Jerry Jenkins has a special attachment to his 1951 DeSoto custom convertible coupe because it is nearly identical to the first car he bought after coming home from the Korean War. His car is also special because it is quite rare. His was the only 1951 convertible at this year’s National DeSoto Club convention.
By TOM STRONGMAN
Walter P. Chrysler introduced the DeSoto brand in the summer of 1928, according to Dave Duricy’s Brief History of DeSoto on his Desotoland website, www.duricy.com. Within 12 months, more than 81,000 were built. That was more than Chrysler or Pontiac. Duricy said that record stood for more than 30 years.
The DeSoto name honored Hernando de Soto, a 16th century Spanish conquistador and explorer who discovered the Mississippi River. Production ceased in 1962.
DeSoto is a storied brand that eventually became a stepchild in the Chrysler family.
In 1934, the DeSoto Airflow set a new standard for automotive aerodynamics with a rounded, sleek body. It was never a sales success, however.
Jenkins bought his first DeSoto in Pomona, Calif., in 1954 with GI Bill money. “I barely had money left for food, school books and gas while getting my degree,” he said. He loved the car, but it developed a radiator problem after a couple of years.
“I was a young buck chasing girls and didn’t know how to fix the radiator,” he said. He sold the car after graduation.
After a career in advertising in California (he said he helped develop Kmart’s Blue Light Special at the opening of a new store) and outdoor writing in Arizona, Jenkins moved to Oklahoma and worked in the oil and gas drilling business. He is 81, and he and his wife, Shirley, now live in Raymore.
In 2001, when Jenkins lived in Tulsa, Okla., he found this car in New York. A judge owned it. His extensive research included several letters to the Chrysler Corp., which showed that his car was built on Jan. 15, 1951, in Detroit. It was one of the last built with a six-cylinder engine because the 160-horsepower, DeSoto FireDome hemi V-8 was just going into production. Jenkins’ car was an export model that was sent to Canada.
Jenkins said that Chrysler combined the production numbers of the 1951 and 1952 models. About 1,650 convertibles were built in 1951, and 55 were for export. The car weighed 3,840 pounds and sold for $2,861.
“I spent eight years chasing parts and getting rid of rust,” he said. “The floors were so bad you could sit and see weeds below.”
The finished product is well done, and every detail is correct. Jenkins has a photograph of himself posing with his first ’51, and he loves to recreate the pose with this car.
“This is more than a car,” he said, “it’s my baby.”
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