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DeSoto Owner for 60 Years

A True One-Owner 1950 DeSoto

Story Joe Greeves - June 19, 2011 09:00 AM

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It was 1950. The economic resurgence after the war was at its height, the mood was upbeat, and (thanks to the GI Bill) returning veterans could afford new homes and wanted new cars. The automakers responded to the demand with major redesigns and introduced new body styles that differed significantly from their pre-war versions.

For DeSoto, 1950 was an especially significant year with the introduction of the custom Sportsman, a pillar-less hardtop more commonly referred to as a “hardtop convertible.” The cars used the convertible chassis and were upholstered to convertible standards. Interiors boasted considerably more flash than the previous drab wool covers of the past. With the windows rolled down, the snazzy styling of the new Custom Sportsman helped them live up to their name.

Acceleration was a different story. While adequate for the early ’50s, the 236 straight six and its meager 112 horsepower moved the 3,700-pound car along at what is best described as a “stately pace.” The Fluid Drive transmission contributed to its smoothness, if not to its speed. Although the driver still needed to use the clutch to shift between the gears, the Fluid Drive prevented him from stalling when taking off from a dead stop. He could also brake to a halt in third gear without using the clutch and proceed again without downshifting. That fact alone made DeSotos very popular with New York taxi drivers.

The changes led to the sales of more than 4,600 cars that year and brought a whole new crop of buyers. One of those buyers was Marlin Crider, a long-time fan of Chrysler products. He purchased a 1950 DeSoto from San Marco Motors in Jacksonville, Florida, on July 1, 1950. Costing an initial $2,746, the final price was a bit higher. The radio ($65.20), heater ($61.60) and undercoating ($15) were options that drove up the price, bringing the total in at $2,887.80. We know because we saw the invoice. Marlin still has it and the original service agreement that gives him free lubrication every thousand miles.

He also has the car itself, still in his garage, 60 years later. You won’t find this to be a case of regret from someone who wished they still had a car they once had.

Marlin is a fascinating individual, not only for his ability to hang onto a car. He joined the Navy in 1939, participating in several of the great battles of the Pacific and later was attached to the RAF (Royal Air Force) in England, engaged in anti-submarine electronics. He retired in 1960 and moved on to a second career, using his electronics background to work with the Federal Aviation Administration. After 16 years with the FAA, at a time when many would retire, Marlin chose another exciting field, staying another 40 years as a reserve officer with the Florida Highway Patrol Auxiliary.

If you’re doing the math, it’s starting to really add up. Marlin Crider is 90 years old.

Besides his varied careers, Marlin is a ham radio enthusiast. He’s also a licensed beekeeper, maintaining his hives at his Jacksonville, Florida, home.

With all of these significant accomplishments in his life, the first Custom Sportsman purchase in 1950 played a big role, turning Marlin into a lifelong DeSoto believer. Knowing that his car was one of the most significant post-war cars that DeSoto produced, Marlin began collecting spare parts to ensure he could keep it running.

In the process, he found and purchased a perfectly matched second 1950 Custom Sportsman a few years later. A pair of pillar-less hardtops (sporting license plates DESOTO1 and DESOTO2) is great fun to own and might have been enough for most buyers. Marlin believed more is better. In the early ’80s, he got a line on a third Custom Sportsman, painted a beautiful deep maroon, and added it to his collection. Since there were a few unoccupied stalls in the multiple garages on his property, there was room for at least one more. Before long, the fourth and final DeSoto, a highly desired convertible, was added to the fleet.

While most collector cars live a life of languishing in a garage, seeing the light of day on rare occasions and tethered to battery tenders to ensure they start, Marlin uses a different approach. Battery aids aren’t required if you drive the cars on a routine basis, so Marlin alternates the cars. He uses them for volunteer church work and to provide Meals on Wheels to the elderly in his area. “I like to run them regularly because that way the seals don’t dry out and everything functions like it should,” he said.

On the day the collection was photographed, every car started immediately. All the lights and accessories performed flawlessly and everything was polished and show-ready. Should any of the four DeSotos need repair, the large store of new-old-stock spare parts in his garage would take care of most of the essentials. From something as small as a re-manufactured emblem to major components like rebuilt transmissions, everything was carefully labeled and accessible. Marlin has even found a source for leaded gasoline to keep the vintage engine internals properly lubricated.

Marlin is a long-time NASCAR and Indy fan as well as an active member of several car clubs, including the AACA, the National DeSoto Club and the Sunshine State DeSoto Club. He stays in touch with automotive enthusiasts around the country and friends around the world.

Before you think Marlin is locked in the ’50s, you need to consider this. He has put more than 250,000 miles on his 1984 Toyota Cressida wagon. He also bought one of the first Prius hybrids that has been in his garage for going on seven years.

Marlin is as spry and quick as a man half his age. He’s been through the period where people bought and then traded their cars within a few years. He’s had his first DeSoto for over 60 and no, it’s not for sale. It’s a joy to meet an auto enthusiast with this kind of dedication.

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