De Soto automobiles were introduced to the public with the 1929 model. De Soto cars were built by Chrysler and the De Soto line was unveiled to fill in the gap between Chrysler and Dodge. De Soto’s chief competitors, among others, were GM’s Buick and Oldsmobile.
An Addition to the Chrysler Line of Automobiles
De Soto’s creation actually came about in 1928, the same year Chrysler acquired Dodge and also the same year that Chrysler added the lower cost Plymouth brand. This was all just four years after the Chrysler brand itself was launched. Some have said that the very first Chrysler’s were essentially modernized Maxwells. This was probably true because Chrysler took over the Maxwell-Chalmers company in the early 1920′s and then used the Maxwell factory to build his first Chrysler’s in 1924.
It’s also been said that Chrysler’s creation of a mid price range De Soto in 1928 was an effort by Walter Chrysler to get the bankers to lower their asking price for the Dodge Brothers company which was for sale. Whether this is true or not is a matter for debate.
An interesting note is that the De Soto factory on Detroit’s west side was the only automobile plant in America constructed during the Great Depression.
The first De Soto’s on the market were 3.2 liter six cylinder models and were priced slightly below the Chrysler brand and above the Plymouth brand. The first De Soto in 1929 averaged about $500 for a two seat coupe.
The De Soto was named for the Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto. De Soto spent time in Central America and South America and then landed in Florida in 1539 with 600 soldiers. He explored north from Florida into Tennessee and then into Arkansas. De Soto died of fever in 1542.
Excellent Sales Numbers of the First De Sotos
What’s really significant about the 1929 De Soto was that it’s sales figures were very impressive. Chrysler Corporation’s 1929 De Soto sales topped 81,000 units. This was especially impressive for a new brand’s first year and was not surpassed until the Ford Falcon was introduced in 1960.
The first De Soto automobiles were quite some vehicles. Engineering was excellent for the times. The engine was mounted on rubber connection points which lowered vibration considerably. The 1929 De Soto also had hydraulic brakes on all four wheels. This was in 1929 when Ford Motor was still using mechanical drum brakes.
The 1948 De Soto S-11 featured in this article was one of the series of immediate post World War Two De Soto automobiles with many design characteristics similar to the pre World War models. The first post war models came out in late 1945 and these were largely based on the 1942 De Soto’s that were built prior to the February 1942 cessation of civilian automobile manufacturing.
The first really new post war designs came out in the 1949 model year and was available beginning in the last half of the year. Even though the 1948 De Soto was not a post war redesigned model, sales were good mostly due to the overall pent up demand for new cars.
Total 1948 model year production for De Soto was 101,850 units. Out of this total, about 93,500 were De Soto S-11 Custom Deluxe models and about 8,000 were seven passenger Custom Deluxe models.
The Termination of the De Soto Brand
Chrysler announced the termination of the De Soto brand in late 1960 not long after the 1961 De Sotos started to be built. The brand never really recovered from the 1958 recession which deeply affected sales. The big story of the decision to end the De Soto automobile brand was that Chrysler continued to ship cars to De Soto dealers even after the termination announcement. dealers couldn’t sell what they had on their lots yet new cars were arriving. Dealers ended up selling their remaining inventory at a loss.
1948 De Soto Custom Specifications
The 1948 De Soto featured a 237 cubic inch L-Head six cylinder engine delivering 106 horsepower.
The transmission was a three speed manual. De Soto used the Chrysler trademark name of “Fluid Drive” which was a Chrysler hydraulic coupling that was used in place of the flywheel. Either a three or four speed manual transmission was put behind the fluid coupling. The Fluid Drive transmission was on Chrysler vehicles from 1939 to 1953.
Brakes were hydraulic drum.
The 1948 De Soto had a 121.5 inch wheelbase, a length of 207.3 inches and a width of 75.7 inches.
The original base price for the 1948 De Soto was about $1,500.
1948 De Soto Auction Sales Prices
Auction price history for the first series De Sotos that appeared after the war from 1946 through 1948, as of this writing look as follows.
A 1946 De Soto Sedan sold for $21,500. A 1948 Five Passenger Custom Coupe had an asking price of $15,000. The 1947 De Soto’s sales prices above were for fully restored vehicles.
Additional AutoMuseumOnline photo articles of cars from this period you’ll find interesting include…
(Article and photos copyright 2013 AutoMuseumOnline)