Story of the Week

Posted: 07.25.2016
Remembering Detroit's tribute to the 1959 DeSoto models
By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection

 

On Sept. 22-23, 1958, Chrysler brought together DeSoto auto dealers from across the United States to commemorate 30 years of the popular vehicle and preview the 1959 De Soto product line.

DeSoto dealers had traveled to the Detroit area for fun, food and great activities and to celebrate the DeSoto nameplate which was founded in 1929.

More than 4,000 dealers and guests along with their wives took part in this glorious occasion during that two-day event. During the celebration, guests toured the city of Detroit along with attending many great and special events at the State Fairgrounds.

 

However, the most important part of their visit was the introduction of the new 1959 DeSoto models. So let’s take a look back in time on what took place on that memorable day in Detroit when Chrysler DeSoto dealers celebrated their history while keeping an eye toward the future.

The journey started with many of the De Soto dealers arriving at Ypsilanti’s Willow Run Airport, but not all guests took to the sky to get to the Motor City. Mr. Lewis Eubanks, from San Antonio, Texas had driven his 1929 De Soto automobile nearly 1,500 miles to be a part of the show and its scheduled performances.

The main stage show was held that Monday at the Municipal Auditorium with the theme of, “A generation of fine cars: 1929-1959.”

 

The musical extravaganza was titled “Going Places.” The show featured Broadway actor Harry Stranton playing the role of a DeSoto Dealer, and Joan Fagan, playing his secretary. Actor Jack Drummond rounded out the cast as the DeSoto salesman, who gave the audience a great performance.

Later there were musical performances that introduced DeSoto features like the Sports Swivel seats along with the popular, en vogue interiors and the new Flair Stream styling which was marketed toward women. Two fashion shows for women were also scheduled which highlighted the latest couture from New York and Paris.

 

Adding to the prestige of the event, the mayor officially proclaimed “DeSoto Week” in Detroit. After the great stage show, DeSoto Dealers were able to see and admire the new 1959 DeSoto models which were on display for public viewing. Mr. J. B. Wagstaff, who was general manager for DeSoto Division, said, “…in keeping with a generation of fine cars, the 1959 De Soto was designed as a car of performance and prestige. We feel that this De Soto can do everything a motorist can possibly ask of it.” As an automotive historian, I always have felt that the 1959 De Soto models had a lower and wider appearance styling look.

DeSoto dealers were treated to more fun during that special week with a welcome reception and dinner in the main ballroom at the Hotel Sheraton and the Fountain Room of the Leland Hotel in Detroit. Guests were also treated to amenities at the popular Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle Park.

 

On Tuesday, the De Soto dealers were picked up and had toured DeSoto and Chrysler Corporation facilities all over the Detroit area and later, they would arrive at the State Fairgrounds.

At the Fairgrounds during their great celebration, the dealers were introduced to a great new show of DeSoto models which were driven by the Kochman's Hell Drivers. It was a pulse-quickening thrill show that wowed the audience.

The DeSoto Dealers applauded generously for the skilled drivers who at the time put the new 1959 DeSoto models to the test for a great high-speed performance. The climax of the show was a midair jump, 40 feet from ramp-to-ramp by the skill drivers which later created an amazing demonstration to show the balance and precision built into a great new De Soto automobile.

 

Later, the noon meal had taken place for DeSoto dealers which included spare ribs, chicken and thick slices of beef simmering over the open fires. The meal also included a chance to meet and say hello to Chrysler Corporation President L.L. Tex Colbert, who was one of the featured guests.

On the last day of this great event, DeSoto dealers had the pleasantly surprising opportunity to drive home in a brand new 1959 De Soto demonstration automobile. The drive-away program got off to a great start with 1500 De Soto models that were wrapped in plastic and ready to drive home. It was an historical two-day event in Chrysler's history that will always be a part of our automotive community and heritage.

 

 


A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for contributing this story to the MotorCities Story of the Week Program. 

For further information on photos please visit http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/ or email nahc@detroitpubliclibrary.org. Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area. (Bibliography: Hurley, John. De Soto News Releases Auto Show Editions 1958; Chrysler Corporation 1958 annual report; Butler, Don. “The Plymouth and De Soto story,” Crestline Publishing 1978.)


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