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The 1955-1961 DeSoto cars: End of the line

by Richard Bowman. Courtesy of the Walter P. Chrysler Club. See their magazine for more photos and new articles! Originally printed in the WPC News.

After years of rumored closure, in November 1960, Chrysler Corporation announced that it would cease production of the DeSoto.

DeSoto reached its peak years in 1955, selling 115,485 cars divided into two series, Firedome and Fireflite. These two lines included seven models.

1956 was also very good, tho not quite as good as 1956, 109,422 vehicles. The Adventurer series was added, giving DeSoto a new dimension. In 1957, the models and series both increased. The series lineup was now Firesweep, Firedome, Fireflite, and Adventurer. Production increased to 117,514.

1958 was not a kind year to DeSoto. Sales fell to 49,445 and rumors began to circulate about DeSoto coming to an end.

1959 found DeSoto still battling the rumor mills. Production amounted to 45,724 vehicles. Even with so few sales the DeSoto line offered a wide range of models from wagons to convertibles. But DeSoto found itself in the same boat as many other medium-priced cars, sales were being squeezed by newer low- priced cars.

1960 saw an all new DeSoto featuring Unibody construction, which was now shared by all Chrysler Corporation vehicles except Imperial. 1960 saw DeSoto come out with a revised model lineup. It now consisted of the Firedome, Fireflite, and Adventurer. The only body styles now offered were sedans and hardtops. Sales slid to only 26,081 cars. The rumors picked up speed.

The 1961 models were facelifted 1960s and shared many styling cues with the Chrysler (Newport and Windsor) with which they shared body shells and many other parts. The overall styling featured a streamlined look of motion leading to attractive fins. The front end design featured canted headlights (like the 1961 Chrysler) framing a horizontal grille topped by a distinctive air scoop. The sides are clean with one moulding running nearly the entire length of the car. Sculptured fms begin at the vent window and sweep back to balance the curving rear deck. The rear deck features five ribs carrying over a theme begun on the 1957 Adventurer.


A new straight windshield slanted up to the roof, eliminating distortion caused by the curved upper edge design on previous models. A new roof design on the four-door models featured twin speed lines from front to rear.

The DeSoto line became two models, a two door hardtop and a four door hardtop. No series designations were made. All models were simply known as RS l-L for internal purposes.

Only one engine was now offered, the 361 cubic inch V8 with a 9.0 to 1 compression ratio. This engine would run on regular gas (in 1960, the 10 to 1 compression ratio 361 had required premium fuel). The 1961 version produced 265 horsepower at 4400 RPM. This engine was a five main bearing unit with hydraulic valve lifters. Performance was relatively unaffected by the compression-ratio change because of the newly enlarged intake valves which increased overall efficiency.


Carburetion was supplied by a two barrel Stromberg model WWC carburetor model number 3-188. This carburetor featured two refinements over those used previously. A rubber-tipped needle valve was used in the float bowl making the unit less sensitive to flooding by enveloping small dirt particles and still maintaining a good seal against the needle seat. The other change was a two-stage set-up jet. This provided better fuel flow at cruising speeds.

1961 was also the first year for the closed crankcase ventilation system used on all cars sold in California. This was required to help reduce smog producing hydrocarbons.

The closed crankcase system consisted of a special carburetor, a spring-loaded valve, and a flexible tube connecting the valve and carburetor. The carburetor had a special calibration and contained a fitting just below the throttle blades into which the crankcase vapors were drawn by suction. From here they were drawn into the intake manifold for burning, leaving fewer vapors to be discharged unburned into the atmosphere.

A brand new manual transmission was standard equipment on the DeSoto, though most buyers opted for the three-speed Torqueflite automatic.

Among the many improvements made to the DeSoto in 1961 was the replacement of the generator with an alternator to better supply the electrical demands made by the modern automobile. Also included was a new distributor. Changes were also made in the steering system. Manual units now had a fabric-reinforced rubber coupling between the steering gear and shaft, and new needle bearings. Models equipped with power steering featured a device which automatically tightened the belt according to torque load saving wear and tear on the pump.

DeSoto also made changes to the speedometer, shock absorbers, and parking brake. Creature comfort changes included better engine compartment sound deadening, new upholstery fabrics and carpeting. DeSoto also improved its rust-proofing techniques to extend the life of the vehicle.

Among items not changed were Torsion-Aire Ride which provided an unequalled ride on any road surface, and "total contact" brakes featuring CycleBonded linings to provide the maximum amount of surface contact.

The 1961 DeSoto went on sale October 14, 1960 amid many doubts in automotive circles. Motor Trend wrote in November 1960, "Many observers seriously doubted whether DeSoto would introduce any car, let alone a new car for 1961. Generally speaking, most persons thought that if the car did come out, it would be a luxury compact." With coverage like this, it is not hard to imagine what happened next. Customers stayed away. Sales for the first 30 days of the new model year were dismal and Chrysler executives decided that DeSoto should end production by November 30,1960.

Dealers were notified by telegram on November 18th:

"Chrysler Corporation is discontinuing production of the 1961 DeSoto. Your factory dealer council has been informed of the decision. Sound business judgement dictates concentrating selling effort in the low priced segment of the market where volume potential has been steadily improving. With two highly acceptable entries, Plymouth and Valiant, your profit and volume forecast is excellent. Public reception of these fine cars has been gratifying and confirms that another high volume year is ahead for all of us. Letter Follows."

- E. C. Quinn, General Manager, Sales Division Chrysler Motors Corporation
The last DeSoto rolled off the assembly line at Chrysler's Jefferson Avenue assembly plant eleven days later, on November 29th. Gone was a fme automobile that had served Chrysler and over 2,000,000 buyers proudly for 32 years.

1961 DeSoto features and options


Big 361-cubic-inch engine has high-torque, high-horsepower output for instant response to meet any driving need. Husky, deep-skirt block is rubber-mounted for quiet, vibration-free operation. Parts electronically balanced for added efficiency, 9 to 1 compression ratio. The Turbo-flash V-8 thrives on regular gasoline. Standard equipment at no extra cost.

Optional Equipment

A wide array of optional equipment was offered on the 1961 DeSoto. Air conditioning w/heater ($501), air conditioning with Basic Group ($403), permanent anti-freeze ($5), crankcase ventilation system ($5), heater ($98), backup lights ($12), lefthand remote control outside rear view mirror ($18), threeway Prismatic rear view mirror ($5), two-tone paint ($21), power brakes ($43), six-way power seat ($101), power steering ($106), power windows ($106), pushbutton radio (AM)($89), RCA automatic record player, radio required ($52), four door roof moulding package ($14), two door roof moulding package ($38), padded instrument panel ($21), Solex glass ($43), easy grip steering wheel ($10), Sure-Grip differential ($50), five 8.50 x 14 Rayon whitewall tires ($50), five 8.00 x 14 Rayon whitewall tires ($42), Torqueflite transmission ($227), undercoating with fiberglass pad ($14), full wheel covers ($19), windshield washers and variable speed wipers ($19). Basic Group, includes heater, radio, power steering, power brakes, windshield washers, variable speed windshield wipers, electric clock, and wheel covers ($390). Deluxe group, includes lefthand remote control outside rear view mirror, rear foam seat cushion, rear bumper guards, padded instrument panel, sill and wheelhouse and stone deflectors ($93). Light package, includes glove box, trunk, map, backup, parking brake lights ($23).

DeSoto factory advertising

Every appointment, as you can see at left, reflects the elegance and quality that make the. 1961 DeSoto a real standout and a superlative value in its price class.

Open the door of the 1961 DeSoto and you'll note the distinctive sculptured beauty of the hardtop styling is carried into the interior. Blue, silver, or red is the basic interior color to harmonize with whichever combination of thirteen body colors you select. A sculptured motif is evident in the heavily padded metallic vinyl door panels. Metallic vinyl seat bolsters accent the colorful jacquard nylon-viscose seat fabrics. The custom-positioned driver's seat has a comfortable tower back with heavy, ribbed, nylon vulcanized center body cloth. Underfoot, the new wall-to-wall carpeting is tightly woven for long wear.

1961 De Soto quality accessories to increase your driving pleasure.

The same high standards of excellence that go into the 1961 De Soto are embodied in these fine accessories. They can be factory installed at nominal additional cost. An asterisk (*) indicates an accessory is also available in an accessory group.

  • AIR CONDITIONER-HEATER-DEFROSTER. Just push a button for relaxed comfort. Heats or cools, removes excess moisture, pollen, dust. Tinted window glass is recommended.
  • PUSH-BUTTON TRANSAUDIO RADIO. Transistorpowered for clear, bell-like reception. Set push-buttons to your favorite stations. Big 6 x 9-inch speaker.
  • PUSH-BUTTON HEATER-DEFROSTER. * A simple fingertouch gives custom-comfort in any weather. These easy-to-read buttons control heating, defrosting, air circulation, blower speed. A selector knob regulates temperature of heated air.
  • RCA AUTOMATIC RECORD PLAYER. Play your favorite standard 45 rpm records while you drive. Loads with one hand. Plays uninterruptedly through the radio for up to two hours.
  • DELUXE STEERING WHEEL. Handsome four-spoke design with horn ring. The De Soto name appears in the center.
  • POWER EQUIPMENT. Power Steering* reduces steering effort up to 80%. Touch of a toe activates Total-Contact Power Brakes*. Custom-Positioned 6-way Power Seat adjusts forward, back, up, down or tilts forward or back.
  • POWER WINDOWS operate from driver's position or from individual windows.

See our DeSoto section and DeSotoLand.

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