DeSoto for saleThe DeSoto was launched by Chrysler in 1929 as a mid-priced model. The car was named for Hernando de Soto, the Spanish explorer who had discovered the Mississippi River, and at one point his bust ornamented the hood. Despite being introduced at the start of the Great Depression, demand for the DeSoto was strong and production was record-setting. With advantages like hydraulic brakes, ignition lock, and full instrumentation, customers were getting their moneyâ€™s worth. The DeSoto Eight was a bigger, eight-cylinder version that felt like a luxury car.
Chrysler had been experimenting with aerodynamics to increase speed and gas mileage, and in 1933 race car driver Harry Hartz drove the DeSoto backwards across the country. The stunt showed the world that cars would move better through the air with a fundamental change in shape. The 1934 DeSoto Airflow was a radical transformation to a sleek, modern design â€“ and a disaster with the American public. A subsequent, toned down version, the Airstream, was much more popular. Though not accepted at first, this advance forever changed the way cars were designed. DeSoto marketed this curvy, aerodynamic design as â€œHollywood Styleâ€ in 1939. This was also the first model year DeSoto attached the gearshift lever to the steering column.
Innovation continued into the 1940s. The DeSoto acquired its trademark waterfall grill and semi-automatic transmission. It was also the first mass-produced car in North America to feature pop-up headlights.
During the World War II, production came to a halt while factories switched to manufacturing parts for guns, tanks, and bomber planes. When Chrysler resumed production of the DeSoto, demand was stronger than ever, and orders were often delayed. As American cars became more powerful, the DeSoto countered with a hemi-powered V8 engine.
The DeSoto became flashier in the 1950s, with tailfins, lots of chrome, multicolored panels, and leather upholstery inside. In fact, the 1959 DeSoto Firedome was offered in almost 200 different two-tone finishes! The car also became longer and sleeker.
Nevertheless, as the fifties came to an end, Chrysler faced quality and financial difficulties as sales of larger, mid-priced cars were on the decline. DeSoto also faced competition within the dealerships with the other Chrysler marques, namely Plymouth, Dodge, and Imperial. In the 1960â€™s fewer models were produced â€“ only about 3,000 DeSotos were produced for the 1961 model year, and after that Chrysler found it too expensive to continue building them. The DeSoto was replaced by the Chrysler Newport.
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