Sunday, August 14, 2011

1955 DeSoto Firedome 4-door Sedan



"It's hard to remember when a new car has caused so much comment. But it's easy to see why. Barely five feet high, here's the longest, lowest, widest, most glamorous De Soto ever built. In any one of 55 color combinations it has an eye-catching verve and beauty as modern as tomorrow. All the power you can use and every automatic feature you could want - Powerflite Transmission, Full-Time Power Steering, Feather-Touch Power Brakes, Four-Way-Power Front Seat and Air Conditioning.* See your De Soto dealer and take a turn at the wheel of 'the smartest of the smart cars' today."

A discerning motorist couldn't ignore a De Soto in 1955: from all of Virgil Exner's brand-new "Forward Look" designs, this was perhaps the most flashing offer. A glamorous ornate front grille, Chrysler's mighty Hemi V-8 engine under the hood, and even a three-tone color scheme on some models indeed formed a striking package and a clear departure from the rather conservative look of the past.

De Soto fared pretty well against the fierce competition in a record-breaking 1955 and sold nearly 115.000 cars in the model year. Next year, something remarkable happened: while all other carmakers faced the reality in form of a significant production downturn, De Soto could fortify it's success by moving almost as much cars as in 1955, climbing to the 11th place in the annual production ranking and, even more unusual, suddenly selling more cars than Chrysler.

De Soto was on a roll, and perhaps nobody could imagine that five years later the brand would cease to exist. De Soto's problem, in fact, weren't its competitors, but the own mother company: originally being an up-market brand, Chrysler had fostered its low-end offers since 1946, and by 1955 the Windsor line alone already accounted for two-thirds of Chrysler's production volume.

In conjunction with more success, De Soto's pricing went upwards, straight into Chrysler-territory. Suggestions to allow more room for De Soto by eliminating the Chrysler Windsor, of course, were overheard by Chrysler's top management. Chrysler couldn't move upmarket anymore, as it just had separated the Imperial line as an own brand to compete with Cadillac and Lincoln. So, nothing changed until serious quality problems of the next generation of De Soto cars let the customer base shrink by 70% in the horrendous year of 1958. At this point, Chrysler began to panic, an integrated De Soto's production into Chrysler's own assembly lines. In the next years, De Soto models were out-phased one by one, and on top of that, a serious shakeup at Chrysler's top management after the retirement of chairman "Tex" Colbert resulted in De Soto being the first victim of the new company strategy. On November 30, 1960, De Soto dealers were informed by telegram that the production was stopped and their beloved brand didn't exist anymore...

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