Monday, January 27, 2014

DeSoto: Was the 1955 the Best Ever?

Chrysler's DeSoto brand (1929-1961) was the corporation's weakest in terms of sales for its entire existence, as best I can tell.  (In the early decades of the 20th century, some American makes were given names of North American explorers and other historical figures: Cadillac, Marquette, Lafayette, Lincoln, DeSoto and so forth.)  Its Wikipedia entry is here.

The probable reason for continuing the DeSoto was for Chrysler Corporation to have a range of brands covering the price spectrum in imitation of General Motors.  From the mid-1930s to the mid-1980s, GM's lineup from entry level to luxury was Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac.  Chrysler Corporation from the early 30s to 1961 countered with Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler and, starting 1955, the Imperial brand.  DeSoto, therefore, was in the middle to upper-middle price group, Chrysler being an upper-middle to lower-upper range car, with the Imperial as a stab at the luxury market.

Even though DeSoto was squeezed by the more popular Dodge and Chrysler brands, from time to time it was given nice styling.  One of those instances was the 1955 line, the first year of the corporation's styling revival under the direction of Virgil Exner and dubbed the "Forward Look" by marketing staff.


An American styling fad in the 1950s was having cars painted in two or even three colors.  Shown above are 1955 DeSotos with two-tone paint jobs, the most common option that model year (there were no three-tone schemes for DeSoto).  Both cars pictured here are two-door "hardtop convertible" models, a very popular, sporty body style in those days.

Some DeSotos, in particular those from early 1955 production, came either with one color or without the large color splash on the sides.  The car in the upper photo is a four-door sedan with the secondary color on the roof only.  The lower image is of another "hardtop," one with only one color.  I like this one best of all.

The basic body is gracefully styled, which somewhat disguises how large these cars actually were.  Note the ridge along the side of the front fender and how it aligns with the center of the headlamp and, at its other end, transitions into a raised curve suggestive of a rear fender -- an elegant solution for visually reducing bulk.

For some reason, I almost always enjoy encountering a design where "soft" surfaces flow over "hard" objects -- in the DeSoto's case, it's the upper edge of the grille opening flowing around the bumper guards.

So far as I'm concerned, the only serious styling flaw is the tacky air intake at the front of the hood, a chromed slash atop a "V" symbol.  Without these and the hood mascot/ornament, the design would be just about perfect for a 1955 American hardtop.

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