DeSoto was a brand created by Chrysler in the summer of 1928, with it’s first models released for the 1929 model year. Chrysler was aiming to accomplish what GM had done successfully; create tier based brands, with different price ranges for each. The Plymouth brand was also created at the same time, and became the lower priced models, and DeSoto was planned to be the mid range models. Soon after DeSoto was started, Chrysler purchased the Dodge Brothers automobile company, and they now had two mid priced brands. For the first few years, Dodge was the higher end brand, but eventually Dodge and DeSoto reversed roles.
The name DeSoto was derived from the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who discovered the Mississippi River. DeSoto set a production record it’s first year with 81,065 models manufactured, a record that stood for nearly 30 years. Sales were successful for the next few years, and in 1934 the bold new “Airflow” was released. This was the first auto using aerodynamic principles in the design, and tested in a wind tunnel. Chrysler expected this to be a revolution in auto design, but sales fell nearly 50% with this new model. The model was a hit in Europe, and nearly every European auto manufacturer cloned the design for their own models. DeSoto sales would not recover until 1935 when a companion model named the Airstream was released. This was a more conservative version of the Airflow, and the Airflow was cancelled in 1936.
Auto manufacturing halted in February 1942, and DeSoto factories manufactured Sherman tank parts, noses for B-29 bombers, and other parts for the war effort. The 1942 Airfoil model may have been a real hit if it hadn’t been for the war – it had headlamp covers that hid the headlights, and was very sleek and stylish. When production started after the war in 1946, DeSoto like most other auto manufacturers, sold the 1942 models as 1946 models. However, the 1946 DeSoto’s did not have the recessed headlamps. Sales reached an all time high in 1949 at 133,854 units, and the DeSoto line slowly slid down into oblivion, when the brand was cancelled in 1961.