MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Chrysler Archives, Miracle Mile Residential Association and Mecum Auctions
Published 12.8.2021



1929 DeSoto assembly line Chrysler Archives 11929 DeSoto assembly line (Chrysler Archives)

The DeSoto nameplate first appeared in 1929. It was named for the 16th century Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. The Chrysler Corporation introduced several models that year under the DeSoto name and continued to manufacture automobiles bearing the brand until 1961.

Interior of a DeSoto dealership 1929 Miracle Mile Residential Association 2Interior of a DeSoto dealership, 1929 (Miracle Mile Residential Association)

While the new brand’s sales plummeted later during the Great Depression, the 1929 DeSoto models were a huge sensation that year with 81,000 units manufactured. Over 500 dealers signed up immediately to sell the new DeSoto automobiles to the consumer market. In 1929, J.E. Fields became president of the DeSoto Division.

1929 DeSoto Model K Roadster Mecum Auctions RESIZED 31929 DeSoto Model K Roadster (Mecum Auctions)

The first DeSoto automobiles were produced by Chrysler in the middle of 1928 for the 1929 model year. Many consumers were attracted to the newly designed arched headlamps, along with the vertical hood louvers and its great looking interior. Standard equipment included a Delco-Remy ignition, hydraulic brakes, Lovejoy shock absorbers, and a rubber mounted motor suspension. The 1929 DeSoto models were designed under the direction of Oliver Clark’s body engineering department, which not only designed for DeSoto but also Plymouth and Dodge.

The interior of a 1929 DeSoto Model K Roadster Mecum Auctions RESIZED 4The interior of a 1929 DeSoto Model K Roadster (Mecum Auctions)

The 1929 Roadster four-passenger model was priced at $845. The deluxe package option included six-wire wheels, fender wells and a finer grade upholstery which many consumers admired. Another very popular DeSoto model was the 1929 Six Series K four-door sedan, which was powered by a 174.9 cubic inch engine rated at 55 horsepower. These models gained popularity because of their great styling.

1929 DeSoto advertisement Chrysler Archives RESIZED 51929 DeSoto advertisement (Chrysler Archives)

The DeSoto plant was located at 8505 Warren Avenue west of Wyoming in Dearborn and was opened in 1920 originally to manufacture Graham-Paige automobiles. Two thirds of Chrysler’s U.S. manufacturing and assembly space was located in the Detroit area.

1929 DeSoto black and white ad Chrysler Archives 61929 DeSoto black and white ad (Chrysler Archives)

On May 6, 1928, the Detroit Free Press reported: “Probably no development of the last five years has created so profound a stir in the automobile industry as the current announcement that the new DeSoto Six, which will be presented to the public in the next three months, is to be built by Chrysler.” Production began in July 1928, and the official announcement was made at the New York Automobile Show in January 1929. Many automotive historians have said Walter Chrysler wanted to close the great marketing gap that existed between Dodge and Chrysler by introducing DeSoto.

1929 DeSoto ad Chrysler Archives 71929 DeSoto ad (Chrysler Archives)

On a historical note, some automotive historians have said that the 1929 DeSoto was actually planned long before Walter Chrysler was assured that he would be able to acquire Dodge. In case that deal fell through, DeSoto was intended to be his medium-price weapon aimed right at Dodge but selling at lower prices.

Chrysler promoted the 1929 DeSoto models with a great advertising campaign. For example, one popular print ad called the new vehicle “Modish Beautiful and Fine Throughout” and “Above the limits of price and class.”

1929 DeSoto ad Chrysler Archives RESIZED 81929 DeSoto ad (Chrysler Archives)

In conclusion, the first DeSoto made history by being one of Chrysler’s lowest priced automobiles. Over more than 30 years, DeSoto had a great reputation and made the world’s lowest-priced straight eight car and now lives on in our American automotive history books.

Bibliography  

A Pictorial History of Chrysler Corporation Cars prepared by Technical Information Engineering Office. Chrysler Corporation,1966.

Butler, Don. “The Plymouth and DeSoto Story.” Crestline Publishing, 1978.

Langworth, Richard M., and Norbye Jan P. “The Complete History of Chrysler Corporation, 1924-1985” The Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, 1985.

Kimes, Beverly Rae, and Clark Jr., Henry Austin. “Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942.” Krause Publications, 1989.

Flammang, James M. and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide. “Chrysler Chronicle: An Illustrated History of Chrysler, DeSoto, Dodge, Eagle, Imperial, Jeep & Plymouth.” 1998.