Long before the muscle car era kicked off in earnest in 1964, Highland Park fielded a ferocious foursome of super coupes in the mid-to late 1950’s. The second most hedonistic was the DeSoto Adventurer.
In DeSoto’s role as the less demure, more accessible Chrysler counterpart, the Adventurer focused quite a bit on outward glitter to compliment the marvelous performance capabilities unleashed by the chassis. Decked out with “Christmas Tree” tail lamps and “Firesweep” two-tone color panels, the Adventurer was the most expensive and prized gift you could receive from DeSoto retailers during the late 1950’s.
Although “all new all over again” for 1957, for a variety of reasons, tweaks and tuning made modest improvements for the 1958 version of the Adventurer, and for all Mopar machines in general.
The sleek and sexy looks that made all other domestic deals seem out of date overnight hid some certifiable demons. The quality control issues that ran through all 1957 Highland Park offerings has been documented time and time again. The lack of trust in the merchandise did not bode well for sustained sales during a sharp recession that grew nastier during the 1958 model year.
Despite improvements to materials, attempts to stop leaks, rusting and snapping torsion bars, sales of all Mopar brands dropped off a cliff for 1958. Out of Chrysler’s volume brands, DeSoto, right up against perennial favorite Oldsmobile and newcomer Edsel fared the worst. No model felt it worse than the super exclusive Adverturer.
Despite blazing 0-60 times in the mid 7 second range that could keep pace with Corvettes, taut Torsion-aire ride and Total Contact Brakes that kept the Adventurer and all Chrysler products among the most roadworthy cars on the market in 1958, only 350 examples of the Adventurer coupe found customers that year. Issues with the new Electronic Fuel Injection unit on the new 345 hp 361 Wedge V8 perhaps didn’t boost confidence that all the quality gremlins had been banished to the underworld.
DeSoto as a whole couldn’t crack 50,000 units for 1958, despite being in all forms possibly the greatest value ( being Chrysler clones that on average could be had for 20% less) in the Highland Park portfolio. Rumors swirled about the future of the stalwart brand as the creep of mortality came to visit grimly at all medium priced brands as former middle class consumers found themselves out of work in 1958.
It was the beginning of the end of the DeSoto adventure in general. Loss of an autonomous identity continued and sales hastened their slide. Further encroachment on their part of the market by glitzier Dodges for 1959 and ever more cut rate Chrysler Windsors the next few seasons made it a family massacre too bloody to witness. By Christmas 1960, the last orphan DeSotos shyly crept out of the factory, none with a distinct model name to call their own.
From the optimistic perch of the fall of 1957, it seemed fixing some of the inherent flaws would give boundless opportunities for DeSoto to have continuous adventures with their full line of finned beauties. Poor timing and thinking left us without one of our original post-war Super Coupes and a nest for them to roost. Thankfully every once in a while you see a survivor that’ll tell you of their adventures if you pause to listen.