Monday, June 1, 2015

Supersonic Jet from Outer Space

I was riding the old bike up to Greenpoint recently when I stumbled upon a vehicle I've witnessed over the years, usually rocketing past me through a green light. To find it roosting on a beautiful day was exactly what I'd been hoping for! Without further ado:
YES! This wonderful colossus is a 1958 Desoto Fireflite in 2-tone Black & Pearl White. This is the exact make and model car that the main character drove in the comic strip Shoe (his car was always drawn with complete and consistent accuracy!). It is also obviously a jet powered spaceship about to gentrify outer space once it picks up enough Greenpoint/Williamsburg citizens.
This is such a damn cool car I don't even know where to start. Its height is about that of the Honda in front of it but it manages to tower over the other rides in sheer amazingness.
Desoto was one of the many nameplates that finally died off or were consumed by larger companies in the late '50s early '60s. By the time this beast rolled off the assembly line it was driving right into the recession of '58 which saw new car sales drop by 30%. By this time Desoto was a part of the Chrysler corporation. Since the two makes looked very similar in that era Chrysler decided to drop the Desoto name entirely by 1961.
Most of the late '50s Desotos have 4 headlights but curiously enough this was an option. Occasionally you will see this exact car with one large headlight on each side.
Sputnik was launched the year before this was built, heralding the beginning of the Space Age. Styling cues abound on this ride such as the triple rockets on the hood and fenders.
The shape of the headlight enclosure is so odd that I wanted to snap it from above. This design was penned under the leadership of the legendary Chrysler designer Virgil Exner. 
Another view of the middle rocket in lunch mode. The fact that the letters are done in gold tells you that this is indeed the top-of-the-line flagship model for Desoto.
There's SO MUCH WINDSHIELD wrapping around the front of this behemoth! The glass looks to have a faint green tint to it which probably came from the factory (I had a '63 Beetle that had factory green glass in it). Myriad tiny details are evident here such as the tiny scale of the vent window due to that sharp angle of the pillar, the chrome cap above the top of the windshield, and the fact that there isn't a straight edge to be seen. Even the door handles are a dynamic, rounded shape!
Just in case the driver forgot how lucky they were to be piloting such a cruiser, Fireflite is written in gold right on the dash under the speedometer.
The radio and clock are options but I can't tell if it has a/c or not. The transmission is hidden from view but it is a pushbutton model on the far side of the gauge cluster.
Even with the metal pitted these are some of the coolest mirrors even placed on a car. In 1958 it was rare to see a passenger side mirror at all.
You can't make it out but this glass covered emblem contains the stylized likeness of Hernando de Soto, the explorer who "discovered" the Mississippi (while pillaging and murdering the people who happened to already live in these undiscovered lands). Why there is a small keyhole and lamp present is beyond me. This sort of ignorance in automobile naming wasn't limited to honoring an explorer with blood on his hands; in '57 and '58 Studebaker named their beyond-cheap stripped down model the Scotsman as in "thrifty as a Scot". 
Looks like there are a couple of chalices on the emblem as well according to these original hubcaps. How is it that this sweet ride has been granted some special protection from the trials of car ownership in NYC? I've seen this for years driving around Manhattan and Brooklyn and the only thing I can surmise is that it commands so much damn attention that people leave it be.
Now we're talking! Next to the Cadillacs of this same era these are some of the most dramatic and impressive fins ever produced. 
The stacked taillights add to the Space Age look. If you saw a science fiction movie around this time the spaceship would look something like this. The Jetsons car was even similar.
Originally there was another chrome strip along the underneath of this one that angles upward. Underneath the E in Fireflite you can just make out the filled-in hole of one of the mounting points.
Why are there 8 vertical strips of chrome surrounding the license plate? Because it's totally awesome, that's why. I hadn't noticed the Mickey Mouse gloves in the back window until now, nor the section of string coming out of the trunk below the plate.
As if this thing needed one more detail to be cooler than cool, the exhaust is directed through the openings beneath the taillights. The opening is the same odd shape as the headlight surrounds which pleases me a great deal.
Well that's that. This is only the 2nd Desoto I've encountered in NYC but I'm always on the lookout. The fact that someone uses a car so impossibly irrational as a daily driver in the city is pretty incredible. Parallel parking this requires more room than is usually available, so hats off!

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