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Delightful, Dependable, De Soto

Galen and Fay Erb’s original, 110,000-mile 1959 Adventurer has been a family member since 1961.

Fay Erb purchased this 1959 De Soto Adventurer two-door
hardtop as a used car in 1961, then she and her eventual
husband used the car daily and through many trips into the
early 1970s.

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Galen Erb probably never thought he’d still be with the love of his life and the 1959 De Soto Adventurer two-door hardtop she drove when they were dating, but luck has been on his side. Even luckier, his wife and the car remain as good as they were when Galen met them in 1961.

It was Erb’s wife, Fay, who bought the car at the urging of her MoPar-favoring father, but over the past 48 years, it’s become her and her husband’s family vehicle, if not a family member. The Adventurer’s place in the Erb clan was solidified through more than a decade of daily use, which ended shortly after a chance stop at a gas station. There, an attendant started Erb thinking about the car’s future.

“In 1971, I was pulling a little boat trailer when we stopped for gas and the guy wouldn’t put gas in it,” Erb said. “He said, ‘You’re not supposed to have that car out.’” Like the Erbs, the attendant was a MoPar fan, and his words hit home. Shortly after the chance meeting, the Erbs parked the Adventurer for 13 years.

Before it began its well-deserved rest in 1972, the fine original car had earned its name and was still looking good. The car was used on such adventures as the Erbs’ honeymoon in the early 1960s, which took them from Pennsylvania through Tennessee, New Mexico, Colorado and up Pikes Peak.

“People ask me what it was like at Pikes Peak [with this car] — it was nothing — the car would do it,” Erb said.

On another experience, Erb was able to test the dual-carbureted De Soto’s power against a carload of kids in a new GM luxury car.

“In 1972, a brand-new Cadillac and two young guys passed and waved, so I let them get ahead of me and guess what — I waved as I passed by them!” Erb said.
On a second trip to the West Coast, the Adventurer was taken across the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam, driven through Utah and cruised through a giant Wawona tree at Yosemite National Park. Visitors to the The Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas were also treated to a view of the De Soto during the couple’s 1968 tour.

After its 13-year-long storage period, the adventuresome De Soto was dusted off and readied for new travels. The thoroughly original car was shown at the nearby 1987 Antique Automobile Club of America’s 1987 Eastern Division Fall National Meet at Hershey, Pa., where it received a First Junior award in a class filled with restored automobiles. Twenty-one years later, the car was on the AACA show field again and shooting for a Senior Award, still with its original interior, black paint and chrome.

After the 1987 showing at Hershey, the Erbs grew even more adventuresome and brought the De Soto all the way to Carlsbad, Calif., for the 1988 National De Soto Club Convention. Twenty-three more trips to De Soto Club Conventions followed, and only rarely were those miles crossed with the Adventurer on a trailer.

After 110,000 careful miles, all aspects of the interior
remain original, including the gold-and-white vinyl
and the shimmering black-and-gold inserts which
bring the Adventurer’s gold, white and black exterior
theme inside. The gizmo atop the instrument panel is
the sensor for the automatic headlight beam changer.

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De Soto’s adventure in greatness
Beginning in 1956, the Adventurer crowned the De Soto lineup in much the same way the 300 capped Chrysler’s offerings in 1955. De Soto initially used the name for a concept coupe built inhouse and first shown in 1954. In 1955, another De Soto Adventurer concept coupe bowed, this time called the Adventurer II and built by Ghia in Turin, Italy. The Adventurer name was finally allowed to grace a production hardtop model midway through the 1956 model year. All 1956 Adventurers were two-door hardtops, and all were extensively sprinkled with gold trim, inside and out, for a theme that would continue through 1959. All 1956 Adventurers were powered by the Chrysler Corp. division’s most powerful Hemi, the 341.1-cid V-8 with dual Carter four-barrels helping produce 320 hp.

For 1957, the top-of-the-line Adventurer series gained a convertible model. It also gained taller fins on a new body, as well as a larger engine displacement and higher horsepower rating. The numbers showed 345 cubic inches and a matching horsepower rating for 1957. Through 1959, the Adventurer’s performance peak, the displacement and horsepower ratings would continue to rise until a zenith rating of 350 hp and 383 cid in the last year of the nifty ’50s. That year, the Adventurer retained a dual-carburetor setup and high-lift camshaft, but reached the 350 hp rating with the 383-cid V-8. De Soto copyrighters said the engine provided “‘velvet-gloved’ might and flashing response.”

By 1959, rumors of 30-year-old De Soto marque’s demise were devastating to sales. As the top-of-the-line model, the Adventurer actually did better than its De Soto siblings. Sales of hardtop models were up to 590 in 1959, a sizable increase from 350 in 1958, and 97 convertible models were sold in 1959, up from an incredibly low 82 convertibles in the recession year of 1958.

Adventurers were only painted pearl white or black in 1959. As an original car, the Erbs’ shiny black hardtop still wears flatter black paint with a simulated Scotch-grain pattern on its roof to replicate a leather top.

“The car was built on the morning of March 25, 1959, and first titled in August ’59,” said Erb. “A young man in his 40s bought it. He had it until April or May 1961.”

Since the beginning of the model line, Adventurer unveilings were stalled until months after the debut of the lower-rung Fireflite, Firedome and Firesweep models.
According to Erb, the family’s Adventurer was sold new by Brubaker Motors in Lancaster, Pa., a Chrysler-De Soto dealer still operating and the source for a fair number of top-of-the-line Adventurer sales in 1959.

“The dealership sold six or eight of these [Adventurers],” he said. Erb also noted that a sister convertible built later the same day as his car still exists in Minnesota.
Adventurer convertibles and hardtops are truly sisters. In addition to sharing the same powerplant, all Adventurers feature an anodized gold finish on the grille and on wide, engine-turned side trim running the length of the car. Adventurers also featured exclusive use of stainless trim running around both front and rear wheel openings, joined by a third piece running the length of the 126-inch wheelbase, De Soto’s longest. Brightly finished strips on the deck lid were standard equipment on Adventurer, as were power brakes, whitewall tires, backup lamps, power steering and the TorqueFlite automatic transmission. The Erbs’ car is further fitted with a triad of horns, an automatic headlight beam changer, six-way power seats, signal-seeking radio with twin rear antennae and a rear window defroster.

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Fay finds fate
When Fay and her father spotted the De Soto in 1961, the two-year-old car was parked on a different lot in the same town.

“Fay bought it from Lancaster Sales, a used car lot,” Galen said.

“That’s the car I wanted,” she said.

It must have been the car Galen wanted, too, because from the beginning, he began stashing parts to keep the next-to-new De Soto looking as though it had just come off Brubaker Motors’ showroom in 1959.

“Whenever a part was available, I bought it,” Erb said. “When it came to ’59 De Sotos, that was my weakness.”

Among the parts Galen purchased decades ago was unique gold-speckled black Adventurer carpet and the black-and-gold fabric insert material for the gold-and-white vinyl seats. He’s kept the car in great shape and never had to use the spare parts, but retains them “just in case.”

Erb says his secret to maintaining the car to its high level for 48 years is largely common sense. “I don’t leave the car out of my sight,” he said. The car also enjoys heated storage, which has helped ward off the effects of Pennsylvania’s climate.

After 23 De Soto club conventions, several trips to the West Coast, adventures to Bonneville to watch Studebakers race and a tour through Glacier National Park, among numerous other destinations, the 110,000-mile, all-original De Soto still looks new and provides its owners with miles of smiles. On its adventures, the De Soto continues to not only please its owners, but those who spot it on its travels.

“It’s been a pleasure owning this thing,” Erb said. “I get thumbs up!”

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