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I'm taking a short break from writing about jets to write about a car. It kind of looks like a jet, so I figure that's close enough.

It's a beautiful day here in Central Ohio so I pulled my 1957 DeSoto out of the garage and used it to run my errands.

I get a lot of questions whenever I park this car somewhere so I thought I'd share what driving a 1950s vintage car is like.

Yes, it's green.

First a bit of history. The 1950s was a time of general prosperity and great optimism in the United States. In the 1930s nobody had any money. During WWII people had money but there was nothing to buy because all resources were directed towards the war effort. In the 1950s people had money and there was stuff to buy - and buy they did.

People especially wanted to buy cars. New housing was being built in the suburbs and new freeways were being built to get there. Every year cars got bigger, flashier and more powerful. More fins! More chrome! More horsepower! This was also the start of the two-car family. Prior to the flight to the suburbs, mom could walk or take public transportation (trolleys or buses) to run her errands. Living out in the suburbs she needed a car of her own.

In the 1950s the "Big 3" American automakers pretty much ruled. GM, Ford and Chrysler were most of the market. Nash, Hudson and Rambler still existed but they would soon merge to become perennial also-ran American Motors. A few of the old names like Packard and Studebaker were still around but they were on their way out. Imports were a rare sight.

So what was a DeSoto? I get asked that a lot. DeSoto was a division of Chrysler Corporation and sat between Dodge and Chrysler in the pecking order. In those days the car companies hoped you would become a "Ford Man" or a "GM Man" early on and stick with that division through your entire life.

This is how Chrysler envisioned it. You'd start out driving an economical Plymouth. When you started making a bit more money you'd move up to a Dodge. Got a big promotion? Move up to a DeSoto. Really making it big? Time for a Chrysler. Made it to the top? Get an Imperial. Note that Imperial was its own division back then and not a "Chrysler Imperial" as some of us remember from the 70s.

So if you were a fairly well off middle manager in 1957 you might find yourself shopping for a new DeSoto. There were three levels of DeSoto: the Firesweep, Firedome and the top of the line Fireflite. Any of these could be had as a 4-door sedan, 4-door hardtop (no window pillars), 2-door coupe, convertible or station wagon. There was also a special high performance model called the Adventurer.

A 1957 Fireflite cost somewhere from $3,500 to $4,100 depending on the options. The station wagon was actually the most expensive version. That doesn't sound like much today, but the average annual salary that year was $5,500. You could get a decent 1957 Plymouth for around $2,000.

So how did I end up with one of these things? I've been a gearhead since I was young. I've usually had one old car around for something to tinker with. I've had quite a few cars from the 1960s but I'd always wanted something from the 1950s. And not a 57 Chevy, they're like bellybuttons, everybody's got one.

I especially had a fascination for the Chrysler products of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Virgil Exner's "Forward Look". These were designed to be longer, lower and sleeker than the competition. Styling features were borrowed from jet aircraft and rockets. "Suddenly it's 1960!" screamed one advertisement.

Those antenna always remind me of Sputnik.
I found this car on Ebay back in 2001. It was being sold by a 76 year old man in Redding PA, who may have been the second owner. It had all of 48,000 miles on it. I won the bid with $4,500 and paid another $800 to get it shipped to me. I didn't know how mechanically sound it might be so I didn't want to take a chance driving it home from Pennsylvania.

I'll cover the usual questions:

1. No, that's not the original color.
2. No, I didn't paint it that color.
3. I have no idea why he painted it that color.
4. The correct color would have been a very attractive teal green.

So what's it like to drive? Easier than you think, as long as you remember that it's not a modern car. You put the key in the dash, which is funny because we've gone full circle on that. A lot of new cars have the key in the dash. It has a carburetor, of course, so you have to pump the gas pedal before you start it. It'll start right up if it's been driven recently, otherwise you might have to pump it several times.

Welcome to the jet age! The buttons for the transmission are to the left of the steering wheel.
There's no gearshift. It has an automatic transmission with push-button shifting. What's odd is there's no "Park" only "Neutral". You have to set the hand brake when you park it. I recall an episode of Happy Days where Mrs. Cunningham didn't do that and Mr. Cunningham's DeSoto rolled down a hill.

It's big. You forget just how big cars were back then and a Fireflite was a full-size car back then. The interior is quite roomy. It will hold six people without anyone touching elbows. There's enough head room for a man to wear a hat (men wore hats back then).

The radio has CONLRAD in case Kruschev tries to drop the big one on us.
Push the button for "Drive" and off you go. It steers easily enough once you get used to that big steering wheel. The ride is quite smooth. Chrysler used a torsion bar front suspension back then and it was considered a good handling car in its day. The key phrase being "in its day".

If you forget what you're driving and try to take an off-ramp at normal speed this thing will heel over like ship in rough seas. I have modern radial tires on it but I won't be following any BMWs through the curves.

The biggest thing to remember is you don't have the brakes of a modern car. It has power brakes but they're drums. You need to give yourself plenty of room to stop.

Visibility is quite good. There's no headrest to block your rear view. Good thing too. The rear view mirrors are worthless. The ones out on the fenders are pretty much just for show. Not sure what they were thinking when they set the mirror on top of the dash. If you have anyone in the back seat it's completely useless.

This is actually the easiest car I've ever parallel parked. Despite the huge size, you can see all four corners from the driver's seat so you know exactly where the car ends.

Performance? Not as good as you might think. Sounds great on paper. 341 cubic inch "hemi" V8 with a 4-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust. The factory claimed 325 horsepower. You'd think it would be a pretty hot car.

Not really. I've dug up some old Motor Life magazines from that era. 0-60 times were around 10-11 seconds. Quarter mile in 17.6 seconds at 80 mph. Top speed was 108 mph and I sure wouldn't be brave enough to try it. The average Honda  or Toyota would eat this thing for lunch today. Wouldn't even be close. It sounds great, and it will keep up with traffic, but it's no hot rod. I don't like to push the engine too hard anyways. The parts alone to rebuild it would be $1,500!

Gas mileage is 15-17 mpg. I run premium unleaded in it and I've never had any problems. I drive it less than 1000 miles a year, so I don't worry too much about the environmental issues.

It's actually useful to have around. The trunk is huge and will swallow whatever I happen to buy at Lowes. My bicycle also fits neatly in the trunk.

Mechanical parts can still be found and they're even making reproduction body parts for these things now. I was even able to find vacuum tubes to make the radio work.

Odds are you haven't seen one of these. Know why? Because they were junk! Chrysler rushed the 57 model year into production early and the workmanship on them was terrible. They leaked water like sieves even when they were new. Most of them rusted out before the last payment was made. Chrysler had great engineers and designers back then but the materials and workmanship weren't so good. A GM or Ford of that year would have been a better made car.

Everything's cooler with tail fins. Seriously, what were they thinking back then?
A quick word about the "good old days". Modern cars are better in pretty much every way. They start every time. They're more reliable. They're quicker. They handle better and stop better. They get better mileage. They're better for the environment. They have more features. Also they're much, much safer.

A front end collision in a 50's car is probably fatal. The steering column will be propelled back and probably go right through your chest. Even with the seat belts I added I'm very cautious when I drive this car. Ralph Nader was right about some things. You really wouldn't want to use one of these as daily transportation.

What ultimately killed DeSoto was Chrysler Corporation themselves. They introduced higher end Dodges and lower end Chryslers (the Newport model) that squeezed DeSoto out of its niche from top and bottom. The last model year was 1961.

Mine's what people in the car hobby call a "10 footer". It looks great from 10 feet away but get up close and you'd see rust under the paint in spots. I don't really care. It's not a show car. I bought it drive and have fun with.

And what fun it is. Driving this thing is like being your very own parade going down the road. Heads turn. Pictures get taken. Young kids go crazy over this thing. They've never seen anything like it. I once had it parked next to a Lamborghini and it drew a bigger crowd.

Best $4,500 I ever spent.

Originally posted to Central Ohio Kossacks on Fri May 03, 2013 at 01:16 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (115+ / 0-)

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Fri May 03, 2013 at 01:16:09 PM PDT

  •  Thanks. (12+ / 0-)

    I enjoyed learning about this little-known type of car. :-)

    There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

    by slksfca on Fri May 03, 2013 at 01:38:20 PM PDT

  •  I never drove a DeSoto (18+ / 0-)

    but remember a few of them in my small town when I was a youngster.
    Cars were a lot bigger then. In the sixties I owned, not all at once, a 55 Chevy 2 door sedan, a 57 Chevy 4 door sedan, and a 58 Chevy 2 door hardtop. Every one was on its last legs by the time I got it. I repowered the 55, put a new tranny in the 58, and drove the 57 till it died. The 58 was a real boat and had a 348 in it; that sucker would really get up and roll down the highway. I'd be scared to death to drive those cars now the way I did then. And of course, who can overlook the biggest advantage of those cars over today's, the seats were huge and we youngsters knew all the secluded places to park and do what youngsters have always done.

    •  55 Chevy 2 door sedan (10+ / 0-)

      That was my very first car. My uncle found it for me and I paid $800 in 1966. It was an automatic and eventually started leaking transmission fluid like crazy at which point I got a 1962 Chevrolet Impala convertible.

      Then a couple of years later I purchased a brand new 1967 Chevrolet Corvette.

      The only trouble with retirement is...I never get a day off!

      by Mr Robert on Fri May 03, 2013 at 03:56:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The family car in my (de)formative years was a (4+ / 0-)

        '63 Impala ragtop -- two speed Powerglide tranny, black plastic seats (hot as h3ll in the Summer) and a black unpadded metal dash (hard as h3ll all year 'round).

        One thing I remember about that car was that you could take the ignition key out of the dash while the car was running.

        I miss that car.  I'm sure if we'd have known what a hip-hop market there would be for the Impala (and the Biscayne) we'd have held onto it for a few more years.

        No, I am NOT logging into Facebook to view your page.

        by here4tehbeer on Fri May 03, 2013 at 05:13:48 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Indeed (5+ / 0-)

          It's really tough to find an early Impala that hasn't been turned into a low-rider or given 20-inch rims.

          If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

          by Major Kong on Fri May 03, 2013 at 05:51:49 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  My Impala had an automatic transmission (5+ / 0-)

          I quite liked the car, but the neutral switch had an intermittent fault and there were times that I just couldn't start the thing.

          I had it for over a year, but as it happens those were good times and I was earning quite a lot of money considering I was just four years out of high school. So I decided to buy a Corvette.

          I quite liked the Corvette, but to be honest it didn't help my love life. As a matter of fact, I think I'd have been better off in that department if I'd kept the Impala. For some reason, the Corvette was just off putting for some young women.

          The Corvette came to the end of it's life one night on Highway 17 in the SF Bay Area. I was headed North in the fast lane when I saw a Chevrolet Corvair where you don't expect a car.

          The Corvair had spun out and was sitting right in the middle of my lane of traffic. There was a car behind me and a car on the right. So all I could do was hit the brakes.

          Frankly, I thought my life was over at that point and I just braced for impact. My vehicle went into the side of the Corvair and the vehicle behind me rear ended me.

          I was shaken and since I had some flares behind the seat I grabbed a couple of flares thinking it would be a good idea to put them out.

          Well, as it happens, that wasn't such a great idea.

          The gas tank was leaking and I was completely unaware of the risk. I think I must have been in shock. Nevertheless, I proceeded to light the flares.

          Fortunately, I walked back far enough and my car didn't go up in flames, but the insurance company declared it a total loss.

          I have a picture in a photo album that I took a few days later in the junk yard. The car looked like a collapsed cardboard box. The fiberglass just folded up and the only thing that saved me was the frame. The fiberglass body was no protection whatsoevery.

          Hopefully the newer Corvettes are safer.

          Does anyone know if the body is still fiberglass?

          The only trouble with retirement is...I never get a day off!

          by Mr Robert on Fri May 03, 2013 at 07:14:19 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  fiberglass still, but .. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Mr Robert, NapaJulie, JeffW

            .. some of the panels in recent models include carbon fibre - hoods, fenders.

            The orig. choice of fiberglass (now referred to as "composite") was for cost savings, and became synonymous with the model, along with body flex.  ;-)

            ..now, where did I leave my torches and villagers?

            by FrankSpoke on Sat May 04, 2013 at 02:40:32 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Design Feature, Not a Flaw (0+ / 0-)
            "... the neutral switch had an intermittent fault and there were times that I just couldn't start the thing...
            That neutral switch fault was not peculiar to your vehicle.  My family owned a 1955 Chevy wagon with auto transmission.  We suffered the same starting problems once when we had gone on a day trip to Gettysburg from Baltimore.  You can imagine just how easy it was to get a dealer to come repair a car on a Saturday back in the 1950s, but we managed to do it.  My dad learned in speaking with the tech that the problem surfaced more than it should have and involved the linkage between the lock and switch.  Apparently, putting the key in at the wrong angle could disable the switch and require it to be manually reset.  

            "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

            by PrahaPartizan on Sat May 04, 2013 at 12:05:26 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  My dad had one in our backyard in '62 or so (5+ / 0-)

      but it was older than this, and brown.
      What Dad, who tuned Dodge pursuits for the Hiway Patrol in 3 states (TX, OK, and MO that I know, KS and maybe AR by what some of the MO troopers said) thought was a dangerously overpowered car was a Hudson -- a Hornet, in point of fact.

      Mom's Plymouth that looked like your DeSoto was a hardtop, white over crimson. Her older sister's Dodge had bigger fins and was cream-colored all over.

      Thank you for reminding me!

      LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

      by BlackSheep1 on Fri May 03, 2013 at 09:53:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Dodge pursuit vehicles .. (5+ / 0-)

        A high-school friend's friend, who was known for elaborate tales, claimed his father had an ex-Arizona Highway Patrol car - with supercharger - at home. Yeah, right...

        One day, by chance, we were all together and he asked if I wanted to see it. Sure enough, supercharger and all, it was parked right there in the garage, in civilian trim. An early 70's Satellite model, IIRC. Talk about being humbled.

        Also.. dangerous, perhaps - but quite successful in racing - those Hornets did OK, until the small block did them in.

        ..now, where did I leave my torches and villagers?

        by FrankSpoke on Sat May 04, 2013 at 02:53:30 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I had a 26 DeDoto behind my barn for a long time (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NapaJulie, JeffW

      most of its 84 years give or take. It looked something like this before it began to get covered with other debris.

      Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

      by rktect on Sat May 04, 2013 at 09:55:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary (9+ / 0-)

    And I think this car makes the neon green look pretty sweet. :-)

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Fri May 03, 2013 at 01:39:01 PM PDT

  •  Push button automatic (11+ / 0-)

    My parents had a 1964 Doedge station wagon (bought new).

    I was born the same year.

    Growing up, I'd seen three-speed standard chevy's on the steering wheel.

    What confused me was automatic shifters on the steering wheel.

    I thought all automatic were push button!

    Notice: This Comment © 2013 ROGNM

    by ROGNM on Fri May 03, 2013 at 01:57:38 PM PDT

    •  '3 on-the-tree', lots of them at one time. I drove (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NYFM, BlackSheep1, ROGNM, NapaJulie

      a few, but they tended to hang up and bind when shifting, at least the ones I had contact with.

      My first vehicle was a 67 Dodge 1/2 ton, 318 automatic with the vertical shifter in the dash, like the Allisons that were in school buses.

      Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. ~The Druid.
      ~Ideals aren't goals, they're navigation aids.~

      by FarWestGirl on Fri May 03, 2013 at 05:36:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I learned on a '73 Valiant (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JeffW, ROGNM, NapaJulie, PrahaPartizan

        With the column shift, and it had a nasty tendency to get stuck in 2nd gear. And you had to make a full stop to put it into first -- no synchromesh into first gear.

        The power in the engine (not that the Valiant had a lot) was really wasted by the transmissions of that era.

        It was good practice for many years later when I needed to drive an antique Massey-Ferguson tractor w/o a synchromesh transmission.

  •  You can't beat a vintage car for style. (10+ / 0-)

    I drive a 1968 ragtop Mustang 289. It gets a lot more smiles and compliments than the Porsche 911 I used to have.

    •  Indeed. Hey, no pic?! C'mon .. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Crider, jck, verdeo, NapaJulie, PrahaPartizan

      .. get your gearhead on.

      My '65 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT (as you say, a great catalyst for smiles):

      ..now, where did I leave my torches and villagers?

      by FrankSpoke on Sat May 04, 2013 at 03:09:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  65 Guilia Spyder for me (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        verdeo, FrankSpoke, NapaJulie

        With the old style body. Those cars felt so good to drive! I had cut my driving teeth with many inexpensive Fiats.

        "Societies strain harder and harder to sustain the decadent opulence of the ruling class, even as it destroys the foundations of productivity and wealth." — Chris Hedges

        by Crider on Sat May 04, 2013 at 05:58:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Nice - the (reasonably) light weight did it IMO .. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          NapaJulie

          They may not have been the safest cars around, but they did a lot with small displacement engines. Alfas and Fiats are consistently a kick to drive. The Italian driver is said to know only two modes when in motion: full gas and full brake.

          Today - admittedly with infinitely better safety, handling, reliability and practicality - most cars just feel numb.

          Alfa is returning (or is "planning" to anyway - we Alfisti have been hearing this claim for a looong time) with a very light weight, but rather expensive, 2 seat coupe, the 4C. We'll see.

          It sure is nice catching the rebooted Fiat 500s zipping around. For too many years, my Alfa 164L daily driver rarely saw another Italian car in any parking lot. Not so, now.

          ..now, where did I leave my torches and villagers?

          by FrankSpoke on Sat May 04, 2013 at 10:15:09 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Too lazy to post pic. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FrankSpoke, NapaJulie

        It needs a bath anyway.

  •  2-speed automatic? (8+ / 0-)

    My buddy has a 56 Chrysler 300 and it has the hemi with a 2-speed automatic. Works fine.

  •  If it was the green of the steering wheel, (7+ / 0-)

    that really would be attractive, a calmer color. But this energetic green does point up the ebullient styling, it's good too.

  •  my parents had a '57 DeSoto (9+ / 0-)

    Bought new.

    It was the (pastel?) blue two-tone. As for "big", to a 7-year-old lots of things look big.

    Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. -- K.Marx A.Lincoln

    by N in Seattle on Fri May 03, 2013 at 02:37:05 PM PDT

  •  MK, I hope a small town in your area still (7+ / 0-)

    ... has a 4th of July parade. This car is just begging to be driven in a small-town 4th of July parade with the back seat full of kids throwing candy out the windows to the spectators!  :-)

    -Jay-
    
  •  The mirror was on the dash (9+ / 0-)

    because they still hadn't figured out a strong enough glue to stick it to the windshield. Hard to believe but there you go.

    Take the fight to them. Don't let them bring it to you. - Harry S Truman

    by jgoodfri on Fri May 03, 2013 at 03:00:20 PM PDT

    •  The alternative mounting (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW

      for the mirror was to hang it on a claw from the top of the windshield frame, which was what GM and Ford were doing at the time.  Of course, in a crash with no seatbelts, that kind of mirror mount could injure people before they even hit the windshield.

      I think American Motors later came up with a mirror mount that had ball joints at each end of the stem, so it would give way if hit by a flying body.  GM came up with a drop-claw that would break away if impacted.  This was before 3-point safety belts became standard.

      Mid-1950's MG sport cars mounted the rear-view mirror on a thin rod that ran from the dash to the top of the windshield.  And of course, back in the 1930's and '40's, cars had two-piece windshields, so mounting a mirror on the center post between the two pieces was easy.

  •  What a gorgeous car (8+ / 0-)

    and I find the color quite funky.  I was wondering if it were 3 on the tree, but you answered my question quickly with the buttons.

    Thank you for writing such an interesting post that is a lovely addition to my wind down glass of wine.  I forwarded it to my car geek buddy.  He'll love it.

    " My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total." Barbara Jordan, 1974

    by gchaucer2 on Fri May 03, 2013 at 03:07:21 PM PDT

  •  Chrysler has always had out front designs, (7+ / 0-)

    but quality nevered equaled their designs.  I grew up in the Detroit area where cars are still the bedrock of the entire state's economy and saw all the good and bad models put out by the Big Three and some of the funkier models from American Motors, the company Mitt Romney's father headed before he went on to be Michigan's governor.  The foreign makes are all over the place now, but what one still sees at the car shows here are the old models from the Big Three, originals, street rods and weirdly imaginative street rods.  My husband has had a 50 Merc, a 42 Ford sedan (rare because production was cut short during the war), a 45 Ford coupe and a 41 Ford coupe.  Working on them and showing them has been fun and has included travel and meeting nice people.

    Building a better America with activism, cooperation, ingenuity and snacks.

    by judyms9 on Fri May 03, 2013 at 03:42:32 PM PDT

  •  You rarely hear anything (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, ER Doc, BlackSheep1

    about the Desoto these days.

    The picture doesn't do much to jog my memory, but I do recall that one of the neighbors had a Desoto station wagon when I was in elementary school. So it must have been before 1959. It might well have been a '57.

    I can't believe I even remember it, but it belonged to the father of one of my playmates who lived just down the street from my family.

    Thanks for the diary.

    The only trouble with retirement is...I never get a day off!

    by Mr Robert on Fri May 03, 2013 at 03:46:03 PM PDT

  •  I had a 1958 Dodge until a few years ago (7+ / 0-)

    which I drove all the time. This DeSoto is very similar--of course--but I look at that picture of the instrument panel and notice that my Dodge had the same speedometer--which has a rolling indicator like on an old butcher's scale.

    I wish I could have been able to afford to keep that car, she and I had quiet a few adventures.

    What is truth? -- Pontius Pilate

    by commonmass on Fri May 03, 2013 at 03:48:28 PM PDT

  •  I was 12 when these hit the roads. (10+ / 0-)

    That '57 DeSoto body was basically a Chrysler 300C body but without the 300C's sexier snout.  Same rear view and fins.

    The '57 Chrysler 300C was a legendary car,  an example of Chrysler at its best.  What the DeSoto would have been if they had taken the same care in assembly.  Under the skin they were pretty much the same primitive machine, compared, as you point out,  to today's modern car.

    Magnificent dinosaurs.   I did drive a '59 Plymouth Fury Sport Wagon a couple of times in HS, around '62. Awesome in a straight line,  if you could keep it going straight.  There was also a '58 Ford Fairlane ragtop with the "Interceptor Special" engine that my first adult girlfriend had in LA.  That beast would roar up Topanga Canyon from the PCH; 1966.

    Scares me just to remember.

    don't always believe what you think

    by claude on Fri May 03, 2013 at 03:57:54 PM PDT

  •  That started with the Powerflite in `53... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sawgrass727
    What's really odd about these is the parking brake is actually an extra brake drum just behind the transmission.
    ...I found a 1953 Popular Science magazine detailing their "new" Powerflite transmission, and Chrysler decided that tey didn't want the possibility that the parking pawl could seize up while the selector was in Park. So they didn't include it in the quadrant, and mounted the parking brake behind the transmission, to gain a mechanical adavatge through the differential's ring gear (or so they claimed).

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Fri May 03, 2013 at 04:23:23 PM PDT

  •  Oh, and tell `em Groucho sent ya! (3+ / 0-)

    Groucho Marx was a big advertiser of Desotos on You Bet Your LIfe!.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Fri May 03, 2013 at 04:25:10 PM PDT

  •  Ahh yes, the Desoto, back in the time when (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Major Kong

    we hung a turnip from our belt, "Abe Simpson".

  •  My dad was a small town Chevy dealer (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    flatford39, JeffW, BlackSheep1

        He started as a young man before the war in partnership with my grandfather. He sold out to his manager, who was his cousin's husband, when none of us wanted to go into the business. His two sons, my second cousins, still run the business... 75 years in continuous business now.

    First a bit of history. The 1950s was a time of general prosperity and great optimism in the United States. In the 1930s nobody had any money. During WWII people had money but there was nothing to buy because all resources were directed towards the war effort. In the 1950s people had money and there was stuff to buy - and buy they did.
          He always said that the best years for the car business were the late 40s and the 50s. The numbers got much bigger in later years with inflation, but the profit margins never approached what they were when he was selling new Chevys for $2,000.
           In those days, dealerships had the mechanics and service shops because the parent corporations required them to be able to do warranty work; they broke even on the shops and made money in the showroom. All the independent mechanics in the old-style service stations were tough competition. Now the dealerships do a little better than even money in the showroom, and make their money in the shop.

    -7.25, -6.26

    We are men of action; lies do not become us.

    by ER Doc on Fri May 03, 2013 at 04:40:03 PM PDT

    •  You are 100% right. The dealers make their money (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, BlackSheep1, badger, ER Doc, sawgrass727

      in the shop now because it is next to impossible for the average car owner to do anything but change his oil on his own.

      My first car was a 57 Chevy tudor post I bought for $45.00 that needed a tune up to make it run. I drove that car for 3 or 4 years and it never saw a mechanic...only the 16 year old kid (me) was able to keep it going on a 16 year olds meager paycheck.

      My the times have changed.

      " The whole world is about three drinks behind" Humphrey Bogart.

      by flatford39 on Fri May 03, 2013 at 05:18:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  the flip side of this (Hi, FF) is that (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, flatford39, badger, ER Doc

        the engines and the cars themselves are SO much better than those dinosaurs that I no longer resent being unable to do much repair work.  They stay fixed longer.

        The average sedan your Grandmother drives off the showroom floor today, foreign or domestic,  is a far more sophisticated machine than a 50 year-old Formula 1 race car.

        I am surprised at finding out how much repair on a "modern" auto ('01 Volvo) I can actually do still do myself.  

        don't always believe what you think

        by claude on Fri May 03, 2013 at 07:40:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The only thing I get done in the dealer's shop (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, flatford39

        is get the oil changed. I did a lot of work last summer at 60,000, including brakes and timing belt, and I'm just finishing up a rear wheel bearing on my 2007 4WD SUV.

        But I paid $200 extra when I bought the car in 2007 to get oil changes for as long as I own it. I only put on about 4,000 miles a year now, so they'll be changing the oil on it at no additional charge for a long time. But the 60,000 mile servicing would have probably run me several thousand.

        I'm not an especially great mechanic, and it helps that my brother-in-law who lives next door used to own his own car repair shop and has most of his tools and still rebuilds old Volvos for himself. But  with a few books, a good socket set, maybe someone to give a little support or help, and especially with the internet, most people could do a lot of their own car work even on the newer models.

        No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up - Lily Tomlin

        by badger on Fri May 03, 2013 at 10:26:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Whoa, outstanding! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, BlackSheep1

    Boy, would this buggy turn my head if I saw it on the road.
    I haven't thought about "De Sotos" for many decades. And those fifties colors! Aqua, lime, etc.

    I've a real sentimental attachment to Chrysler products since I was a kid, with my dad having a fierce loyalty to Plymouths
    (all of which he nicknamed "Buzzy.") But in our house all of the products were held in awe. We came across across the USA when I was really young in a '40 Plymouth.

    I remember a black '40 (or thereabouts) De Soto parked in our neighborhood for years when I was a kid in L.A. In those days people would hang on to their automobiles for years.  They were reliable and people had real sentimental attachments to them. Thanks for the good diversion from the usual stuff here.

    "They come, they come To build a wall between us We know they won't win."--Crowded House, "Don't Dream It's Over."

    by Wildthumb on Fri May 03, 2013 at 05:01:41 PM PDT

  •  I had no idea there were so many "gearheads" here. (3+ / 0-)

    A lot of familiar names commenting here. Had no idea. Thank you for this diary. I really appreciated it. My username is based on I have a collection of "flat head" Fords from 1928 thru 1939.

    It's going to rain tomorrow so I will be in the shop working on my latest which is a 28 1.5 ton Express truck. The same model that the Walton's would drive to town in with all their kids in the bed.

    Major Kong...Thank you and drive that puppy like you stole it. It's a HEMI for Christ sake...they are like race horses, They need to be given full rein.

    " The whole world is about three drinks behind" Humphrey Bogart.

    by flatford39 on Fri May 03, 2013 at 05:11:49 PM PDT

    •  I think our Commonwealth friends (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      flatford39

      call them 'side valve' engines. When I visited NZ some years back, the auto museums I visited kept 'side valve engine' cars, and it took me a few minutes to figure out what they must be.

    •  and a purist w/ flatheads(!) .. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      flatford39

      I scoff at the number of checkbook "30/40's hot rods" with crate OHV motors or transplanted, contemporary Corvette engines at car shows - ecch. Why bother?

      Your commitment to originality is appreciated by some of us!!

      Though, while at a local A/C shop recently, I was stopped in my tracks by a customer's 60's Checker Marathon wagon - complete with LS series engine, Watts linkage rear (looked NASCAR-like), A-arm front suspension w/ discs, and fat rubber on vintage knock-off Hallibrands. That was impressive.

      ..now, where did I leave my torches and villagers?

      by FrankSpoke on Sat May 04, 2013 at 02:23:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My uncle used to restore/rebuild (0+ / 0-)

      flat head Fords.  Last time I saw him, he had a 40 Standard (65 HP) sedan, a 42 Delux (85 HP) coupe.  He also had a 39 Buick convertible, and a mid 50's race car, with a sports car body.  He had to get out of the hobby when the checkbook crowd arrived.  He switched over to 40's and 50's diesel trucks...

      “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

      by markdd on Sat May 04, 2013 at 09:09:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think you mean READING, Pa (which is indeed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PrahaPartizan

    pronounced "redding").

    It's a working class town that had a Socialist mayor for quite a long time.

    Sorry, the ex-Pennsylvanian in me just had to step in.  ;)

    •  My bad (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BlackSheep1

      That's what I get for not looking it up.

      I should know this. Most of my family is from Pennsylvania.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Fri May 03, 2013 at 06:06:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  My aunt and uncle had a 1950 Desoto.... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, TomFromNJ, BlackSheep1, aitchdee

    Fluid drive! :)

    I remember my Aunt changing the gears and I wondered what was so fluid about that.... :D

    Close, but theirs was a lead grey.
    http://commons.wikimedia.org/...

    Best,

    --UB.

    P.S. Oh, but yours is far cooler!

    "Daddy, every time a bell rings, a Randian Libertaria­n picks up his Pan Am tickets for the Libertaria­n Paradise of West Dakota!"

    by unclebucky on Fri May 03, 2013 at 05:59:07 PM PDT

  •  We had a Desoto when I was little (8+ / 0-)

    It looked like this. Except it was dark green over light green.  It was the first car my father ever owned. He was 31. I remember that my brother and I could lie down on the floor in the back, one on either side, with the hump in the middle for a headrest.

    The next car he bought - the Corvair Monza. After that it was always Chevy Impalas.

    465437953_679f8fb4a2

    O great creator of being grant us one more hour to perform our art and perfect our lives. ::: Jim Morrison :::

    by Kevanlove on Fri May 03, 2013 at 06:03:02 PM PDT

    •  OMG, Kevanlove, if that car were (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      aitchdee, RiveroftheWest

      cocoa-and-chocolate, it would be "Henry," from my parents' backyard in Lubbock in '62 or '63. Merc-mockery chrome grille, vestigial fins, four big doors, and a hood scoop!!!!

      LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

      by BlackSheep1 on Fri May 03, 2013 at 10:04:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I had one of those 57 Chevy (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TomFromNJ, badger

    327 V8, Holly 4 Barrel Carb, 4 speed manual trans with
    a Hurst shifter, Cragar Mag wheels.

    I LOVED that Car because I could TUNE the engine
    Exactly the way I wanted it to Run.

    All you needed were a Few hand tools.

    Toss in a Tach & Dwell Meter and a Timing light and
    you're Good to Go.

    NO Black Boxes. NO Computers.

    On Giving Advice: Smart People Don't Need It and Stupid People Don't Listen

    by Brian76239 on Fri May 03, 2013 at 06:12:56 PM PDT

  •  My Dad has a 1957 Plymouth. (4+ / 0-)

    The basic shape was almost the same as your DeSoto.  It was all white with some gold trim.  Gold trim inside as well.  A cool car with a vast interior but it ate up starters like they grew on trees.  Yet I wish it was with us today.

    I'm not always political, but when I am I vote Democratic. Stay Democratic, my friends. -The Most Interesting Man in the World

    by boran2 on Fri May 03, 2013 at 06:14:54 PM PDT

  •  DeSoto (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlackSheep1, RiveroftheWest, JeffW

    Thanks for the great post. As a kid of the 50s, I was a big Mopar fan and I thought DeSoto was the most elegant of the cars of Chrysler Corp at that time.

  •  Bittersweet memories (5+ / 0-)

    First, great post, and what a great example of the rocket-age design of the times! I remember riding in my grandparents' cushy mid-50's DeSoto, and how proud they were of it.

    Your mention of the collision risk in those old cars brought back some memories to me. Around that time, my dad was an auto insurance adjuster who frequently visited wrecking yards to estimate damage on insured's cars. Our family was going through tough personal times then and he often found it necessary to haul my brothers and me along on his rounds.

    So on those visits, while Dad was doing his thing, we were let loose in the wrecking yard to explore the stacks of wrecks and mine them for what we would consider treasure (jet hood ornament, bloody plaster skull, chrome badge). Impressions I still have from those outings include the seemingly ubiquitous inverted-potato-chip steering wheel (steering column likely impaling the driver) and the head impacts on the windshield.

    We thought nothing of riding in a lay-down position on the back seat shelf or standing up on the front seat in those times. Somehow most of us survived, but we and the car industry have definitely come a long way.

    Love those old sleds for what they represent through design, though, of the culture and aspirations of the times.

     

  •  First time I encountered a push button tranny (4+ / 0-)

    was in 1995...I was going to work and stopped by my favorite donut shop for a cuppa joe and some sugar, and as I was leaving this frail, 90 year old woman rolled down the window of her old land yacht...

    "excuse me, young man, can you help me?"

    She had pulled into the parking lot of the donut shop, which was small, instead of the adjacent parking lot of the local super market....and she couldn't maneuver her car back out.

    She explained her predicament, and I gladly offered to get her car turned around and pointed in the right direction for her.

    I jumped behind the wheel, and looked for either a lever on the steering collumn or a stick to put it into reverse........nothing.

    "How do you shift this thing", I asked her rather embarrassedly.   She pointed to the push buttons on the dashboard.

    Once I got the thing into reverse, and then into drive, I got her to the edge of the parking lot.  But the car was manual steering, and I had to really wrestle it in that tight parking lot.

    This poor lady had to be 90 years old, with forearms like bamboo skewers.  She was a poster for osteoporosis.

    How her kids allowed her to drive that dinosaur was a question I still don't have a good answer for.

    _"Love is the rosebud of an hour; Friendship the everlasting flower."_ Brook Boothby

    by Keith930 on Fri May 03, 2013 at 06:39:36 PM PDT

  •  oh...and I actually think the lime green is cool (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, RiveroftheWest

    I wouldn't change it.

    _"Love is the rosebud of an hour; Friendship the everlasting flower."_ Brook Boothby

    by Keith930 on Fri May 03, 2013 at 06:41:33 PM PDT

    •  Jeff...how fun would it be to make a cross country (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      milkbone, RiveroftheWest

      road trip in a ride like this?  

      As long as you don't have engine trouble in Tucamcari, New Mexico...in which case it stops being fun.

      _"Love is the rosebud of an hour; Friendship the everlasting flower."_ Brook Boothby

      by Keith930 on Fri May 03, 2013 at 07:31:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Keith930: better Tucumcari than (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest

        Van Horn, Texas. Ask me how I know ... alternator, January. '97 Dodge 1/2 ton 4x2 318 Laramie, loaded ... helping Son1 move.

        LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

        by BlackSheep1 on Fri May 03, 2013 at 10:07:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Does anyone remember (6+ / 0-)

    A Chrysler transmission that you had to put it the clutch to start it and go through the three speeds (on the tree) and then after that it acted like an automatic. You didn't have to put the clutch when stopped or shift anymore. I had a 51 Plymouth with that in it.

  •  Thanks for the post... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlackSheep1

    with the snow here today (MN) and Wednesday this week, it was very nice to see a summer car.

  •  Thanks for this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlackSheep1

    Thanks, Major Kong. I love all the late-'50s, Exner-styled Mopars. One of these days I'm going to find a decent Chrysler, Plymouth or DeSoto station wagon, pull the drivetrain and replace it with all-modern stuff -- the 5.7-liter hemi with the multiple displacement system, and of course, updated braking -- and trick it out for road tripping in style.

  •  My high-school boyfriend, (0+ / 0-)

    later my husband, was driving (IIRC) a DeSoto when when we first met. The gas cap was missing, had a rag stuffed in it. This was in 1955, the car must've been a late '40s model.

    It was a gift from his uncle, early sci-fi writer Henry Kuttner. He traded "up" to a '50 Ford soon afterwards; the Ford was totaled a few years later when someone else ran a stop sign....

  •  I do not believe there's a better ride in (4+ / 0-)

    the world for a Buff pilot....the technologies mesh so!

    LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Ike, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

    by BlackSheep1 on Fri May 03, 2013 at 10:10:00 PM PDT

  •  1957 was the peak year for fins (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest

    It was a short-lived fad like huge leg o'mutton sleeves for women in the 1890s (the peak year for that was 1895). By 1960 streamlining was all the rage and the flamboyant fins were history.

    If there are any vintage-car organizations in your area, I bet they'd love to get a look at that thing!

    If it's
    Not your body,
    Then it's
    Not your choice
    And it's
    None of your damn business!

    by TheOtherMaven on Fri May 03, 2013 at 10:13:40 PM PDT

    •  sorry, fin pinnacle = '59 - Cadillac .. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, PrahaPartizan, bdbd

      Agreed - other manufacturers began toning down the outrageous lines, but nothing took jet-age findom over-the-top quite like these.

      And as you say, by '60, even the Caddie's tips were descending.

      ..now, where did I leave my torches and villagers?

      by FrankSpoke on Sat May 04, 2013 at 01:50:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Always wanted one of those (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FrankSpoke

        They're always been priced out of reach.

        If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

        by Major Kong on Sat May 04, 2013 at 04:34:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Acres of Chrome Too (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FrankSpoke

        One needs to look at that 59/60 Cadillac design straight-on from road level to properly appreciate the acres of chrome which bedeck the front and back ends.  My own preference is for the 61/62 Cadillac design with the Mach 3 jet look.

        "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

        by PrahaPartizan on Sat May 04, 2013 at 12:14:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Ah, yes Cadillacs (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FrankSpoke

        My dad worked as a pilot for GM.  A perk was a new car every year--Cadillac, of course.  He would bring home a huge book with acetate overlays of all the available colors.  Two tone was a given so the book had a set of colors for the top and one for the bottom.  We kids would spend hours coming up with outrageous color schemes.

        When he finally brought the new tastefully colored Caddie home  the challenge was to find the gas cap.  Do you know where the gas cap is on the red beauty in the picture?  I do.

        •  HA!! What a great story! Truly a Mad Men scene .. (0+ / 0-)

          .. and a wonderful memory to have of growing up during this country's real car-culture era.

          It's so tempting to google the answer to your query, but I fought the urge...

          The only thing that comes to mind is recalling a car where one of the rear tail light assemblies (maybe the reverse light surround, in this case) had a hidden hinge, and would swing out of the way (down, right, left?), revealing the gas cap.

          But if I had to bet.. I would have said the one I remember was a model other than this one.

          ..now, where did I leave my torches and villagers?

          by FrankSpoke on Sat May 04, 2013 at 07:48:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Finnan Caddies :-D (0+ / 0-)

            They were bucking the trend, as by 1959 everybody else was reducing their fins and going for a sleeker, more streamlined look.

            Cadillac was late getting on board with the fad, late getting off again, and pushed it to the farthest extremes inn the shortest time.

            If it's
            Not your body,
            Then it's
            Not your choice
            And it's
            None of your damn business!

            by TheOtherMaven on Mon May 06, 2013 at 08:31:38 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Don't know why I clicked on this diary . . . (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, PrahaPartizan

    but I'm really glad I did.  It's nice to read something other than politics for a change, since that topic is so exasperating these days.  

    Although this car was made before I was born, I remember seeing cars like it when I was a kid back in the 1960s, so this diary brought back a lot of memories.  It's also just interesting to learn about a topic I'm completely unfamiliar with, and I'm truly an ignoramus about cars.

    Tipped and recc'd for a very fine and informative piece of writing.

    "Ça c'est une chanson que j'aurais vraiment aimé ne pas avoir écrite." -- Barbara

    by FogCityJohn on Fri May 03, 2013 at 11:31:29 PM PDT

  •  My Uncle Mack had one of those (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest

    although it was only black and white; no turquoise. It mainly took up room in the garage for years; I think my aunt sold it for about 8 grand when he died.

    Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað

    by milkbone on Fri May 03, 2013 at 11:35:59 PM PDT

  •  Good Stuff, MK. Keep 'em rollin' eot (0+ / 0-)

    ..now, where did I leave my torches and villagers?

    by FrankSpoke on Sat May 04, 2013 at 03:11:45 AM PDT

  •  The concept of a "Ford man" etc. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PrahaPartizan

    really worked in those days. My father was an Oldsmobile man, the doctor up the street was a Buick man, our dentist  was a Mercury man and another friend of the family was a Chrysler man. These old cars were pretty maintenance intensive too. Points and plugs every few thousand miles and exhaust systems that held up poorly. Bias ply tires that neither handled very well nor braked quickly in the rain. Not to mention wearing out quite quickly.

    Just another faggity fag socialist fuckstick homosinner!

    by Ian S on Sat May 04, 2013 at 06:02:50 AM PDT

  •  Superb topic and writing! (0+ / 0-)

    In the era, lots of cars like this came along.

    To drive one nowadays, it's required you either be 60... or have 4 years experience shuttling barges down the Ohio River.

    I was once enthralled and fascinated by these "cars".
    They were art pieces on wheels...

    As the author stated, they were also pieces of junk.

    The stuff available today is one moment away from a flying carpet; tons safer than those iron heaps, far more efficient and reliable...

    Great appliances for going from here to there, and I accept that proposition.

    Enagaged activism wins elections. 100 million words on liberal/progressive websites gets beat by one new GOP voter casting their vote.

    by Nebraska68847Dem on Sat May 04, 2013 at 06:58:44 AM PDT

  •  I was born before WWII started, and I (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    verdeo

    remember the cars of the postwar era. A lot of those that I knew were made before the war, and all the adult males in my family wanted one of the new cars. My uncle was the first to get one, a big Chrysler sedan. Others soon followed.

    But one of my uncles loved Desotos. He drove them forever.

    We lived in the country and our house sat about 400 yards from the main highway. Whenever I knew that this uncle was coming to visit us, I would climb up a hill that gave me a view of the highway and our gravel driveway. His Desoto was unmistakable and I loved to watch it roll up the driveway to our house. I loved those cars.

    One of our family friends also drove a Terraplane.

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

    by hestal on Sat May 04, 2013 at 07:07:10 AM PDT

  •  What is it like driving at night? (0+ / 0-)

    My girlfriend in college had a big old car from the 1950s.  Don't remember what it was but my biggest impression was how huge it was inside.

    My second-biggest impression was how feeble the headlights were compared to modern cars, and how the taillights were tiny compared to modern cars.  I used to drive regularly through the NC mountains at night, and never liked coming up behind a really old car because  their taillights were so dim that they were hard to see coming around a curve.

    With the huge fins on this Desoto, I expect it was more visible from the rear than some other old cars.   Although of the three lights, I wonder if one is a turn signal, one is a brake signal, and only one is a taillight.

    On a sidebar, I'm surprised no one has mentioned the car's  weight to performance ratio vis a vis

    Performance? Not as good as you might think. Sounds great on paper.
    All that steel including those huge bumpers perhaps weigh  more than a ton compared to modern cars.
    •  It's not too bad (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW

      Since I don't show the car I've made a few modifications in terms of safety and driveability:

      1. Seat belts. Lap belts only but better than nothing.
      2. Modern headlights.
      3. Radial tires.
      4. Replaced the single master brake cylinder with a dual unit.

      You are correct on the tail lights. One is the turn signal, one is the brake and one is the taillight.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sat May 04, 2013 at 08:08:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  A couple of other safety items we take for granted (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      out of left field, JeffW

      now...

      Electric wipers that stay at a constant speed and headlights that didn't dim when you slowed down.

      Before the innovation of the Alternator in 1962, (a Chrysler innovation btw) Cars relied on DC generators to charge the battery. The problem with the DC Generator is that is didn't produce adequate charge at idle and lower engine speeds, so the wipers were operated by air motors powered by engine vacuum. The problem with vacuum motors was that the wipers would slow to a crawl at lower engine speeds. And the head lights would dim because of the low output of the generator at idle. That's also why the tail-lights were dimmer as well, there was only so much power available from the generator.

      •  They used to have 6 volt electrical systems (0+ / 0-)

        I'm not sure when everyone switched over to 12 volts, but it made a big difference.

        If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

        by Major Kong on Sat May 04, 2013 at 10:42:28 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I had the use of one for six months in exchange (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW

    for rent. It sure beat walking four miles to work. Don't remember the vintage but I remember it being more of a boat, and it had a six.

    I learned to hot rod on dirt back roads in old cars. I can't understand all the desire for power and what not in todays car buyers, and why they go for top heavy SUVs. My wife's little civic is a rocket compared to what I used to drive, and it corners like nobodies business.

    How big is your personal carbon footprint?

    by ban nock on Sat May 04, 2013 at 08:14:09 AM PDT

  •  Chrysler (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    out of left field

    also offered this cutting edge option on DeSotos, Dodges and Chryslers:

    http://www.uaw-chrysler.com/...

    An in-dash record player. It played special 7 inch records made for Chrysler that played at 16 2/3 RPM. It had obvious problems, like the records skipping unless the road was absolutely smooth...

  •  I owned one of those... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW

    Well, it looks just like it anyhow, could have been a '58 or '59 model if they still looked like that. It was pink and white, my mother's car.  She got a new one, passed this one down to me.  I drove it for several years, 63-65 then traded it in for a new Dodge Dart--the first car I ever paid for myself. Mostly I drove it on the highway. In those days I did a lot of commuting between the town where I was teaching, the town where I was in enrolled in grad school and my home town.  I could whip that car up to 90 real fast--and I took back roads so I don't recall ever being stopped. And of course it wasn't safe--but the world was still young--no one worried about such things. Just enjoy the power and go fast. I suppose if we did worry about it, we thought big and powerful was safer as well.  My kids later grew up in the wayback of a station wagon. No seat belts, just kids and dogs climbing back and forth over the back seats...  Another world.  

  •  I've often wondered.... (0+ / 0-)

    What would happen if they took a body design like that, and executed it using modern technology beneath the skin. It would be nice to have that visibility and room with modern performance and safety.

    I remember the push-button transmission. I expect most people today would think it was some kind of cell phone built into the dash at first glance. ;-)

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sat May 04, 2013 at 09:14:03 AM PDT

  •  The problem is (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW

    even if you could size it down and make it safe, it would never be aerodynamic enough to help with modern efficiency requirements. A lot of fuel efficiency is brought about by very carefully designed aerodynamics at higher speeds. And... at the original size, it needs a lot of gas to get all of that sheet metal up to speed.

  •  Beautiful Car, Thanks for Sharing (0+ / 0-)

    I'd love to get a Studebaker Champion some day, but a Lark will probably be more in my price range.

    Two things are universal--hydrogen and stupidity. --Frank Zappa

    by AustinCynic on Sat May 04, 2013 at 11:13:07 AM PDT

    •  My parents first car (0+ / 0-)

      was a Studebaker Lark.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sat May 04, 2013 at 06:37:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW

    My father owned a 1948 DeSoto that he got used around 1953 or so.  It was not a powerful car--I remember when we visited Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, he didn't dare try to drive the old DeSoto up the mountain. Instead, we rode in one of the Ford wagons that the park service used to ferry people up.

    My Dad's next car was a 1953 Oldsmobile, which was definitely a step up from the DeSoto--more power and better handling.  It got stolen right out of our driveway in 1959--somebody knew it was still a good car.

    Later on he had a 1966 Plymouth station wagon.  It was a good basic design for an American car of that time, but the quality control was lacking--after the three speed automatic transmission burned out for the third time in 2 years the Plymouth was sold.

  •  My first car in 1966 was a '64 Volvo 544,like (0+ / 0-)

    this, but dark grey, red interior.

    http://bringatrailer.com/...

    Then in '68 a brand new Forest Green '68 Volvo P1800S like this
    http://www.autotraderclassics.com/...

    Third was '70 BMW 2002, exactly like the one at the top of my first link, bright orange with sun roof option.

    Since then, not so much, family haulers, wagons, vans. But I loved my 1998 Contour V6 5-speed SE, a real wolf in sheep's clothing

    My dad had 54 Ford Mainline two-door and 62 Mercury Comet (first one I drove).

    "...stories of past courage can define that ingredient..... But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul." JFK Profiles in Courage " Ontario

    by ontario on Sat May 04, 2013 at 12:56:22 PM PDT

  •  I remember the commercials: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Major Kong, markdd

    (Cue perky lady singing):

    'It's DeLightful...it's DeLovely...it's DeSoto!'

    When atlatls are outlawed, only outlaws will have atlatls.

    by wheeldog on Sat May 04, 2013 at 02:14:02 PM PDT

  •  My first car was a 1957 Plymouth station wagon (0+ / 0-)

    Same vintage, same tail fins, same push button gear selector.  It would seat nine.  The third seat faced backwards, and there was a storage area about a foot wide between the second and third seats.  
    I got it as a hand-me-down, shared with my sisters, in about 1966.  When it was new we took two family vacations in it, all over the country.  

    We're all pretty strange one way or another; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is a dryer setting.

    by david78209 on Sat May 04, 2013 at 02:22:39 PM PDT

  •  Thanks Kong (0+ / 0-)

    I remember a neighbor's relative had a Desoto with the push button tranny. Must have been in the early 60's.   At the time I think we still had a 51 Ford in the driveway.  

    FWIW, my first car, in 1973, was a hand me down 1965 Buick Special Deluxe.  It was a 3 holer, if you recall Buick's symbology.  It had a V6 engine, IIRC it was the first year GM offered one, they hadn't figured out the timing yet and it clanked like a tank.  AM radio, black vinyl interior, no A/C, not a problem in Massachusetts, but we moved to Texas in 66...  Front seatbelts standard, eleven year old me demanded a rear seat belt, they only put one in.  My sister had some sort of strap thing that went over the rear seat and then there was a two piece harness, chest and lap so she could stand, sit or lay down.  Sold it for $125 in 1980.

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Sat May 04, 2013 at 08:59:08 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for another great diary (0+ / 0-)

    Boy, did this take me back to my early childhood.  Not that we had a Desoto. As I recall we usually had Fords, but I remember long family trips (to visit relatives) in boat-like station wagons that were heavily loaded with stuff.  Before every trip, my dad would make sure that we had new tires on the car. (Which probably explains why I drive tire sales personnel crazy with questions when I go to buy new tires.)  Cars of a slightly later vintage (1960's) that I remember: a little white Rambler American station wagon (4-cylinder) that dutifully chugged up mountain passes in the Alps; a dark green VW Variant station wagon w/ manual shift, 4 cylinders and a heater that would toast you out of the car; an Olds 98 "street cruiser", V-8 engine, good power steering; an Olds Cutlass, V-8, kind of a "screamer".

    Not a "gear head", but I like to read various automotive magazines, especially if the writing is good and descriptive.  So thanks for your car and airplane diaries.

  •  Damn that was fun (and I was there)! (0+ / 0-)

    Such an enjoyable and educational piece!  Whyever did I imagine you were possessed of (by?) a comparably aged Vette happily going thru the gears (three? four?)...?!

    Although not a gearhead (for awhile I once had a Porsche 911 and felt like a sheep in wolf's clothing), I can just imagine what it must be like to drive that boat today.    Around '63 or '64 a family friend who was a dealer rep for Chrysler asked me to drive his disabled wife from West Texas to Dallas in his ('57, 8, 9...) Desoto.  It was magnificent on the highway at that time and compared favorably with a '56 Cadillac I later drove.

    I forwarded your article to a brother in law who maintains an extensive car collection and lives in Ohio.  Should you ever want to sell, he'd likely be very interested.

    Outside rearview mirrors were always something of a waste till the present era.  In the late '80s I was a passenger in whatever the top Mercedes was, and the owner needed me to adjust the passenger side mirror for him.  Having a bottom line Bimmer (320i), I was astounded to realize that his fat Merc didn't have the electric motors that I had.

    Love your stuff; keep it comin'

    •  I always wanted an old Vette (0+ / 0-)

      unfortunately they've always been priced out of my reach.

      Back when they cost $15,000 I didn't have $15,000 to spend.

      When they cost $50,000 I didn't have $50,000.

      Today they go for the price of a small house.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sun May 05, 2013 at 08:21:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  AND (0+ / 0-)

        you can't sleep in them!

        Didn't realize they were so expensive (but should've guessed).  Used to be a man around here with a '62 that was in sad shape, and he drove his German Shepherd around in it on weekends.

        •  60's muscle car prices are insane these days (0+ / 0-)

          I can remember when a lot of these things were just old cars and you pick them up for $500. In the late 70s nobody wanted them because they were gas guzzlers.

          Today I've seen 1970 Plymouth 'Cudas going for well into 6 figures and some pristine examples have hit $1 million at auction.

          They really weren't that great. We're talking about a mass-produced Detroit product of the 1970s here.

          I guess nobody ever went broke betting on baby-boomer nostalgia.

          If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

          by Major Kong on Sun May 05, 2013 at 10:11:47 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Baby boomer nostalgia (0+ / 0-)

    Actually, I think my "baby boomer nostalgia" for small wagons such as the VW Variant (see previous post), has translated over the years into a consistent love affair with smallish, utilitarian, nibble footed hatchbacks and wagons.  My latest acquisition in this "lineage" is my 2002 AWD Forester, which my sister and I have described as the car for "frumpy middle aged ladies."  (She got one too, after seeing mine.)  Don't think I'm alone in this preference.  The small SUv/crossover car market captures the preference pretty well.

    •  We have an Audi station wagon (0+ / 0-)

      I never wanted a big SUV even back when gas was cheap. Unless you need the ground clearance or towing capacity (and most of us don't) I see no reason for them.

      Our A6 holds almost as much stuff and drives like a car.

      In Europe people mostly drive hatchbacks and station wagons.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Mon May 06, 2013 at 07:46:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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