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Tuesday, Jul. 22, 2014 — RUSSELL SPRINGS & JAMESTOWN, KENTUCKY — russellcounty.net
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Cruisin': The DeSoto
In Nov. 27 Issue
Russell County News
By Ron Cowell, Columnist

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 DeSoto. Chrysler wanted to enter the brand in competition with its arch-rivals General Motors and Studebaker, in the mid-price class.

Shortly after DeSoto was introduced, however, Chrysler completed its purchase of the Dodge, giving the company two mid-priced makes. Had the transaction been completed sooner, DeSoto never would have been introduced.

 DeSoto was priced below the Dodge models. Despite the economic times, DeSoto sales were relatively good, placing Dodge at around 25,000 units. In 1933, Chrysler reversed the market positions of the two vehicles in hopes of boosting Dodge sales by elevating DeSoto, it received Chrysler's streamlined 1934 Airflow bodies. But, on the shorter DeSoto wheelbase, the design was a disaster and not real popular with consumers. Unlike Chrysler, which still had more traditional models to fall back on.

Aside from its Airflow models, DeSoto's 1942 model is probably its second most memorable model from the pre-war years, when the cars were fitted with powered pop up headlights, a first for a North American mass-production vehicle.

After wartime restrictions on automotive production were ended, DeSoto returned to civilian car production when it reissued its 1942 models as 1946 models, but without the hidden-headlight feature, and with fender lines extending into the doors, like other Chrysler products of the immediate postwar period.

Until 1952, DeSoto used the Deluxe and Custom model designations. In 1952 DeSoto added the Firedome with its 276-cid hemi engine. However, in 1953, DeSoto dropped the Deluxe and Custom names and designated its six-cylinder cars the Powermaster and its V8 car remained the Firedome.

At its height, DeSoto's more popular models included tha Firesweep, Firedome and Fireflite. The DeSoto Adverturer, introduced for 1956 as a high-performance hard-top coupe became a full-range model in 1960.

DeSotos sold well through the 1956 model year. That year, for the first, and only, time in the marque's history, it served as Pace Car at the Indialoplis 500.

The 1957 had a well- integrated design, with two variations: the smaller Firesweep, the Firedome/Fireflite body placed on the concurrent Dodge 122" wheelbase chassis with Dodge front fenders and the Firedome and Fireflite  based on the larger 126" wheelbase chassis shared with Chrysler.

The 1958 economic downturn hurt sales of mid-priced makes across the board, and DeSoto sales were 60 percent lower than those of 1957 in what would be DeSoto's worst year since 1938.

The sales slide continued for 1959 and 1960 down 40 percent from the already low 1959 figures, and rumors began to circulate DeSoto was going to be discontinued.

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 value priced Chrysler Newport, a brand with more upscale market appeal, no doubt hastened the decision to end production of DeSoto, which was very similar in size, styling, price, and standard features

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 Chryslers Wisdsors.

DeSoto sponsored the popular television Game Show from 1950 through 1958, in which host Groucho Marx promoted the product by urging viewers to visit a DeSoto dealer with the phrase "tell 'em Groucho sent you".

There was also a DeSoto Plymouth logo visible in the background all during the show.

The Cole Porter song "It's De-lovely", with his permission, was used in DeSoto advertising between 1955 and 1957. "It's delovely, it's dynamic, it's DeSoto."

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The Times Journal is a weekly newspaper issued on Thursdays. It was first published on October 13, 1949, by Andrew J. and Terry Norfleet.
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P.O. Box 190
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Russell County News is a weekly newspaper issued on Saturdays, and is mailed free to every address in Russell County, Ky. It was first published on February 1, 1913.
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