DeSoto (sometimes De Soto) is an American automobile marque that was manufactured and marketed by the DeSoto Division of the Chrysler Corporation from 1928 to the 1961 model year. The De Soto marque was officially dropped November 30, 1960, with over two million vehicles built since 1928.
The DeSoto make was founded by Walter Chrysler on August 4, 1928, and introduced for the 1929 model year. It was named after the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. The DeSoto logo featured a stylized image of the explorer who led the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States (Florida, Georgia, and Alabama), and was the first documented European to have crossed the Mississippi River.
Chrysler wanted to enter the brand in competition with its competitors Oldsmobile, Mercury, Studebaker, Hudson, and Willys, in the mid-price class. DeSoto served as a lower priced version of Chrysler products, with Dodge and Plymouth added to the Chrysler family in 1928.
The inaugural DeSoto model year sales in 1929 totaled 81,065 cars, a first year record in the U.S. that lasted until the 1960 Ford Falcon. Shortly after DeSoto was introduced, however, Chrysler completed its purchase of the Dodge Brothers, giving the company two mid-priced makes. Initially, the two-make strategy was relatively successful, with DeSoto priced below Dodge models. Despite the economic times, DeSoto sales were relatively healthy, pacing Dodge at around 25,000 units in 1932.
By the time the 1961 DeSoto was introduced in the fall of 1960, rumors were widespread that Chrysler was moving towards terminating the brand, fueled by a reduction in model offerings for the 1960 model year. The introduction of the lower priced Newport to the upscale Chrysler brand no doubt hastened the decision to end production of DeSoto, which was very similar in size, styling, price, and standard features.
For 1961, DeSoto lost its series designations entirely, in a move reminiscent of Packard's final lineup. And, like the final Packards, the final DeSoto was of questionable design merit. Again, based on the shorter Chrysler Windsor wheelbase, the DeSoto featured a two-tiered grille (each tier with a different texture) and revised taillights. Only a two-door hardtop and a four-door hardtop were offered. The cars were trimmed similarly to the 1960 Fireflite.
The final decision to discontinue DeSoto was announced on November 30, 1960, just forty-seven days after the 1961 models were introduced. At the time, Chrysler warehouses contained several million dollars in 1961 DeSoto parts, so the company ramped up production in order to use up the stock. Chrysler and Plymouth dealers, which had been forced to take possession of DeSotos under the terms of their franchise agreements, received no compensation from Chrysler for their unsold DeSotos at the time of the formal announcement. Making matters worse, Chrysler kept shipping the cars through December, many of which were sold at a loss by dealers eager to be rid of them. After the parts stock was exhausted, a few outstanding customer orders were filled with Chrysler Windsors.