DeSaga: A Brief History of DeSoto
by Dave Duricy
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1952 advertisement

During the late Forties and early Fifties, new V-eight engines from Cadillac, Chrysler and Oldsmobile were at the forefront of an emerging horsepower race. Large family cars with inline sixes, like DeSoto, were becoming passe.

DeSoto answered the challenge with FireDome, a sparkling, hemi-head V-eight powering a new carline by the same name.

FireDome eclipsed its bigger Chrysler Firepower brother by delivering more road horsepower per cubic inch displacement than any other motor. FireDome cut four seconds from the time last year's DeSoto needed to travel from 0-60. Top speed was increased to 100mph.

What astonished everyone was how effortlessly FireDome produced its 160hp. at 4,400 rpm. The 1952 Oldsmobile Supper 88 V8, considered by many of the day to be a paradigm of performance, required 303 cubic inches, 7.5:1 compression, a four barrel carburetor and premium gasoline to make 160 horsepower. The DeSoto FireDome needed only 276.1 cubic inches, 7.0:1 compression, a two barrel carburetor, and regular gasoline for the same 160hp. In addition, FireDome's hemi-head limited pinging and resisted power robbing combustion chamber deposits.

DeSoto was overly modest about the FireDome. One 1952 DeSoto television advertisement chose not to mention the V8. Instead, the commercial pictured a stark, black, six cylinder DeSoto sedan that the announcer described as having chair high seats, plenty of interior room, and a smooth ride thanks to Oriflow shock absorbers. A happy family piled into the DeSoto and rode away smiling.

Regardless of the 45,830 DeSoto FireDomes that were built, overall DeSoto production had fallen from a disappointing 106,000 (est) in '51, to an abysmal 88,000 (est) in '52. That same year, Chrysler Corporation was overtaken by Ford as the country's second most prolific auto maker. Labor problems and war production priorities were partly to blame.

1953 DeSoto FireDome

The restyled 1953 DeSotos were the kind of DeSotos people remember best. They were big, covered with chrome, and extraordinarily plush. "Motor Trend" magazine wrote a glowing road report about the '53 FireDome sedan. The six passenger car was described as "a desirable family car" and powered by an engine with "high performance characteristics."

"Motor Trend" hurled its 4,120 pound FireDome from 0-60 in 15.5 seconds, nearly 5 seconds faster than the similarly priced Kaiser Manhattan tested in the same issue. Of course, the 600 pound lighter Kaiser was hindered by its 118hp. six. Performance enthusiasts wondered what DeSoto's V8 would be capable of in a lighter, more aerodynamic body.

DeSoto gave a strong hint with a two-door show car called Adventurer.

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