Featured image: http://www.oldcarbrochures.com/
A Full History of DeSoto
Walter P. Chrysler introduced DeSoto in the summer of 1928.
Chrysler’s announcement immediately attracted 500 dealers. By the time DeSoto production was in full swing at the end of 1928, there were 1,500 agencies selling the premier 1929 DeSoto Six. Demand rocketed.
During the first twelve months, DeSoto production set a record 81,065 cars. DeSoto built more cars during its first year than had Chrysler, Pontiac, or Graham-Paige. The record stood for nearly thirty years.
The car name honored Hernando de Soto, the 16th century Spaniard who discovered the Mississippi River and had covered more North American territory than any other early explorer(editor’s note: the Chrysler people were probably not aware of Hernando de Soto’s evildoings).
As a moniker, DeSoto reinforced the Americana theme sounded by Chrysler’s other new brand, Plymouth; towns, cities, and counties named DeSoto are spread across the southeastern United States
The car itself was a mid-price, six cylinder, 55 horsepower bargain. DeSoto provided engineering advantages such as an oil filter and Lockheed hydraulic brakes that were either optional or not offered by contemporary makes. DeSoto niceties included standard automatic windshield wiper, ignition lock, brakelight, full-instrumentation, steeringhub controls for headlights, and a tool kit with grease gun.
It was a smooth package made more appealing by seven different models with swank names. The roadster was called Roadster Espanol. The deluxe sedan was called Sedan de Lujo. Even the basic two-door benefited as the Cupe Business.
DeSoto returned for 1930 with even more. At the top of the line was the DeSoto CF, otherwise known as the DeSoto Eight — a bigger DeSoto, with a 114 inch wheelbase and the inline eight cylinder engine customers expected to see in a luxury car. DeSoto called it “the world’s lowest-priced straight eight” and promised customers “a vast reserve of power when you need it.” With 70 horsepower, the DeSoto Eight delivered. Even though 1930 was the first full year of the Great Depression, the company built 20,075 DeSoto Eights.
How Chrysler Corporation in general and DeSoto Division in particular responded to the Depression was exemplary. Product development continued unabated, and the mood was still Jazz Age bright.
DeSoto kept the public engaged by performing spectacular feats of speed and stamina. In 1932, race car driver Peter DePalo sped across the United States in ten days at the wheelof a DeSoto. When his journey ended, DePalo took his DeSoto for a 300 mile race-track spin, hitting speeds as high as 80 miles per hour.
In 1933, DeSoto recruited another race car driver for a more astounding publicity stunt. This time, Harry Hartz drove a DeSoto backwards across the country. Hartz peered his way across the continent through a rear windowturned windshield.
Spectators couldn’t know it at the time, but the Hartz trip was the first public manifestation of top-secret experiments brewing in the engineering laboratories of Chrysler Corporation. The results of those experiments would change the world. Continues….