By on July 30, 2014

02 - 1959 DeSoto Sedan Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI haven’t been to the Brain-Melting Colorado Junkyard (where I bought my 1941 Plymouth sedan) for a while, but I’ve still got quite a few photographs of the thousands of old American cars that live there. We’ve seen this ’62 Cadillac, this ’52 Kaiser, this ’49 Kaiser, this ’51 Nash, this ’51 Frazer, this mystery custom, this ’48 Pontiac hearse, and a few more, and today we’ll admire an example of DeSoto‘s final years.
03 - 1959 DeSoto Sedan Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Swedes who come to the Brain-Melting Junkyard every year and fill shipping containers with old American cars and parts may have grabbed this car by now, since they love big finned American sedans in Scandinavia.
06 - 1959 DeSoto Sedan Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt’s pretty rusty, but most of the trim and glass look good.
05 - 1959 DeSoto Sedan Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMost of the cars were saved from The Crusher by the yard’s owner, who spent decades hanging around the gates of Denver’s scrappers, offering a few bucks more than the going rate for anything interesting. Better that this one get shipped to Europe than head back to the steel jaws.

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29 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1959 DeSoto...”

  • avatar

    Beyond those grainy driver’s ed videos where a bad seed would drive one of these and a carload of his friends into a telephone pole while drunk, I have no history with these. Sorry.

  • avatar

    1957 was a gamble. Desoto and its other Chrysler brands found phenomenal market success in their big finned reiterations. What Chrysler forgot however, was quality. So by 1958, every 1957 gamble cost it triple what it gained the year before. Not only did Chrysler have to deal with customer backlash and a complete downgrading in the market’s evaluation of their products – worse, every car manufacturer had to watch sales plummet 40% from the year before. While Chrysler was trying to make cars that didn’t fall apart while still new in 1958 and repair their bad press, there was a severe recession. On top of that there was a sea change in the auto market.

    Instead of finding another successful year in 1958, Chrysler found out that customers would rather have a simple compact Rambler, or a stripped Studebaker Scotsman, or a VW Beetle, than a big finned rolling sculpture with serious quality issues. Desoto and Dodge were serious losers in 1958.

    But that 1957 gamble was still not played out. Chrysler was still stuck with it’s “Suddenly its 1960!” cars in 1959. But after what it had been through, 1959 Chrysler products didn’t arrive with the same level of excitement they had in the previous two years. Chrysler hedged their styling bets in 1959 and put out a line of cars that looked compromised. GM’s finned phenomena 1959s were the new styling stars. Ford remained weirdly Ford and ended up beating Chevy’s Batmobile that year. Rambler and the new Studebaker Lark continued to win over buyers who had turned away from the Big Three, and the Beetle won over thousands.

    Chrysler lost that 1957 gamble and that was clear by 1959. It needed to seriously retrench. The new Valiant was ready to be launched as an independent brand. Dodge demanded to be saved. Chrysler’s Windsor moved that brand down-market into the Desoto market. Plymouth grew at Dodge’s expense. Chrysler was a sinking ship and each brand was fighting for survival. By 1959, it looked like Desoto was going to be axed if it didn’t find a market.

    This 1959 shows a brand that was throwing Hail Mary passes in order to survive.

    It is a Desoto, but it could have been a Plymouth Fury, a Chrysler Windsor or a Dodge Coronet with just a little trim change. It no longer offered what made Desoto a standout just two seasons earlier. It was a brand on life support – and looked like one. Chrysler had decided to do to Desoto, what Ford had decided to do to Edsel and what GM was strongly considering for Buick. This 1959 shows Chrysler going through the Desoto motions and phoning it in.

    • 0 avatar

      Excellent backstory.

    • 0 avatar

      My father had a ’57 Plymouth, and yes, there were major quality issues. He bought it when it was 4 years old for about $3000 (inflation-adjusted). It had bad body rot, and soon needed a new engine. Eventually, he had to put a new floor in.

      Weekend before last I saw an immaculate black ’57 Plymouth, for sale, somewhere between Sebago Lake and Kennebunkport. I would imagine Steven King, who has a place about 50-60 miles north of there, has probably picked it up by now.

    • 0 avatar

      One of my uncles had a DeSoto, and the rust was legendary. Those fins forced Chrysler to use a thinner gauge of steel, and the shape of the body left lots of places for water to reach unprotected metal. The ’56 Chrysler models were pretty durable – the taxi company in my town bought a fleet of ’56 Plymouth Savoys, and they held up very well for a good eight years.

      There was one other major quality issue with the ’57s, the torsion bar front suspension. The early torsion bars snapped and had to be replaced frequently, but Chrysler stuck with the design, beefed up the metal bars, and kept using the suspension setup for years afterward. My ’63 Dart and ’63 Chrysler both handled very well (for the time) with torsion bars up front.

      I remember reading of some complaints about the quality of the paint, and the brakes were totally inadequate, given the weight of the full size models and the engines they had, but it was primarily rust and the early torsion bar problems that killed Chrysler’s reputation for quality. Chrysler had a pretty decent reputation for quality up to the ’57s.

      • 0 avatar

        “The early torsion bars snapped and had to be replaced frequently, but Chrysler stuck with the design, beefed up the metal bars, and kept using the suspension setup for years afterward.”

        They sure did. Chrysler’s use of torsion bars in passenger cars was legendary, finally ending with the ’89 M-bodies that had a very unique transverse front torsion bar setup. Interesting design.

  • avatar

    The font Desoto used looks pretty modern for the time it was built. Desoto will always stick out in my mind as Mr. Cunningham’s car on Happy Days, it was supposed to be a symbol of his boring middle class-ness.

    Mr. Martin, we need updates on the Plymouth.

  • avatar

    I spent the summer of 57 working in the new car get ready dept of a Chrysler/Plymouth dealership and I well remember how troublesome and poorly put together these cars were. Body panel gaps you could put your finger in, brake problems, oil leaks, body panel joints you could actually see the filing marks in along with body side chrome trim that didn’t line up and was sometimes half an inch off from one piece to another. It didn’t matter if it was a stripped Plymouth Plaza or a Imperial Crown they were all equally bad. If any manufacture today tried to push cars like that on the public they’d be gone faster than the Edsels were.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for sharing. It’s fun to hear stories from people who were there when cars like this were new.

      I’ve always like Chrysler’s finned ’57s, but they must have been a real disappointment – if not an outright shock – to the people who bought them, as Chrysler had a good reputation for reliability and build quality prior to that year. Sales plunged for 1958, so word must have gotten around pretty fast even without people complaining on the internet about their troublesome new Mopars!

      • 0 avatar

        Sales plunged due to the worse auto recession to hit Detroit until 2009. New car sales fell 40% in 1958. The only car manufacturers to survive 1958 was AMC, Studebaker, Oldsmobile and VW.


        On critical list:
        Renault (US Sales)

        Dodge survived by putting out a Plymouth-like product, the first generation Dart, which was extremely successful and forced Plymouth to demand Valiant to survive, which Dodge then demanded a version of Valiant, called Lancer. Dodge also survived because the head of Chrysler’s departments were former Dodge men. Chrysler took the Desoto market with their Windsor and Newport models after Desoto got axed.

        Mercury survived by taking the Edsel market. Continental was folded into Lincoln, but Lincoln was given only one more generation by McNamara to prove itself, which it did famously in 1961.

        GM gave Buick one last redesign to prove itself, which it did in 1961. The rest of the GM line was not threatened with extinction.

        Studebaker killed off Packard, then barely made it through 1958 themselves. They lobbed off the front and rear of their cars and turned them into compact cars, renamed them as Larks, and survived for several more years until 1966.

        AMC boomed when Romney killed off Nash and Hudson, put everything into a new Rambler, then resurrected the old Rambler, gave it new trim and renamed it as an American. AMC ushered into the US market, a viable compact car maker who knew how to do small cars profitably.

        So, you can’t blame 1958 sales on the cars. It was a disastrous year for almost everyone, forcing a complete rethinking in Detroit regarding everything they were doing at that time.

    • 0 avatar

      Your description of the Chrysler line sounds like what my uncle Manny said about his brand new ’59 Impala! I suspect that could be said about ALL first year new body models from ALL the American makes. Car assembly standards in the ’50s may be the source of the old adage, “don’t buy a car model in its first year”.

      • 0 avatar

        Sounds like the adage about video game consoles starting from around the early 2000s forward: never buy a console at launch.

        Why? Because the best games almost always come out a year or two after launch, so you’re stuck with a 500 dollar fancy electronics box that has about 5 games available for it and at least one of them is just Madden.

        • 0 avatar

          You summed up my console feelings very very accurately. Save a couple hundred bucks and get a next gen when you have something to PLAY on it. There tend to be QC issues (either immediately or a year down the road) with initial builds as well.

      • 0 avatar

        The late 1950s were hardly a golden age when it came to the quality of American cars, but the 1957-59 Mopars were bad even for the time, with the 1957 models the worst of the lot.

        • 0 avatar

          Yeah, the industrial processes were still WWII vintage and wearing out, but hey – they gave us flashy design, acres of chrome, and tri-tone paint jobs in a kaleidoscope of colors, even in the interiors! So there’s that.

  • avatar

    Murilee – If you’ve got a 60s Conti in your mix post it. I’ve got something devilish cooked up for one of those.

  • avatar

    My grandfather insisted on owning Desoto’s, it was his brand for years. He was really surprised when he went to buy a new one in 1962 and found out Desoto had packed it in in ’61. He settled on a ’62 Plymouth Savoy, two door sedan instead. No “rainbow” colors for him as he would say, basic black, no options, six cylinder.

  • avatar

    There’s an almost identical Dodge version of this car, isn’t there? I think I know of one that may be going up for sale soon, though it’s not in great shape.

  • avatar

    I love 57-59 DeSotos.

    The 60? Ehhhhh…not a great year for Ma Mopar.

  • avatar

    So, speaking of the ’41 Plymouth, what’s going on with it? Last we heard you’d picked up a ZF six-speed from a ZR-1, then radio silence. I hope it’s coming along. Although I suppose between your van, your Toyotafied Sprite, and consuming all the cheap hooch you acquire through LeMons bribes, you might not have had a lot of time for it.

  • avatar

    Someone mentioned the rust issues with these cars and Ford in 57 had it’s share of equally bad quality control. The rust issues were so bad with the 57 Fords a friends father who owned a Ford Store near Buffalo refused to put one on his used car lot. They also suffered from defective drive shafts early in the model run.

  • avatar

    So do you have more pics of that 57 Newport sedan beside the DeSoto…?

  • avatar

    The SHOE comic strip (originally from Chicago newspapers) by the late Jeff MacNelly featured a 1959 or 1960 DeSoto quite often in the funnies. Look ’em up-they’re great cartoons. Still running today but not as many car-centered comics as in the past!

    • 0 avatar

      Sure it’s not Ernie Floyd you’re thinking of? or scroll down to post #130749

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My parents had a 57 Chrysler Windsor that we drove from Dayton, OH to Houston, TX in August of 1958 when we moved to TX. We broke down some where in TX with alternator problems (yes Chrysler was one of the first to use alternators). I remember the deep blue metallic paint was fading even after less than a year. My parents traded it for a new 1959 Plymouth Sport Suburban 9 passenger wagon with air which my middle brother wrecked 3 years later. My mother love the push button drive and the big fins but these cars were crap. My father said he wished that he would have bought a 57 Chevy instead. The 57 Chevy was a sales flop in 1957 outsold by Ford but look at which car has become the classic. The 57 Chrysler was a sharp looking car with its dark blue and white two-tone color but is was a bad car. I remember seeing it later and someone had painted it all white which was a good choice since the blue paint was fading and wearing off.

    • 0 avatar

      You are correct, Ford sold more 1957 Fords during the 1957 model year than Chevrolet sold of its 1957 Chevrolets.

      But Chevrolet actually sold 136 more cars during the 1957 model “calendar year” than Ford. Ford nipped Chevrolet in calendar 1959 sales, though Chevrolet won the model year production race by a bit less than 12,000 units.

      As for the alternator, it was introduced on the 1960 Valiant and later added to other Chrysler products well in advance of Ford and GM.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    It is hard to imagine the styling sensation that the 1957 Chrysler products were when they were first introduced . I recall at the time ,and I was possibly only three years old , practically drooling over the pink 1957 Plymouth that belonged to the parents of our unpleasant babysitter, Emma Jo . They lived nearby so I frequently gazed lustfully at this probably low level pink sedan . Knew nothing of the quality problems back then but I was only 3 years old . I thought that Mom’s 1956 Pontiac two-door wagon looked so dated and frumpy in comparison .

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