Posted By admin on August 5, 2010
One of the most successful car launches in automotive history was the entry of the DeSoto in 1929. The vehicles were built until 1961. Produced by Chrysler as a mid-priced vehicle it entered the market at a highly competitive time and helped lay claim to an empire. GM had the slogan a “car for every purse and purpose”. The Chevrolet to Cadillac philosophy helped establish GM as the world’s largest and most successful auto company. So Walter P. Chrysler, head of Chrysler, conceived the DeSoto to add to its nameplate “ladder”. It is possible the creation of this vehicle also propelled the Dodge Brothers and their bankers to sell the Dodge Company to Chrysler. After the introduction of the DeSoto the Chrysler/ Dodge sale took place giving the newly formed company two mid-priced vehicles. Thus, with the stroke of a pen Walter P. Chrysler purchased Dodge Brothers and created a sibling rival for the Desoto.
Historians agree Desoto was conceived in spite and the purpose was to create an inducement, through competition, for Chrysler to buy Dodge. Another view is the DeSoto was planned long before Walter P. Chrysler was sure he could acquire Dodge and in case the deal fell through wanted a medium priced weapon. In any case with the sale complete Chrysler had the mid price vehicle market covered with both Dodge and DeSoto.
The name DeSoto was a product of America’s fascination with many things Spanish during the 1920’s. Examples of this are: the artist, Pablo Picasso’s raising fame, the Hollywood “Latin Lovers” lead by Rudolph Valentino, and the popularity of Spanish architecture, as the California style building boom became national news. It was a natural nameplate for the times. Hernando de Soto, the explorer who discovered the Mississippi River, was in keeping with the national mood. The DeSoto logo featured a handsome stylized image of Hernando de Soto making the hood ornament an instant current collector’s item.
Chrysler designated the 1929 Desoto as the “K” series and early advertising featured the name “Conqueror” along with a Latin motto, Multum pro Parvo (“much for little”). Introduced to the public on August 4th this mid-priced six-cylinder car was intended to plug the gap between the fledging low-priced four-cylinder Plymouth and premium namesake Chryslers. Desoto’s got off to a strong start, only to suffer along with the rest of the US auto industry once the Depression set in.
To bring a little romance to this industrial story Walter P. Chrysler set up a totally owned subsidiary, DeSoto Motor Corporation with Joseph E. Fields as president. Fields had much to do with DeSoto’s first year success. In 1933 Fields was replaced by Bryon C. Foy who married Walter P. Chrysler’s eldest daughter, Thelma (in 1923). Foy was the vice president of Chrysler dealerships in Detroit and eventually was a vice president and board director of the DeSotos Motor Corporation. Love rules.
The 1942 model is one of the most memorable when cars were fitted with powered popup headlights, a first for an American mass-production vehicle. DeSoto marketed the feature as “Air-Foil” lights, “Out of Sight Except at Night”.
At its zenith DeSoto’s most popular models included the Firesweep, Firedome and Fireflite. The line sold well through the 1956 model year. That year it served as the Pace Car at the Indianapolis 500. In 1955 it was redesigned with designer, Virgil Exner’s, “Forward Look”. Exner gave the DeSoto soaring tailfins fitted with triple taillights and consumers responded by buying record numbers. By 1961 rumors abound the brand was being terminated. The introduction of the value priced Chrysler Newport; a brand with more upscale appeal hastened the decision to end production.
It can be argued Chrysler’s management in the 1950’s pitted each of the five nameplates against each other (Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler and Imperial). The one not surviving was Desoto being replaced by the Chrysler Newport and the new focus on marketing the luxury Imperial.
Margery Krevsky is the author of Sirens of Chrome: The enduring allure of auto show models published by Momentum Publishing. Available at: www.amazon.com, www.sirensofchrome.com and www. momentum.com.