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(from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) The DeSoto (sometimes De Soto) was a brand of automobile based in the United States, manufactured and marketed by the now-defunct DeSoto Division of the Chrysler Corporation from 1928 to 1961. The DeSoto logo featured a stylized image of Hernando de Soto. The De Soto marque was officially dropped 30 November 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. Chrysler wanted to enter the brand in competition with its arch-rivals General Motors, Studebaker, and Willys-Knight, in the mid-price class. Shortly after DeSoto was introduced, however, Chrysler completed its purchase of the Dodge Brothers, giving the company two mid-priced makes. Had the transaction been completed sooner, DeSoto never would have been introduced.
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. In fact, when DeSoto first came out in 1929, it broke the record for first-year sales record, with 81,065 cars sold, and was not beaten until 1960 by the Ford Falcon. However, in 1933, Chrysler reversed the market positions of the two marques 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 was unpopular with consumers. Unlike Chrysler, which still had more traditional models to fall back on, DeSoto was hobbled by the Airflow design until the 1935 Airstream arrived.
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. (The Cord 810 introduced dashboard hand cranked hidden headlamps in the 1936 model year.) DeSoto marketed the feature as "Air-Foil" lights "Out of Sight Except at Night".
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 the Firesweep, Firedome, and Fireflite. The DeSoto Adventurer, introduced for 1956 as a high-performance hard-top coupe (similar to Chrysler's 300), became a full-range model in 1960.
In 1955, along with all Chrysler models, De Sotos were redesigned with Virgil Exner's "Forward Look". 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 Indianapolis 500. For the 1956 update Exner gave the DeSoto soaring tailfins fitted with triple taillights, and consumers responded by buying record numbers.
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 (and its halo model Adventurer sub-series), based on the larger 126" wheelbase chassis shared with Chrysler. As was conventional in the era, subsequent years within the typical three year model block were distinguished by trim, bumper, and other low cost modifications, typically by adding bulk to bumpers and grilles, taillight changes, color choices, instrumentation and interior design changes and often additional external trim.
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. Also Ford Motor Company had introduced a new mid-price competitor for the 1958 model year with the Edsel. 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. In its final model year, DeSoto lacked any model names and was simply marketed under its brand name
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 Chrysler Windsors.