Throwback Monday: Famous Factories

Welcome to Throwback Monday where we take a look at how things once were, or at least how certain famous cars were once built. This week we’ll explore how Desoto once discovered quality in construction.
By the late 1950s, Chrysler’s stable included five brands: Plymouth, Dodge, Desoto, Chrysler, and Imperial. The company’s products also suffered significant quality issues—some stemming from design flaws, and some from the build process—which drove down sales and forced Chrysler to take drastic steps to regain the public’s trust. Let’s have a look at how they positioned the quality improvements for one of those brands, the late, lamented DeSoto.
Chrysler once had an enviable reputation for quality products, but that all fell apart by 1957 when their cars seemed to be plagued by numerous build and durability issues. Windshields leaked, engine parts wore prematurely, door handles came off in potential buyers hands in the showroom. It was madness.
Recognizing the damage being done to their brands, the company began to take steps to improve both the design of the cars, and of how they were being built, and by the time the 1958 models hit dealer showrooms many of the problems had been addressed. The cars didn’t look all that different however—most of the fixes being under the hood and invisible to the untrained eye—and so it wasn’t immediately obvious to the consumer that the cars were in fact any better. Sales continued to sputter along into the sixties.
That led Chrysler to take the unprecedented step of offering a factory guarantee of quality—the 5 and 50 powertrain warranty—initiated in 1963. That however, was too late to save one of the company’s brands, DeSoto.
DeSoto had been introduced by Walter P. Chrysler in 1928 and its name was taken from the 16th Century explorer who discovered the Mississippi River. The brand slotted under Chrysler and their post-war product was plush, substantial, and  typically larger that the competition coming from Mercury, Olds and Pontiac.
The brand was riding high into the mid-fifties with 114,000 cars sold in 1955. Then a confluence of issues stymied the brand. An economic downturn in 1956 put the brakes on car sales across the board, affecting the more expensive brands the hardest. At the same time Chrysler’s quality control issues began to make consumers leery of any of the maker’s models.
As sales declined, Desoto production was moved from the brand’s long-time home at the Wyoming Avenue Plant to the Jefferson Assembly Plant where it would share assembly with Chryslers. The brand also had to fight for sales against Chrysler as the latter’s lower-cost Windsor line stood in direct competition. DeSoto sales never fully recovered and the brand was dropped in 1962. That’s too bad because DeSoto was perhaps Chrysler’s most interesting product line offering a mix of luxury and performance that rivaled Chrysler at a price that was just a few rungs above Dodge.
Here’s a video promoting the steps taken to address quality control issues on the Jefferson line. The narrator notes that line is more than 14 miles long and includes a bridge over Jefferson Avenue that connected the assembly plant with the Kercheval Engine Plant. Following DeSoto’s demise, the Jefferson Plant provided production facilities for Dodge trucks, and later both the K cars and Omni/Horizon twins.
Image: Pinterest

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  1. CruisinTime Avatar

    “door handles came off in potential buyers hands in the showroom. It was madness.”
    I call Bullshit on this one.

    1. desmo Avatar

      …and Christine agrees.