1959 De Soto Adventurer Review - Fantastic Fins Part 8/10

By: Guy Allen, Unique Cars magazine, Photography by: Coventry Studios + Ben Galli

Presented by

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It's 1959 - the peak of the big fin and lavish chrome era. Here's one of the star cars - the De Soto Adventurer

1959 De Soto Adventurer Review - Fantastic Fins Part 8/10
The De Soto is a striking looking car, even by 1959 standards.

In the world of Chrysler, it’s the early 300 letter series cars that tend to get the attention as the glamour models. With good reason. Chrysler had its own hierarchy of names worked out, though you could occasionally subvert the system by optioning up a ‘plain’ car to dizzy heights – as we saw with the Windsor on the previous pages.

    However if you are in the market specifically for rarity, you’d be hard pressed to do better than a DeSoto Adventurer in this Sportsman hardtop trim.

First, though, let’s have a quick look at the DeSoto marque, which is hardly what you’d call a household name these days. Back in 1928 Chrysler was – like its competitors – playing with brand extension, with new nameplates. It established DeSoto (named after a Spanish explorer who was an early European explorer of the continental USA) and Plymouth, and acquired Dodge.

In the famous Chrysler heirachy, DeSoto and Dodge were both mid-priced brands, though that was to change in the early 1930s, when DeSoto was given a more elevated market position.

The brand was a big success at first – selling 81,065 cars in its full sales year of 1929. However the numbers eventually dwindled and it got hammered in the recession of 1958. By 1961, it was in its final production year. Chrysler assembled the last cars to use up millions of dollars-worth of warehoused parts and pretty much forced the last of them on their dealers.

Things were a little happier in 1959, when this Adventurer was built. The car sat on the long 126-inch (3200mm) wheelbase and shared much of the corporate architecture, including the famous torsion bar (or Torsion-Aire) front end.

But here’s the kicker for a 1959 Adventurer, if you can find one: depending on whose numbers you believe, just 590 Sportsman Hardtops like the one you see here were built. Frankly, that can’t have been economic and you start to understand why the brand was on a not-so-long slippery slope to oblivion.

Still, if you plonked your hard-earned on the desk at your nearest dealer, you should have been pretty happy with what you got in a return as these were a very special car.

The spec included a 383 V8 B variant running a fairly high 10:1 compression ratio plus twin four-barrel Carter carburettors and claiming a healthy 350 horses – more than enough to make even this big car a lively bit of kit. You scored power steering and assisted brakes, air-con was optional, while there lots of dual features, such as exhausts, antenna and mirrors.

The whole luxury theme was rounded with an AM radio, whitewall tyres and the popular swivel front seats. Actually ‘thrones’ would be a more accurate term.

Owner Tony Villella has done a fairly big rebuild on this car and there’s no doubt it was worth effort. One intriguing feature is the home-grown dual master cylinder braking set-up. Though it’s power-assisted from the factory, Tony was underwhelmed by the brakes and decided to add some extra oomph. To that end he fitted a second booster and master cylinder, hidden away in the boot! It’s a clever piece of engineering and he reckons it works a treat.

With big power and decent brakes, this – for its era – would be a bit of a revelation to drive.

OPTIONS

JUST TO to give you some idea of what you confronted when you walked into a showroom, there are 12 pages of the DeSoto brochure for this model series, outlining the various engines, colours, accessories and so-on you could order.

It lists alternative rear and front screens, a rear window demister, cabin heaters, auto headlight dipper, various radios, steering wheel and dash trim, tyres and differentials.

Then we can go on to the hubcaps, exterior mouldings, seats, engines...you get the idea. It must have been a decision that could take days or weeks.

THE OWNER

Tony Villella

I WAS just a teenager when I saw my first ’59 DeSoto. It looked like a factory-made Batmobile — I had to have one.

   Years later, I now have four. My Adventurer is definitely my favourite though. It was a Californian car originally, I came to own it thanks to George Laurie — he’s the guy to talk to when it comes to finding bits for these cars — in fact he’s the only person who makes badges for the Adventurer in Australia.

   Anyway, George knew that I was chasing an Adventurer, so when he came across one, he let me know and I bought it.

   When I first got the car it was in pieces, literally. Just about every component was pulled out of the shell. That made things pretty stressful because I wasn’t sure what was missing.

   After three years of ownership, I overhauled the engine, transmission and brakes and she’s now complete. It’s great to drive, very smooth and light in the steering. It’s a dream come true.

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