Tuesday, June 1, 2010
San Francisco Street Sighting - 1959 DeSoto Firesweep Sportsman
The 1959 DeSoto is one of those cars for which I harbor an irrational affection, a car fraught with some of the worst late-1950s excesses and yet it still exudes class and style. It is my favorite Chrysler product made in 1959 and the very last model year of DeSoto that I like. I have always been hit-or-miss on Chrysler Corporation. When they get it right, it's tolerable or even rather nice. When they get it wrong, boy is it wrong. I'm talking about you, 1962 lineup. A classic case of "getting it wrong" was DeSoto after 1959. Some fans really like the curiously angry-looking 1960 DeSoto, but even those people will rarely defend the horribly deformed 1961 model with its canted headlights and mismatched double grilles. That was the end of the road for DeSoto, as sales withered and died like a feverish Hernando de Soto.
Why do I like the '59? The clincher for me was a combination of two factors. When I was growing up, my mom was a fan of the TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". One of the characters, a vampire named Spike, drove a black 1959 DeSoto Fireflite sedan with heavily tinted windows. Johnny Lightning produced a diecast replica of that car in 1/64 scale, and then re-issued the casting later on in a cream color with turquoise side trim. I bought one. Since then, I have loved 1959 DeSotos. The styling is that of a thinly disguised '59 Chrysler, with a cleaner side profile and a bigger front bumper that gives it a somewhat bulbous appearance but eliminates the Chrysler's likeness to a baleen whale. The DeSoto's hooded tail fins are similar in basic shape but their six cylindrical taillight lenses give it more character, and the contrasting side trim has a swooshing dip in it that adds interest. One unusual design move that some might question is the double-decker rear bumper on the DeSoto, a feature unique to that brand.
This well-worn but solid running example is one of over a dozen old cars belonging to the San Francisco collector I call "Fifties Guy". It's one of my favorite cars from his collection and I hope it runs for a good long time to come. Hopefully it will receive sufficient attention to keep the body from deteriorating further, and if a day comes when it sees restoration, I hope he keeps it painted this color combination. It's an awesome car. Oh yeah, and it's fairly rare, too -- one of just 5,481 Firesweep Sportsman coupes built that year.