1933 DeSoto

Similar streamlining to the 1933 DeSoto showed up on 1933 Chryslers. Both makes now sported divided windshields, as did some Dodges, but Chrysler's glass was vee'd while DeSoto's was flat -- though not for long.

1933 DeSoto
For 1933, a longer car with a 217.8-cid engine would move
 DeSoto above Dodge pricewise in the six-cylinder field.

Only five body styles were offered, as the phaeton and roadsters were dropped and the long sedan became an export-only item. A business coupe returned after a year's absence, leaving the model count at nine, plus chassis. Horsepower moved up to 82, courtesy of a 217.8-cid six inherited from the previous year's Dodge. Prices came down another notch: $665 to $875. More significant, Dodge sixes were now priced below DeSotos at $595-$775. With the demise of the Dodge Eight after 1933, DeSoto assumed the "middle middle" spot in the corporate line that it would occupy for the next 27 years.

Unfortunately for DeSoto, the upmarket but more affordable SD sold no better than the SC. Production, in fact, declined by 1760 units, and the make's market share dropped from 2.3 percent to less than 1.5 percent. But DeSoto had found its niche as a subluxury car of bold image that would, in later years, offer avant garde features such as hidden headlamps (1942) and innovative models like the Suburban utility sedan (1946-1952) and Sky-View taxicab.

In 1933, racing driver Harry Hartz drove a new DeSoto "backwards" across the country. Actually, the car's controls had been reversed, so the driver looked out through the rear window, and the ring gear flopped over to give, in effect, three speeds in reverse. Passers-by didn't realize it, but they were seeing the future. Wind-tunnel tests had shown that contemporary cars actually had less wind resistance when traveling backward than when going forward.

The resulting quest for slippery shapes led to development of the radically streamlined 1934 Chrysler and DeSoto Airflow. But where Chrysler also offered conventionally styled six-cylinder models, the CA and CB, DeSoto offered nothing but Airflows for 1934 -- and paid the price.

Ultimately, the market niche that DeSoto struggled to find in its first five years was erased by a changing market, but also by a kind of "brand mismanagement" that typically favored Chrysler and Dodge at DeSoto's expense. All the more remarkable, then, is that DeSoto did good -- sometimes great -- business between the Airflow debacle and its model-year 1961 demise. It's as if Walter P., K. T., and later Chrysler leaders never quite figured out what to do with their middle child. Alfred Sloan and General Motors, of course, had no such problem.

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