The DeSoto Firedome first appeared in 1952, heralding the installation of a Hemi V-8 in the Custom Series. The engine had been available in Chryslers since 1951 but it was the first DeSoto V-8 since 1931. The 276-cid engine generated 160 hp and the new Firedome was offered as a convertible, a station wagon, six- and eight-passenger sedans, a club coupe, and a Sportsman hardtop coupe. List prices hovered around $3,000. In all, 45,830 Firedomes sold in 1952, making it the most popular model for the year.
DeSoto’s 25th anniversary in 1953 saw Firedome sales nearly double to 86,502. Styling was slightly changed, and air conditioning was introduced as an option. Changes for 1954 were limited to the introduction of Chrysler’s PowerFlite automatic transmission and a power boost to 170 hp. A high-level Coronado trim was added mid-year to the Firedome sedan, and offered a Sportsman coupe’s interior with a tri-tone paint exterior.
For 1955, the Hemi grew to 291 cid and 185hp. The big news for all cars in the Chrysler stable was the complete “Forward Look” redesign, with DeSoto receiving a very handsome package in bright colors. The Firedome series replaced the Powermaster as the entry level models, while the Fireflite bowed as the new luxury line.
In 1956, the Forward Look was freshened and DeSoto actually outsold Chrysler for the year. A 12-volt electrical system was adopted, the Hemi grew to 330 cid and 230 hp and Powerflite transmission was optional on the Firedome.
All new bodywork arrived in 1957 with a massive one-piece grille and front bumper and the biggest fins so far. Firedome became the middle line for DeSoto as Firesweep was introduced as the entry level line. DeSoto Firedomes now used a Dodge chassis and were built by the Dodge Division.
The Firedome engine grew to 361 cdi in 1958, developing 295 hp. The grille was changed slightly and the side trim and contrasting panels now went up at the rear instead of down. Firedome sales dwindled, and 1959 marked the end of the line, with DeSoto following suit in 1961.
The DeSoto Firedome is eye-catching in both design and color, but rust is a serious concern. Also, interior materials and external trim can be hard to source. Mechanically, however, they are quite sound, and they are an unusual and delightful way to stand out at a 1950s cruise-in.