The Enigmatic 1961 DeSoto: A One-Year Phenomenon with a Bold and Contentious Design

A brand that has gradually faded from memory, DeSoto was founded in 1928 by Chrysler as a mid-tier contender, vying with the likes of Pontiac, Studebaker, and Buick.

Its brief existence until 1961 explains why DeSoto isn't as emblematic as fellow Mopar brands Plymouth and Imperial, both of which have also disappeared. Nevertheless, DeSoto bestowed upon the world a collection of remarkably captivating vehicles.

Although not a resounding success, the Airflow was undeniably innovative, boasting a streamlined body and unibody design, both pioneering features in the 1930s. Equally notable, the 1942 DeSoto became the first mass-produced car to feature electrically-operated pop-up headlamps.

The Firedome, Fireflite, and Adventurer models also merit recognition, primarily due to their 1950s production and shared design elements with the stunning Dodges and Chryslers of that period. Additionally, the 1961 DeSoto, the brand's final creation and a one-year marvel, showcased a divisive design.

Although Chrysler did not announce DeSoto's discontinuation until late 1960, it was evident that Mopar was planning such a move when the brand lost its series designations altogether for 1961. Moreover, the lineup was reduced to a single vehicle, and Chrysler introduced the competitively-priced, entry-level Newport.

Like most Chryslers offered for the 1961 model year, the last DeSoto was also based on the 300G in terms of design. While it shared the stacked and angled headlamps, sleek profile, and imposing rear fins with the top-of-the-line Chrysler, the DeSoto debuted with a rather unconventional two-tier front grille.

The lower unit was designed to incorporate the headlamps, while the upper grille spanned the front hood section and featured prominent "DeSoto" lettering.

Even for the early 1960s, a time when automakers were exploring a plethora of unconventional design elements, the DeSoto's design was considered quite daring. Consequently, along with Chrysler's confirmation of DeSoto's discontinuation in November 1960, a mere 911 customers chose to purchase one.

Many cars were sold at steep discounts as Chrysler dealers eagerly sought to clear DeSoto inventory. The lineup featured only two- and four-door hardtop sedans.

Fast forward to 2023, and the 1961 DeSoto may not be everyone's cup of tea in terms of design, but it is an incredibly rare treasure. Not only have far fewer than 911 examples survived to this day, but many remaining specimens are in poor condition, requiring costly restorations that few are willing to finance.

Thankfully, enthusiasts like John Dales have stepped up; Dales restored a two-door Bahama Bronze version in the 2000s and has proudly showcased it at car shows ever since.

In immaculate condition and retaining most of its original components, including the transparent speedometer, this DeSoto also boasts a strikingly unique interior in light metallic blue, white, and black. It still runs on its factory-original 361-cubic-inch (5.9-liter) V8 engine, which generated 265 horsepower and 370 pound-feet (502 Nm) of torque when new.

Admittedly, it doesn't quite measure up to the Chrysler 300G's 413-cubic-inch (6.8-liter) Golden Lion V8, which produced a formidable 375 horsepower. However, the DeSoto is significantly more affordable than the 1961 "letter series." While the latter can command over $130,000 in Concours-ready condition, a top-notch DeSoto will fetch under $80,000. In my opinion, the DeSoto is an even more distinctive choice.

Take a look at this gem in the video below.

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