No Reserve: Rare 1957 DeSoto Explorer Wagon

Desoto, what an unusual name for a car. Usually cars are named for their founders like Ford, Olds(mobile), Chrysler, Dodge, Chevrolet, etc. But picking a somewhat random Spanish explorer is a bit different. Why not a Magellan, Columbus, Balboa, Cortez… Whatever the case, finding a DeSoto is becoming a more difficult task with each passing year, and finding a station wagon version is down right rare. Knowing that, let’s take a close look at this 1957 DeSoto Explorer station wagon, located in West Palm Beach, Florida and available here on eBay for  a current bid of $3,100, six bids tendered so far.

The DeSoto tale is pretty familiar to car guys/gals – it always seems that we remember something’s demise more often than its inception.  DeSoto’s tenure, 1928-1961, was marked with successful sales runs as the model was positioned both below, and then later above, Dodge as it vied for mid-tier level sales. The 1958 recession dealt it, and other marques, a hard knock and DeSoto ultimately never recovered.

 

When I consider this DeSoto, I see a mix of a Plymouth and a Dodge, I guess the intended effect considering the model’s positioning. The exterior condition of this nine-passenger Explorer is surprisingly complete. The seller states that this wagon was originally from New Mexico and its sunburned induced surface rust is a nod to that environment. There is some rust present in the rear quarters and rocker panels but the seller assures us that the rest of this Explorer is solid with no rust-through or crash damage. The trim is listed as being pit-free and the chrome plating is still in reasonably good condition. Most importantly, the trim all appears to be present, especially helpful on a limited model like a station wagon. The seller claims that he has a lot of extra parts, too many to name, but he does mention a driveshaft, windshield and a radiator.

Under the hood is a 260 gross HP, 325 CI “FireSweep” V8 engine. The seller states that it turns easily but he has not tried to start it. He references a #2 cylinder miss and a potentially blown head gasket. He further suggests that it should be an easy rebuild but that’s very hard to say without having more of an idea as to what’s really wrong. A blown head gasket, if that’s the case, could be signs of something serious or seriously damaged. Backing up the “FireSweep” V8 is an automatic transmission but it is not stated if it is a Powerflite or a TorqueFlite unit. Both automatics are actuated via a pushbutton console located to the left of the steering wheel.

There is only one image of the interior and it is pretty seriously trashed. What can be spied looks lost to any sense of reasonable use. Since this is an “Explorer” model, as opposed to a six-passenger “Shopper” variant, the interior extends all the way to the cargo area with its third seat – that’s a lot of interior that’s going to require a ton of work just to make usable. I guess he wasn’t kidding about the extra radiator….

In spite of the interior’s deleterious condition and the unknowns around the engine, this DeSoto is a great project base for and adventurous soul who wants to save a rare participant from post-war America’s suburban scene. And what a cruiser it would be! As I am fond of saying, the devil is always in the details as it will be with this wagon but the likelihood of finding another DeSoto Explorer in this basic level of condition has to be slim don’t you think?

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Comments

  1. LarryS Member

    Would certainly be nice to see at least one picture of the driver’s side.

  2. Rex Kahrs Member

    Ya gotta wonder how many of these are still in existence. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one in 40 years of car shows and cruise-ins. Viva Virgil Exner!

    10
  3. Big_Fun Member

    In picture 12 – the radio, I see the prominent Civil Defense signs (two) on the dial face. They were there in case of a National emergency -CONELRAD. They idea was you would time in to that frequency to get further information.
    Today, my inactive XM radio in my older Pontiac (I guess all Pontiacs are older) has channel 121 active for COVID radio.
    More information here:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/CONELRAD

    7
    • Dave

      Back in the Cold War days, the Conelrad stations were a group of low power stations on 640 and 1240 kHz. The idea was that the signals from higher powered stations would be used as homing beacons for incoming ICBMs. There was one in Baldwin Borough, near Pittsburgh, that was torn down in the 1980s and a housing subdivision was built there.
      CB and ham radio operators were required to listen for Conelrad alerts and had to cease operations upon hearing the alert. Nowadays it’s all done digitally.

      3
  4. Howard A Member

    “It’s delightful, it’d delovely, it’s DeSoto”. Too far gone. Even Groucho would agree.

    5
  5. Eric_13cars Eric_13cars Member

    Pretty amazing for all of the trim to be present and in pretty good condition. Just the rarity should make it a candidate for restoration, but you’d have to be in it for the fun and experience because I doubt that you’d make money. If you can do the body work, the interior and paint are still going to be really expensive by themselves. I don’t agree with Howard that it’s too far gone, and if you’re not a purist, you could turn it into a cool modern ride.

    15
  6. Skorzeny

    Here’s my take. I don’t care what shape the engine is in, if you can rebuild it great, if not, crate Hemi (modern) and drive the wheels of it to shows. Of course a tranny to back up that modern power. No, you will NEVER make any money off of it, but to me, regardless of what Howard says, it’s worth saving because of the styling and rarity. If I had the $, I’d be all over it.

    21
  7. Kenneth Carney

    I’ve seen De Sotos, but never like this. Most of the ones I saw had two-tone
    paint and a lot of chrome on them. If
    memory serves me, these had the last of
    the hemi V-8s in them at least for the ’50s
    anyhow. Be warned though, Chrysler cars
    of this era were notorious rusters that
    may have looked good in your driveway
    until the tin Worm dissolved them to powder. And if you were lucky enough
    to find one that wasn’t rusty, you had the
    problem of sagging rear springs to contend with. Other than that, they were
    reliable transportation that lasted a long
    time after the new wore off.

    2
  8. AMCFAN

    I am on the fence. It it was a driver in this condition I would say deal. Swapping in a newer motor isn’t going to be a walk in the park. That engine bay isn’t as big as you think. Restoring the motor you will be limited to 1950’s tech. You will most certainly do the trans too. Out in western drier areas cars were driven longer. When they broke they were parked and were usually worn out. My bet that it had serious mechanical issues prior.
    `
    The rust situation is not that cut and dried. It isn’t a secret that Cryco used bad steel. I have had a few California Forward Look era survivors and no exterior rust but the trunk had holes in it. So even in the right environment these rust. The rockers and quarters it is stated rust is there. My bet is it’s more severe then mentioned.

    The interior is crusty. It will NEVER be OEM. A good shop can make it look good and at $4000 plus may be the cheapest thing to fix. The seller didn’t do himself any favors listing this with all the parts piled inside.

    I would take it for what it’s worth. Two people that we know of bailed on this project. Could be more. Take it as a sign. Don’t be taken a ride by Desoto.

    2
  9. Burger

    It seems few know much about fin era DeSotos around here, let alone Firesweeps. So, here’s the deal …. this is a Firesweep. It is Dodge, with some DeSoto detail parts and a special DeSoto-esque interior. The entire chassis and drivetrain is standard issue Dodge, and doing rebuilds is a cinch, because fin-era Dodges have a huge following. The wagon body is corporate, so parts are interchangeable across the board. Interior material is available through several sources. This ain’t no credit-card-and-a-phone-call car to restore like most Fords and Chevys, but it isn’t like you’re taking on a Doble either.

    A 57 Firesweep wagon actually isn’t as rare as one might think. If you float in the finned Mopar world, you know this. But for those who just do car shows and favor more mainstream car interests, you’d never see one. The real rare version of this is the true DESOTO Explorer wagon from 58. Only 2-3 are documented to survive. That car has the full 126″ WB and DeSoto nose clip and actually looks like a DeSoto.

    This looks like a decent starting place for a person who wants a Firesweep wagon. It’s not a true DeSoto, but it is a wagon, and it is about as close as most people will ever get.

    12
    • Bill Potts

      You have a good eye! It’s the grill that’s the giveaway and the front end too especially the headlights. While it’s a Dodge underneath, I still think of it as a DeSoto. With the tailights and all it’s no Dodge. Just a cheaper watered down one.

    • AMCFAN

      Not nice to judge a book by the cover.

      I was heavily into Forward look cars for a good 16 years with what started with 58 Plymouths. I had six of them including a Belvedere wagon. I still own a very unusual 1958 Plymouth today.

      Others I have owned include a 59 Dodge Memphian 59 Chrysler Windsor 1960 Saratoga HT 1960 and 1961 Plymouth hardtops.

  10. stillrunners stillrunners Member

    Disagree with most all of the negative comments……

    5
    • Bruce Fischer

      Boy I would love to take that food shopping.

      • Phil Maniatty

        DeSoto’s 2-seat wagon was called a Shopper, whereas the 3-seat version, like the one pictured here was called an Explorer.

  11. Phil Maniatty

    The transmission is a Torqueflite (3-speed) automatic. You can tell by the presence of two pushbuttons on the lower row of buttons on the transmission selector pod. This is visible in the interior/ instrument panel photo. Firesweeps that were equipped with the 2-speed Powerflite transmission only had a single “L” button on the bottom row.

    As to the relationship of DeSoto Firesweeps to Dodge, they are all DeSoto from the cowl back, but use the 4 inch shorter Dodge frame, a Dodge engine and a modified Dodge front clip, together with the DeSoto bumper/grill assembly.

    2
    • KMD

      Phil, did not know the 2 door DeSoto wagon was called a “Shopper!” Thanks for the info….

      • Phil Maniatty

        Actually, the information that the 2-seat wagon was called a Shopper was in the original post. I didn’t notice it until after I had responded to Bruce Fischer’s comment. A senior moment!

  12. Vince H

    I always thought De Soto was the best looking of the Mopar cars. Even being the lower series it is still cool.

    2
  13. SJT

    See DeSotos frequently at car shows, not the same number as Ford’s & Chevys, but they are still around. Take this wagon, have the interior done, find a “Mom & Pop” repair shop who knows their way around this engine, have it rebuilt. Change fluids, check the brakes, transmission, replace or clean the gas tank, etc. As for the paint, since patina is “in” at the present time, wash the car, clay bar and wax, detail the interior. BOOM! You are ready to go! I see cars done like this at shows quite frequently. Cool ride!!!

    1
  14. Russell Ashley

    We had a new 57 Desoto Firesweep and it was a good looking car. I love the fifties Mopars and I would love to have this wagon if I had the money to just take it to a shop and have it restored. Thanks to Burger for the accurate comments.

    1
  15. frank OWEN

    our new 57 plymouth 9 pass had electric back windo, the spare in r.rear fender, 3 on tree w/overdrive, 383 hi-perf…wind her up racing, always blow bypass hoze off water pump…folks never knew, the swapped 49 chevy coupe, in…be blessed, grateful, prepared…

  16. Chuck Dickinson

    One of 1198 built.

  17. Phil Maniatty

    What source would I use to find figures like that? I’d like to find information concerning my ’55 DeSoto. Thanks in advance.

  18. AMFMSW

    I can’t remember when I last saw any De Soto, let alone a Forward Look wagon. If the rust isn’t horrible, it’s worth saving…but finding parts could be difficult. This one will likely end up modified or given up on for a third time.

    1
  19. Rick Rothermel

    I like this, hope someone rescues it.
    Higher-trim ’58 and ’59 DeSoto Explorer wagons, were hero cars in the syndicated UNITED STATES MARSHAL series shot in Arizona ’56-’59. That, with GROUCHO MARX’ quiz show, were the only DeSoto promo shows on late-’50s TV. John Bromfield’s Frank Morgan was a very calm badass, occasionally smoking the whitewalls off those bias-ply skinnies.
    .

  20. Paolo

    “Engine never apart”. Questionable claim. Those motors were painted Chrysler “Corporate Silver”. This one is rebuild blue. Someone has been in there to some degree. This is a 325c.i. poly-head single rocker shaft version of the high deck Dodge hemi and it’s a 4 barrel which is all very nice. They aren’t really any harder to build than any other similar vintage OHV American engine. Parts are available although you will have to do some legwork. The average chain parts store won’t have much and you will spend more than for a Chevy small block. I’m currently building building a 57 Dodge 315. Same high deck motor just different displacement. The only thing I can’t get new is a camshaft. I will have to have mine reground.
    Seller says that #2 hole is dead and it’s a bad sign to see spark plugs sitting on the intake. It’s just stupid to leave the plug holes empty, you’re risking having the engine seize from moisture, rust and anything else that finds it’s way in.
    Love the car and hope someone who cares will buy it.

  21. John S.

    Ha haaaa!!! I learned how to drive in my Grandfather’s ’58 version of this land yaught!!! He figured if I could drive this… I could drive anything… Man what a tank!

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