1961 DeSoto

If the corporate managers had decided years earlier to put DeSoto down, and all the groundwork was in place by the beginning of the 1961 model year, why did they bother to build 1961 DeSotos at all? Eugene Weiss, a retired Chrysler engineer, gives some insight into this puzzle.

1961 DeSoto
DeSoto continued building cars into 1961, until the
manufacturing momentum ran out.

"I was working at Plymouth, and later Plymouth, DeSoto, and Valiant Division," Weiss told the magazine Collectible Automobile®. "The issue was a budget crisis about how to fund and staff the new Valiant Division. The answer was not to, and to transfer the overhead and staff of DeSoto Division to Plymouth, and to fold Valiant into the Plymouth brand.

"The DeSoto decision was delayed and delayed, but in the meantime, parts for a 1961 DeSoto had to be ordered because the production schedule was for three months into the future for parts, and a fourth month for raw material. The decision finally came, and, as I remember it, the DeSoto plant was never reopened for 1961. But by then, there were millions of dollars worth of DeSoto parts that had been made. The DeSoto cars were worked into the Chrysler Jefferson production schedule until all the DeSoto material was used up."

To be sure, there were contingency plans for a 1962 De­Soto. One was an all-new design based on the same theme that resulted in the production 1962 Plymouths and Dodges. Another little-known and discarded possibility, described in some detail by Jeffrey Godshall in the December 1994 issue of Collectible Automobile®, was a 1962 DeSoto that was a Chrysler Newport in all but nameplates. All these plans were, of course, stillborn after the demise of DeSoto.

On November 30, 1960, the last DeSoto emerged from the Jefferson Avenue plant. Only 911 hardtop coupes and 2,123 sedans had been built, and the last of them didn't leave the shipping yard until after Christmas. The fallout continued for some time. Nine DeSoto dealers in New Jersey sued Chrysler for breach of their dealer agreements, and eventually won. Most, however, simply took the Chrysler franchises they were offered.

While loyal DeSoto owners were bereft, Chrysler managers saw nothing but success. Nearly 60,000 people bought new Chrysler Newports, more than had purchased DeSotos in any year since 1957.

The DeSoto name continued to be used overseas, and DeSoto trucks are still produced in Turkey, although the company no longer has ties to DaimlerChrysler nor uses any Chrysler components. In a way, DeSoto didn't really die in North America, either. It lived on under a pseudonym, and very successfully, too.

The Chrysler Newport, née DeSoto, albeit a bit downmarket in its appointments, was in such demand that Dodge dealers insisted on one, too, to help overcome the poor reception accorded their own smaller "plucked chicken" 1962 models. Thus was born the Cus­tom 880, launched in January 1962 with a new Chrysler body fronted by the nose from a 1961 Dodge. Total production of New­ports and Cus­tom 880s in the 1962 model year topped 100,000 units, satisfyingly close to sales of Mercury's full-size series.

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