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The DeSoto Adventurer I -- My Favorite Show Car of All Time

Virgil M. Exner, Sr., with the DeSoto Adventurer IRegardless of having been associated with great car designs and car designers all of my life, my favorite show car of all time has to be the 1953 DeSoto Adventurer I. My father designed it in 1952 as the Director of Advanced Styling for Chrysler Corporation.

Father actually started the design at our home in Birmingham, Michigan, with scale drawings and then modeled the 1/4 scale adaptation in clay in his office "back room" along with one of his favorite modelers, Ron Martin. Ron was the son of my father's clay modeler at GM Styling, George Martin, when Father was the Chief Designer of Pontiac from 1936 through 1938. Ron also brought the first use of fiberglass casting to Chrysler Styling, and the Adventurer model was the first to be cast in fiberglass and shipped to Ghia in Italy for the full size show car to be developed. Prior to that the scale models were cast in plaster and always subject to cracking of the beautiful finishes.

The DeSoto Adventurer I was a sporty coupe on a `52 Desoto chassis shortened to an 111 inch wheelbase that utilized a 170 HP, 273 cubic inch "Power Dome" Hemi engine with a three-speed Fluid-Drive transmission. It was a very clean and simple design, one of Father's best of all time. It was quite light in weight, but seated 4 without the special rear seat fitted luggage that Ghia provided. It Mrs. Mildred Exner with the Adventurer at Watkins Glen, 1956.
was fun to drive and after its U.S debut and showings father was allowed to keep it at home for two years from 1954 until 1956. That's when I was a Junior and Senior in college at age 21 to 23 and had started to design and build my own sports car in 1954.

Of course, I got to drive the Adventurer quite a bit. My longest drive was in 1956 when Father, Mother, and I drove it to Watkins Glen for the annual road races. Father had had it repainted silver, from the original white. That was the first year that a new and permanent road course was introduced there.

We were accompanied by Jack Charipar and his wife who drove Father's latest 1955 Chrysler show car, the Chrysler Falcon. Jack was a young excellent Chrysler Design Engineer who did most of the layout and follow-up work at Ghia on the Falcon. I pretended I was racing it at my wheel turns and father had to tell me to slow down several times.

We reunited with Briggs Cunningham and talked about his success with his C4-R that father had a hand in and the "old days" of the S.C.C.A. The Glen was beautiful, as ever, and the races were great with the D Type Jaguars, the Ferraris, Maseratis, several specials, etc. The "Best Show Car Award" went to the Falcon and people loved the Adventurer.

Before that trip, I had the use of it many times. On one date, with a gal from Grosse Pointe, on the way home I took part in the now famous Woodward Ave. drags (from 8 Mile road out to Pontiac) and "cleaned clock" until I reached my left turn past 15 Mile and stopped at the light. I turned at the light The author posing with the Adventurer, 1955and the car turned then just coasted. The shifter didn't engage and I stopped. Oh boy! There wasn't any traffic at 1 AM, but there was light from the gas station on the corner. I got out and looked underneath. Yeah, the shifter rod was hanging down. There was just the one key with no ring, so I searched the interior and, oh yeah, I found a bobby pin! I reattached the rod and slipped in the pin. No washer, but It worked. I told father about it the next morning and he just told me it was probably the Engineering Garage's fault for not making a stronger connection. I told him to tell the garage to use 3 flat washers and a better cotter pin. When he came home that evening he told me that I was right and they did!

By late 1956 it was time for Chrysler to either return the Adventurer to Ghia, sell it, or scrap it. The time for payment of customs duty on the purchase from Ghia was up. This was the case with most of the early Chrysler/Ghia idea cars. Chrysler didn't want to return it to Ghia as they didn't want to let it The author with his own creation, the Simca Special.get into private hands, and they didn't want to show favoritism to any of the many Chrysler dealers or private Chrysler lovers who sought ownership. So, they scrapped it. With great sadness, I saw it in Engineering Alley on top of the Chrysler K-310 and the Chrysler C-200 just after all 3 were flattened. Great memories, great automobiles!

I went on to continue to build my Simca Special and finish it in 1958. It became a quite well known show car, but was really nothing compared to the DeSoto Adventurer I.

--Virgil M. Exner, Jr.


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The front end is somewhat similar in appearance to the Dual Ghias and Facel Vegas in the '50's and 60's. Also, if I am correct, the Adventurer name was put on a top-of-the-line DeSoto in the mid-50's.

When I worked at Nissan, we had special Japanese limousines for Marvin Runyon. They were the Nissan Sovereign President models, and we also had a Nissan Patrol SUV.

After a period of time, they all went to the crusher. I heard somebody saved the emblems off of them.

It's too bad they could not have stayed within the Foreign Trade Zone gates of the Nissan plant and shuttled VIPs around the grounds. I think that would have been a fitting retirement for them.

So sad. :(

It's similar to the 1951 D'Elegance, also designed by Mr. Exner Sr., and the VW Karmann Ghia, which Ghia styled in flattering imitation of the D'Elegance. Pretty cars, all of them.

While your article, Mr Exner Jr, oozes with sentimentality and tearful sadness I'm not sure I believe your assertion that the Adventurer 1 was crushed....If your family (mom, dad, & you) really loved the car that much you would have made more effort to save the buy it, or even hide it in storage......One packet of info/pics from Chrysler I received (in the 90's) has the caption under the Adventurer 1 stating it was 'sold overseas'.....

Adventurer 1 was indeed handsome for a US car of the era and much better than Ghia's fat Adven2. or ny of the Dual Ghias. Actually better than the "Falcon although the 105 inch wheelbase of the Falcon was handier. Of the Adven1 seeing it parked next to a Porsche it looks hardly taller, yet the front face looks really vast in relation to the size and span of the headlights. How is that possible, were those lights the 5 inch OSCA sized ones? The wheelbase was that of the first Merc Cougar, that is, only a couple inches beyond an original Ponycar Mustang, so that car would have been dandy as well.

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