These days, automobile manufacturers often save the last of a particular model, sometimes for a museum and sometimes just stored away for posterity. In the last days of DeSoto, however, Chrysler Corporation did not save the final copy, and enthusiasts have been looking for it ever since. The trouble is, if you found it, how would you know?
The identity of the last 1961 DeSoto
remains a mystery.
DeSotos for the 1961 model year were built in the same plant as Chryslers and big Dodges, and their vehicle identification numbers were interspersed with other cars' VINs. The easiest way to date a DeSoto is to examine the firewall-mounted data plate. In the lower left corner is a group of digits known as the "SO number." This is the "schedule order," comprising a four-digit date (e.g. 1021 would be October 21) and a four-digit sequence number, long believed to be the body number (i.e. higher numbers represent bodies built later).
Wayne Graefen, an eclectic car collector always on the lookout for interesting vehicles, discovered a 1961 DeSoto in Texas that seemed to carry higher numbers than any known in the National DeSoto Club. Its SO was 1130 3064, meaning it was built on November 30 (the last day of DeSoto production) and might be the 3,064th DeSoto body. But only 3,034 DeSotos were built for the model year. How could this be?
Although Chrysler Corporation did not keep the last DeSoto, it did keep track of its numbers: VIN 6113135102, schedule order 1130 3083. When Wayne obtained the build record from the Chrysler Historical archives, he knew he had not found the last DeSoto. The real last car, however, had a sequence number even higher than his find. This only added to the puzzle.
Dean Mullinax, president of the National DeSoto Club, Inc., has been collecting information on 1961 DeSotos for years, amassing a database of more than 70 cars. From this, some patterns can be discerned. Sequence numbers were often repeated, but apparently never on the same day.
Furthermore, all the sequence numbers in his sample started with "3." This explains why so many people thought they owned "almost the last DeSoto." It seems that numbers were started over every day, probably at 3001. A unique schedule order number must contain both the date and the sequence. Another fact gleaned from Dean's database is that 1961 DeSoto production began on August 30, 1960.
There's still much to learn, so Dean is anxious for more data. If you have an unreported 1961 DeSoto, he'd like to hear about it. He can be contacted in writing at 1369 Woodlock Road, Mount Pleasant, SC 29464, or via email at DeS4me@comcast.net.
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