Sunday 6th May 1928
Chrysler introduced the DeSoto as the corporation’s new brand. The Detroit Free Press reported: “Probably no development of the past five years has created so profound a stir in the automobile industry as the current announcement that the new De Soto Six, which will be presented to the public in the next three months, is to be built by Chrysler.” With hardly any more information than this, over 500 dealers signed for franchises. Production for the 1929 model began in July, 1928, and official announcement was made at the January, 1929, New York Automobile Show. With the unveiling of De Soto at a price of $845, Walter P. Chrysler felt that he had closed a marketing gap between Dodge and Chrysler. 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. As Chrysler introduced the new DeSoto, the company purchased the Dodge Brothers which gave Chrysler two mid-priced lines. With the DeSoto priced below Dodge, the two-make approach to the mid-priced market niche worked. In 1933, Chrysler reversed the position of DeSoto and Dodge in the hopes of increasing Dodge sales. This meant that DeSoto was now priced higher than Dodge. Chrysler began wind tunnel testing in 1927 and the quest for the ideal aerodynamic body which would save gasoline and increase speed. The result was the Airflow body. In 1934, the DeSoto used Chrysler’s streamlined Airflow bodies. The streamlined Airflow was originally designed for the Chrysler. However, the DeSoto wheelbase was shorter and the design was unpopular. While Chrysler offered both Airflow and standard models, the DeSoto was available only in an Airflow design.In Europe, the DeSoto Airflow was a major hit and European carmakers such as Volvo, Renault, and Peugeot began to copy the look. In the U.S., DeSoto sales dropped by 47%. In 1935, DeSoto returned to conventional styling and sales doubled. Like all automakers, DeSoto production stopped during World War II. Following the war, DeSoto reissued the 1941 model as the 1946 model. DeSoto went on to build its most-exciting cars in the ’50s, only to die in late 1960 after a flash recession and sibling rivalry obliterated its narrow, well-defined price niche.