The 1960 DeSoto line exhibited a fresh, new look. The second generation of the "Forward Look" cars, dramatic when introduced in 1957, had become fussier in the course of being freshened for 1958 and 1959. The 1960 model year brought "Unibody" construction to all domestic Chrysler Corporation cars except Imperials.
Despite signs that the marque was on the way out,
DeSoto had a fresh redesign for 1960.
Virgil Exner's styling for the unit-body senior 1960 Mopars had sweeping, outwardly canting fins, rising from a point midway on the front door and ending in "boomerang" taillights. A wide-mouth grille incorporating triangular parking lights at its lower far corners looked a bit like it had just visited the orthodontist, but the overall effect was harmonious, just a bit flashier than that of the similarly shaped Chryslers.
Suspension continued to consist of front torsion bars and rear leaf springs. Period magazine reports generally liked the effect the combination of the new body construction and "Torsion-Aire" suspension had on ride. "The springing seems to be a good compromise which is not too soft to cause objectionable swaying on the open road nor too harsh for comfort in town," Motor Life reported.
Motor Trend's Walt Woron said the '60 Adventurer "acted fine" at highway speeds, but added, "[A] few times we felt that the front end had a rotating motion, instead of just the normal up-and-down movement that most cars have after they come out of a dip."
For the first time since 1948, there were no DeSoto station wagons. Neither were there any convertibles, leaving just a hardtop coupe, four-door sedan, and pillarless hardtop sedan in each series. The market segment was compressed, too, with the lowest-priced DeSoto, the Fireflite four-door sedan, selling for $3,017 and the most expensive, the Adventurer four-door hardtop, for $3,727.
Both series used the Chrysler B-series engine, Fireflites the 361-cubic-inch version, Adventurers the 383. Both had 10:1 compression and Carter BBD two-barrel carburetion, rendering 295 horsepower for Fireflites and 305 for Adventurers. Either series could be ordered with a four-barrel 383, good for 325 horsepower.
A version of Chrysler's ram induction system, using tuned, extended manifolds mounted with dual quads, was available on the Adventurer. It yielded a scant five bhp more than the single-quad job, but produced a hefty 460 pound-feet of torque. (The package also included dual exhausts and, quite wisely, larger 12-inch-diameter brakes.) Published road tests found that this "Ram Charge" engine served the car well across a wide rpm range. Motor Life and Motor Trend both cited 8.8-second 0-60-mph times for a two-door hardtop with the dual-quad engine; Motor Trend covered the quarter-mile in 17.2 seconds at 85.5 mph.
The basic transmission on Fireflites was, at least theoretically, a three-speed manual, though probably few cars were so equipped. The three-speed TorqueFlite automatic was standard on Adventurers and a $227 option on Fireflites. The two-speed PowerFlite automatic, entering its final year of service, could be ordered on Fireflites for a mere $189.
Among the quirkier factory options was the "Ultra-Fi." Fifty-two dollars would add this RCA-developed record player to the AM radio, itself an $89 extra. In contrast to the earlier Highway Hi-Fi, which required special 162/3-rpm records, the new unit played standard 45s. Another $106 would fetch front seats that swiveled to the side automatically when the doors were opened to ease entry and exit.
In a year that saw auto production rise to 6.6 million cars -- better than 1957's pretty-good 6.1 million, though no match for the 7.9 million of 1955 -- DeSoto suffered. Just 26,081 cars came off the line in the 1960 model year, for a very disappointing 14th place. DeSoto's market share was barely one-third of 1 percent. Only Imperial, Lincoln, Checker, and the euthanized Edsel fared worse. (One consequence of DeSoto's slide was that its Warren Avenue plant was taken over by Imperial at the end of 1958; DeSoto production was moved to Jefferson Avenue, mixed with Chryslers and Dodges.)
Poor performance rarely goes unpunished, and when the 1961 model year began, it was obvious that DeSoto had been to the woodshed. The product line was pared yet again. Gone were the Adventurer and Fireflite. There was just a single series with no name, though it was roughly equivalent to the 1960 Fireflite. In it were a hardtop coupe and a hardtop sedan.
The marque's precarious position didn't go unremarked. In its '61 new-car previews, Motor Trend could hardly contain its surprise. "Many observers seriously doubted whether DeSoto would introduce any car, let alone a new car for 1961," it said. "Generally speaking, most persons thought that if the car did come out, it would be a luxury compact."
Powertrains began with a single engine choice, a two-barrel 361. Thanks to full-point compression-ratio reduction to 9.0:1, power output was down to 265 horsepower. The carburetor was improved and intake valves were enlarged, however. A manual transmission, Chrysler's new heavy-duty three-speed unit, was listed as standard, but most, if not all, cars were equipped with the optional TorqueFlite.
The styling had become arresting, Motor Trend complaining that the front and rear looked like they had "come from different styling studios." While only the taillights and trim had changed on the rear, the front bore canted headlamps and a two-section grille with a cyclopslike upper section that was widely considered unattractive.
Chrysler vehicles all made a switch in '61 from DC generators to AC alternators for better electrical-current output at low engine speeds -- all the better for operating power convenience features. There were still options aplenty for DeSotos: air conditioning (for $501), power brakes, power steering, six-way power seat, and a couple of convenience and style groups. The Ultra-Fi record player returned, called simply "RCA Automatic Record Player" in the catalogs. The pivoting seats were no longer offered, though.
It's tempting to contrast the seemingly sudden death of DeSoto with the slow, excruciating demise recently doled out to Plymouth and Oldsmobile by starvation of new-product development. With 20/20 hindsight, however, we can see that the end of DeSoto, from the time of the decision to the assembly of the last car, was anything but swift. The knell had been sounded by the time the 1960 product plans were hatched, and canny observers of the industry could have seen the signs: overt pruning of the DeSoto product line and gerrymandering of the Chrysler catalog to take up the slack.
If the condensed 1960 DeSoto lineup did not catch their attention, surely the expanded Chrysler line for 1961 did. The Windsor, for a decade the entry-level Chrysler, was pushed upmarket by half a notch. Below it appeared a new series, the Chrysler Newport, with a full line of body styles from four-door sedan to hardtops, to station wagons, to a convertible, at prices from $2,964 to $3,622, about where the DeSoto Firesweep had been in 1959. DeSoto was being replaced by a new Chrysler.
The DeSoto product line had not been the only casualty. DeSoto management also felt the ax. In June 1959, Chrysler Corporation's DeSoto Division was rolled into a new Plymouth-DeSoto Division, under Plymouth general manager Harry Cheseborough. In November, this became Plymouth-DeSoto-Valiant with the addition of the new compact car, which was sold initially as a separate make.
For more picture-packed articles about great cars, see: