatar
    gslippy

    Thanks for another interesting history lesson.

    I’m one of the few people who thinks the production Chevy Volt looks much better than concept vehicle. I never understood all the griping about the change.

    The concept Volt became the production Camaro in the looks department.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Indeed, I’m headroom-constricted in the Volt as it is, there’s no way I would’ve gotten the concept car..

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      Haha, you are apparently one of the only people who like the way the Volt looks, and I am apparently one of the few who thinks the Volt’s hybrid system makes the most sense (in principal, perhaps with some tweaking). If its good enough for trains…

  • avatar
    Summicron

    It seems that chopped rooflines have always been considered sexy. Loving tall glass would have made me an outlier 70 years ago, too.

    Heh..I’ll bet this chunky metal beastie was lighter than today’s Fusion.

    Ed: Yep, 3315 lbs for the Deluxe 4-Dr Sedan. Classic Car Database

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      You wouldn’t have been an outlier, but a Chrysler customer. The President of Chrysler into the ’50s insisted on being able to drive a Chrysler product with his hat on. That meant tall glass, until somebody thought of raising the beltline.

      • 0 avatar
        Summicron

        “The President of Chrysler into the ’50s insisted on being able to drive a Chrysler product with his hat on.”

        Great Grandpa!

        “until somebody thought of raising the beltline”
        Yes, that vile curse.

      • 0 avatar
        AFX

        “The President of Chrysler into the ’50s insisted on being able to drive a Chrysler product with his hat on.”

        Well that’s the difference between fedoras and baseball caps. You can still wear your hat in a Chrysler, but just not the hats they wore in the 1940′s. Abe Lincoln would’ve probably complained about the headroom in a 40′s Chrysler though.

        • 0 avatar
          Zackman

          I wear fedoras, but not while in my Impala – the head restraints are so close to the head, they interfere with the brim, so either I take it off when driving my car, or, angle the seatback a lot to make up for the lack of space, but then I lean too far.

          A serious dilemma, for sure! Still looking for the middle ground of comfort…

    • 0 avatar
      James2

      Powered by all of 115 (probably SAE gross) horsepower and without all the modern mandates and technology present in the Fusion. Stopped by drum brakes riding on skinny bias-ply tires. The only airbag inside is probably the talkative passenger. :)

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Heck, it didn’t even have turn signals, or back up lights. I think windshield wipers were optional. So was the heater. BUT it had a stick, which they curiously called a “standard” transmission.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    It’s really interesting to see how previous generations did things.

    Especially the photorealistic paintings these old cars ads used.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      If you like this sort of thing:

      http://oldcaradvertising.com/

      Maybe It’ll trigger the same addiction for you that I have…
      (Mine is an Evil laugh)

      Re: Photorealism… some of the early color photography is so low res, and the painting that preceded it so realistic, it’s hard to be completely sure which is which (mid-late 50′s).

  • avatar
    alexndr333

    In the mid-1970′s National Lampoon magazine took aim at these advertisements with its spread on the 1958 Bulgemobile, by Bruce McCall. A terrific send-up of the excessive styling, hyperbolic descriptions and completely absurd naming, including the station wagon: The Firewood Deluxe Supreme Flairthrust five-door, six-passenger Special Custom Country-Cousin Landscape Cruiser Super 5000 in Golden Buttermilk Sunset Sienna Ochre with Daredash side-spear of Cameroon Teak Inlay in genuine Processite. “It gives you extras you don’t want to pay for at prices of the future!” A station wagon called “Firewood”. Hilarious.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      I had more abdominal cramps from Lampoon in the 70′s than any other source of comedy.

      Timberland Tales with Maurice the Eskimo….

      B.K. Taylor, Cartoon God

    • 0 avatar
      jaykayd

      I just googled this. Hilarious. I especially love how the passengers look like they’re about the size of puppies in a bathtub.

    • 0 avatar
      Flybrian

      One of the taglines, IIRC, was “Drive a Buldgemobile and you’ll never want another car again!”

      And the Depression-era versions are even better. “Brother, can you spare a glance?”

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      @alexndr333

      I have a neighbor who is in his 80s. This man has never owned anything except GM products, even though he’s sitting on a huge pile of cash. To this day, he insists on using whatever advertising terms GM uses for its car’s features instead of using a generic term.

      I remember some years ago when his Cadillac was at the dealer for repairs. I asked him what was wrong with the car and he told me, “The SIR system warning light was on continuously.” I was like, “SIR system?” To which he replied, “Cadillac’s Supplemental Inflatable Restraint system.” I said, “Oh, you’re having a problem with the air bags.” He looked at me like I was an idiot, and said, “No, it’s not airbags, it’s Cadillac’s Supplemental Inflatable Restraint system.”

      There you go.

      • 0 avatar
        alexndr333

        My Dad was a GMI graduate, so we had mostly Chevys in our garage when I was a kid. I still recall some of those unique product names – the well-known Powerglide and Turbo Hydramatic – as well as the lesser-known Synchro-mesh, Delcotron, Soft-ray and Quadrajet. Other divisions had Dyna-flow, Wonder-bar, Sonomatic, Autronic, Guide-matic. Mostly, they were three-syllable words with major accent on the first and minor accent on the last. Four of the five GM divisions had such names – those folks knew what would stick in our memories.

      • 0 avatar
        AFX

        ““Oh, you’re having a problem with the air bags.” He looked at me like I was an idiot, and said, “No, it’s not airbags, it’s Cadillac’s Supplemental Inflatable Restraint system.””

        I’d ask him how the magnetorheological fluid in his shock absorbers is holding up, and wait for his reaction.

      • 0 avatar
        ranwhenparked

        I suppose if he owned a Buick, he’d complain about all the insect guts spattered on his Fashion-Aire Dynastar Grille.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I’d buy that Pininfarina Plymouth concept today. While 300 is certainly more attractive in its current gen than previous, apply a few of those cues and I’ll have no choice but to lease.

  • avatar
    dumblikeyouTu

    That Plymouth basically had the same shape as today’s Porsche Panamera.

  • avatar
    lilainjil

    re: Van Dyke Parks’ work for Little Feat

    Did you mean Neon Park? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neon_Park

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I wish they’d go back to only using stylized sketches in advertising while producing cars with big windows, high roof-lines, and small wheels.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Of course, if you studied design, you’d know (even back then) how incorrectly those pictures were drawn, especially that blue one. In order for that A-pillar to be as sloped as it is in the picture, it would have to be *very* sloped when looking at its actual profile from the side of the car, like an A-pillar on one of today’s cars. And if the artist were being consistent with that exaggerated viewpoint, the rear window would be far smaller than the front, and you’d see less of the C-pillar. Also, the rear fender bulge looks a bit flat.

    This may have been an attempt to play visual tricks on the public, but it looks more to me like poor technique. Good thing it worked out in their favor, then…

  • avatar
    Windy

    Interesting that all of the renderings show a really flush look of the headlight covers but the photo you provided shows the covers set in a bit rather than flush… Or is the photo showing the covers not fully closed?

    • 0 avatar

      The doors do fit flush normally. Like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bsabarnowl/3761380073/
      It might be some kind of problem with the mechanism as it ages, like how some cars with pop-up headlamps won’t keep closed.

  • avatar
    otter

    I’m rather fond of this old-fashioned style of illustration. Ref. Kyree Williams’ suggestion, the illustrators who drew these were well-trained and very skilled, and knew correct perspective; the proportions and perspective were cheated rather heavily on purpose – it gave rather nice flair, as we can see above. This persisted in automotive advertising illustrations, albeit with changes in style, up to around the late ’60s.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      “the illustrators who drew these were well-trained and very skilled”

      Absolutely… any distortion or exaggeration is there because the artist was told to do so.

      And when they weren’t told to distort, you got gems like this:

      http://www.plan59.com/cars/cars001.htm

      Is that not the morning light of your childhood?

      • 0 avatar
        otter

        Summicron,

        That one surprises me a bit! Looks like most of it is done in perhaps gouache, with watercolor in the sky and some other background, but the sheetmetal on the T-bird looks like it was airbrushed. It almost looks digitally-enhanced! I bet there was a lot of masking invlved to get that result.

        • 0 avatar
          Summicron

          @otter

          I know zip about any medium besides photography, but those glass-smooth tone gradations on the sheet metal sure were rendered by some technique different than whatever was used for the rest of the work.

          The metallic reflectivity of the hubcaps and bumper is also especially striking.

      • 0 avatar
        AFX

        “And when they weren’t told to distort, you got gems like this:

        http://www.plan59.com/cars/cars001.htm

        Is that not the morning light of your childhood?”

        Oddly enough when I look at that picture I see a husband leaving for work, the milkman walking up to house, and the upstairs bedroom light on.

        Was that supposed to be some kind of Rorschach test ?.

        • 0 avatar
          Compaq Deskpro

          That looks like Mitt Romney in the T-bird.

        • 0 avatar
          Summicron

          I said childhood, not hornyhood.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          You mean like the studly young milkman is there to deliver more then milk to the rich old man’s too young trophy-wife, which is the reason he bought the stupid Thunderbird in the first place trying to recapture some youthful virility because advertising for the Thunderbird pandered to that exact narcissistic older rich white guy demographic…is that what you see in that ink blot?

          • 0 avatar
            Summicron

            Actually I see a miserable, frustrated, low-income father of 5 secretly smirking as he gives a smile as hearty as it is false to the wooden-headed, over-promoted scion of corporate nepotism in the T-Bird.

            He’s smirking because this is his second time on the property… the first one was 45 minutes earlier when he snuck in the garage and tweaked the Bird’s brake lines.

            Two years later Perry Mason’s ’58 Bird will enter the picture as he takes the case of defending the trophy wife against charges of conspiracy to murder.

            The milk man will be played by Martin Landau in his television debut, the trophy wife by a buxom young Pamela Britton, later Mrs. Brown of My Favorite Martian.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          The milkman! I was wondering what that soldier was doing with the white cans.

          You AFX, sound like someone liable to stray from your conjugal vows.

          • 0 avatar
            AFX

            “The milkman! I was wondering what that soldier was doing with the white cans.”

            I thought it one of the gas station attendants from “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”.

        • 0 avatar
          otter

          Ha! I showed the illustration to my girlfriend and she had almost exactly the same response, so at least you’re not the only one!

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I completely understand what you’re saying, and yes, I agree that the artists only distorted the cars because they were told to…but I just can’t believe anyone fell for it, because it looks completely off…

      • 0 avatar
        Summicron

        @Kyree

        I don’t know sociological jargon but I’m sure there’s a phrase for these little islands of blatant irrationality that are unquestioned by one culture but flabbergasting to another that observes them.

        My best experience of that was going with my wife to see Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The theater was adjacent to one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in Madison and members of the Chinese community from the UW filled the place. Only milling around and chatting afterwards did we see three other locals, otherwise it was all Chinese cheering a Chinese movie.

        If you’ve seen that movie you know it didn’t take long for it to serve up the silly…. I now refer to it as Crouching Tiger Flying People.

        There were times when my wife and I simply could not suppress laughter at the tree-top antics. But no matter how ridiculous “Peter Pan East” became ours was the only laughter in the joint.

        Evidently Chinese culture fondly tolerates that particular kind of exaggeration and does not find it in the least risible.

  • avatar
    amca

    I absolutely love the ads of the ’60s in which Pontiacs spread out as wide and as low as pancakes. Utterly glamorous, but they probably wouldn’t have fit through the streets or accommodated actual passengers.

    Today, do an ad like that, and the plaintiffs’ bar would be after you so fast, screaming of the victimization of the consumer blah, blah, blah, send money, blah, blah.

    • 0 avatar

      The Fitzpatrick/Kaufman Pontiac ads from the 1960s are classics. The ads they did in the early 1960s, as you point out, were not exactly drawn to scale. Art Fitzpatrick did the cars and Van Kaufman did the backgrounds. I think back then people understood that advertising art wasn’t always photorealistic. Perhaps that’s why toy ads sometimes had the caveat that the artwork was “not drawn to scale”.

    • 0 avatar
      Neb

      I’m a fan of these ads, too. I like in addition to the giant car they sometimes referenced classical French painters (minus the Bonneville in the center, of course.)

    • 0 avatar
      AFX

      LOL !

      http://www.tocmp.com/brochures/Pontiac/1959/images/Page_07_JPG.jpg

      http://www.beautifullife.info/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/11/1959%20Pontiac%20Catalina.jpg

  • avatar
    billfrombuckhead

    There’s a video on Youtube with a 42 DeSoto business coupe and as with most coupes it looks much better.

  • avatar
    cargogh

    The Chrysler LeBaron GTS sedan sketches that I first saw, I thought were glorious. When it came out it was nice enough, but not the same. But there are so many other examples I can think of. I can’t find crap on the internet, or at least not a 2/3 of what I’m looking for. I will always appreciate my A-hole brother throwing away 22′ of cased car mags when I moved. I really miss those. Nearly every time I’m on here.

  • avatar
    AFX

    This style of exageration was all the rage with the new fad of “streamlining” everything back at that time. They wanted cars and trains of the 1940′s to look like the fighter airplanes of the 1940′s. Hence the “airfoil” lights. Twenty years or so earlier that wouldn’t have happened, because WW-1 airplanes looked like a cross between a boxkite and a barn door.

    Most of the ads from that time exagerate perspective to give the sense of speed to a vehicle, even if it is a DeSoto. The cars have wide angle lens type distortion to the front ends to make them look bigger, and to make the rear end of the car look smaller, like the car is in motion. Some of the car ads from this time period even have the whole car leaning forwards into the wind, which looks like a cartoon drawing. This was a real effect in early photography, and was often the result of vertical focal plane shutter curtain cameras photographing cars at speed while panning.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      “the result of vertical focal plane shutter curtain cameras photographing cars at speed while panning.”

      Ah… camera guy….

      Those lean-y car photos were made before the cameras I’m familiar with came out (1930′s onward), but I would guess they were probably 4×5 Graflexes since they pretty much dominated American news & sports photography then. Even traveling vertically that’s quite a swath of exposure area to cover and I don’t think they yet had speeds faster than 1/500th of a second, so I understand how that effect occurred.

      Why didn’t they just use the leaf shutter in the lens, or were they not yet fitted with one? Or maybe those photos are from a European camera like a Plaubel? Then again, professional leaf shutters of that era may not have been faster than 1/250th which would be pretty blurry even with panning.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        @Summicron “I don’t think they yet had speeds faster than 1/500th of a second, so I understand how that effect occurred.”

        Even the 1912 “Top Handle” Graflex was capable of shutter speeds of up to 1/1000th of a second. For a 1000th setting, use a tension setting of 6 and a curtain aperture of 1/8 inch.

  • avatar
    AFX

    What if it was real ?.

    http://www.switchimage.org/phlog/Images%20_va_091001/Phlog_Voisin_C28-Aerosport.jpg

    http://www.execdigital.com/cars_toys/peter-mullin-car.jpg

    http://ns6.agbnetwork.com/var/albums/Car/1931_voisin_c20_mylord_demi-berline_black/1931%20Voisin%20C20%20Mylord%20Demi-Berline%20black-09%3Dmx%3D.jpg?m=1292300953

  • avatar
    Joss

    Concealed headlights – evidently the cat-was-out-of-the-bag on nightime U-boat surveillance of the east coast. Probably drafted in by DeSoot ahead of Pearl Harbor. Would it have been cable operation with the driver pulling a lever?

    I kinda see a leap like Traction Avant to ID19.

    • 0 avatar
      AFX

      “Concealed headlights – evidently the cat-was-out-of-the-bag on nightime U-boat surveillance of the east coast. Probably drafted in by DeSoot ahead of Pearl Harbor.”

      “Concealed headlights” was a syling exercise after cars such as the Cord 812 and Buick Y-Job made the idea more popular with American buyers. They were designed to make the cars look more aerodynamic and futuristic than most of cars on the road at the time, and the design didn’t have anything to do with the war.

      Concealed headlights didn’t become as popular in Britain though, because the British cars had electrical systems made by Lucas, and they thought the idea of concealed headlights to be unnecessary and redundant.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    In the context of the era, I see nothing wrong with this picture and find it totally inline with the general maturing process of the advertising/marketing industry as a whole. Advertising by it’s nature is meant to glorify, idealize and even romanticize a product or service while glossing over or ignoring it’s flaws. I doubt if the general public then as now expected the “artist rendering” to accurately depict the product down to the last detail like how flush the headlight covers would actually be. The artist’s job then as now would be to leave the consumer with a perception or impression as to what the product would do for them in terms of prestige, convenience or status. The image of the product should fit or in some cases help create the self-image of the consumer.

    So except for outrageous extremes and out-of-context time wraps, I see nothing wrong with this picture or any other everyday advertising

    • 0 avatar
      AFX

      “The artist’s job then as now would be to leave the consumer with a perception or impression as to what the product would do for them in terms of prestige, convenience or status. The image of the product should fit or in some cases help create the self-image of the consumer.”

      http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/e/e0/AMC_Pacer_1975_French_advertisement.jpg

  • avatar

    I always enjoy old car ads. Obviously car makers will pick the best angles to show off their design, but this one is pretty far off. Another example that comes to mind is the 65 Rambler Marlin. Most drawn ads for this car I’ve see are rear high 3/4 shots and they streamline the roof line a bit closer to the concept than actual production.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    “the 65 Rambler Marlin”

    And it’s military role as NATO’s first and only fastback tank.

  • avatar
    AFX

    “…7 out of 10 are still running.”

    What do former members of Hitler’s SS, De Soto cars, and Fisker’s management have in common ?.

    “Guns, bombers, and new De Sotos”

    Name three things that will be sent to the scrap yards after the war is over.

    You gotta love the styling on the front end of the car though. It’s like the designer was sitting in a room with a picture of a Cord 812, a Wurlitzer juke box, and a Remington shaver.

    I like the tagline of “Tomorrow’s Style Today” too. Obviously the De Soto designers thought that the cars of the future will have hidden headlight’s, whereas Tucker threw an extra headlight on the front of the car just for the hell of it.

    Back then people actually looked forward to the future, and Oldsmobile even advertised “The New Futuramic Oldsmobiles !”. After seeing the styling for the Nissan Juke I think the designers must believe the future will be a dysfunctional schizophrenic jumbled up mess.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      “You gotta love the styling on the front end of the car though. It’s like the designer was sitting in a room with a picture of a Cord 812, a Wurlitzer juke box, and a Remington shaver.”

      And a fifth of whiskey. It’s amazing that they actually fabricated that grille in chrome.

      • 0 avatar
        AFX

        “And a fifth of whiskey. It’s amazing that they actually fabricated that grille in chrome.”

        I can imagine that kid in the picture thinking to himself “Holy crap, it’s a Baleen Whale comin’ up the road !”.

        Millions of plankton must’ve been in fear for their lives.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Great article.. It’s amazing what Chrysler was involved in during that time and up thru the 70′s. There is a Chrysler poster on allpar or imperialclub that shows everything Chrysler was building or building parts for, during the late 60′s. They had their hands in all things military, Saturn V rocket, Airtemp and passenger cars. There are more,
    but I can’t remember them.

  • avatar
    rwb

    Good artcle. I recall thinking as a kid, looking through old magazines, that the ca. 1959 “Wide-Track” Pontiacs and their print ads were the worst offenders of this proportional fibbing- a car as displayed on those pages would not fit on any road in the world.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      They may have exaggerated the wide track of the ’59 Pontiacs, but not the rear overhang. The California Department of Transportation actually used the ’59 full sized Pontiac for their driveway design standards, because it had the biggest rear overhang ever put on a car.

  • avatar
    Joss

    How did this headlight mechanism work was it cable, hydraulic or electrical?

  • avatar
    Nick

    ‘the second American production car to feature hidden headlights’

    And the first one to be powered…the Cord had a handcrank on each side to raise and lower the lights.

    This DeSoto actually looks great from head on, and the convertible is gorgeous. Do a Google search and you’ll see a yellow show winner that’s to die for.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The De Soto was the last step up before Chrysler, so it used the same chassis, while the Dodges and Plymouths were smaller. GM did the same thing with Buick, using the Cadillac chassis while Chevy, Olds and Pontiac got smaller models. The difference is that GM toned down the Buick to make it less flashy, while Chrysler used MORE brightwork on De Sotos than on Chrysler models.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Wiki says the 42′s pop-ups were a brief gizmo. The 42 was re released at the end of the war as a 46 without the headlamp covers. Walter (apparently,) would never have sought De Soto had the Dodge acquisition not taken so long. He needed a mid-level competitor badly in 29.

    • 0 avatar

      DeSoto was a new brand, started by W.P. Chrysler. I’m not so sure that I believe what it says in Wikipedia about WPC starting DeSoto because negotiations to buy Dodge dragged on. They would have had to have dragged on for a long time for Chrysler and his team to have had enough time to be able to simultaneously develop a new car and brand. I’ll have to check Charles Hyde’s book on the making of Chrysler.

      Also, Dodge was a large company, larger than the Chrysler Corp. at the time, and I don’t think Chrysler ever saw DeSoto having that kind of volume. Remember, the same year that he bought Dodge and started DeSoto he also started the Plymouth brand to compete with Ford and Chevrolet at the low end of the market, bracketing Dodge with Plymouth at the low end and DeSoto at the high end.

      You may be correct, WCP may have been hedging his bets with DeSoto, but I think he was trying to emulate Alfred Sloan “car for every purse and purpose” business model. Did Dodges really compete with Oldsmobiles and Buicks?

      Edit: Okay, I checked Hyde’s book on Dodge and Yanick’s book on Maxwell and the making of Chrysler Corp. WPC’s acquisition of Dodge was strategic. He needed their foundries and factories and dealers if he was going to grow the Plymouth and DeSoto brands. Hyde says that WPC wanted Chrysler to be bigger than GM and that he looked into buying Willys Overland first, but Dodge had better financials and manufacturing capabilities and by early 1928 Walter Chrysler had switched his focus to Dodge Brothers. Chrysler began planning the DeSoto brand in 1926, according to Hyde, with a DeSoto division operating before he bought Dodge Bros. Also according to Hyde, the bankers who controlled Dodge (I’m not sure if it was the same group of financiers who bought the company from the Dodge brothers’ widows, I seem to recall that the company changed hands at least once between the widows Dodge and Walter Chrysler) weren’t even thinking about selling the car company until Dodge Bros. stock started declining in 1927.

      There’s just no way the DeSoto would have been able to be ready by it’s summer 1928 introduction if it only had been a hedge against not being able to buy Dodge. As mentioned, Dodge’s manufacturing capacity and capability were fundamental to Chrysler’s larger business plans. He had to buy a bigger company if he wanted to grow his own.

  • avatar
    alexndr333

    Take a look at the Flickr pictures of the 1942 DeSoto Custom Convertible, and tell me those window cranks aren’t a work of art. Exquisite.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    Nice piece! Thanks. It seems the stylized images were the norm in the day.

    Find your favorite old car here: http://www.lov2xlr8.no/broch1.html

  • avatar
    42 Fifth Avenue

    A couple of comments by an owner of a 1942 DeSoto Fifth Avenue 4dr Sedan.
    The headlights are controlled by a set of rods operated by a handle under the dashboard that one turns and pushes in to rotate them open and turn on the lights. Although DeSoto Division made efforts to convince prospective buyers that there was no problem (lots of pre-release testing) I’ve spoken to old car guys who said the cars tended to ice up either open or closed!
    Advertising – look at almost all the contemporary ads for 1942 cars before December 1941 and this style is predominate. Interestingly in 1941 DeSoto provided dealers with a catalog for the 1941 DeSotos that used actual color photographs. During WWII DeSoto Division did run black and white ads that were mostly of Chrysler war material but there were a couple that used actual photos of a 42 sedan. There was interestingly enough one advertisement that ran in a January 1942 edition of Collier’s that was of a “Black Out” sedan. It appears to be by the same artist that did the ads and the postcards shown.
    Its my opinion that the äirfoil headlights “out of sight except at night” come from the Cord via the 41 Thunderbolt and Newport concept cars. Also of interest is that Chrysler De Soto Export division advertised for sale two different models. One was the same as the 1942 domestic DeSoto – either right or left hand drive and the other was a Plymouth body with the waterfall grille but no hidden headlights!


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