Caught a ride into South Dakota
With two girls in a light blue Desoto
One's name was Jane, the other was plain
But they both had racing motors
The Blues Brothers - B Movie Box Car Blues
The DeSoto automobile line was introduced by the Chrysler Corp. in the middle of 1928 (as a '29 model). The DeSoto set a first-year sales record (for a new make) of 81,065 cars. Some historians feel the car was introduced just to increase the bargaining position of Chrysler in their negotiations to purchase Dodge Motors. The cars were roughly the same price, so the makers of Dodge had to decide if they would rather compete with or join Chrysler. Dodge's owners acquiesced to the purchase soon after the DeSoto production began.
The car was named after Hernando de Soto, the Spanish explorer who discovered the Mississippi River in 1541. The first models all featured a straight six cylinder engine until 1930 when the straight eight was introduced. In 1933, the DeSoto was bumped into a higher price class than the Dodge -- this was to prevent the makes from cannibalizing each other. The Chrysler still remained the top-of-the-line make.
In 1937 DeSoto release a model that became quite popular for taxicabs. You'll notice them in the movies of the time period. In 1942 DeSoto had a makeover. Their body styles became larger and the cars had nicer options. Production shut down from 1942 to 1945 during World War II. When the cars were reintroduced in 1946 they maintained the new fancier and larger design.
DeSoto sales declined steadily until 1955 when the DeSoto introduced its "Forward Look" styling. Tailfins were taken to all new levels in size with the '55 Fireflite Hemi model. The gorgeous three-tone paint jobs and radical styling finally eliminated the conservative image of DeSoto and made it one of the most visually appealing cars on the road. This was the car the Cunninghams owned on television's Happy Days and many of them are featured in the movie American Graffiti.
DeSoto sales increased until 1958 when a recession began. The higher priced DeSoto was hit hard. The '59 DeSoto became the last of the body-on-frame Chrysler cars and the 1960 model run began with a unibody design, but right after production began the DeSoto was canceled in November of 1960. Many dealers were stunned by the decision, but numerous lawsuits failed to keep the make going.
As we rolled down the long and winding interstate in our '53 DeSoto
We're gonna see the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota
--"Weird Al" Yankovic
My family owned a 1955 DeSoto Fireflite Hemi. It was in a storage garage my whole life and I only rode in it a few times a year (ostensibly to keep the battery charged). Unfortunately after my parents were divorced in 1978 the car was sold so the money could be divided. My mom worked for General Motors for most of her life and our family bought 2 new GM cars every year when I was growing up, but of all the cars we owned the only one I truly loved was our classic DeSoto. The car brought with it that 50s American dream -- the "Happy Days" -- I had always longed for. When I found out that car was sold my childhood dreams for my family were sold with it.