Video: Introducing the 1952 DeSoto Firedome Hemi V8

Firedome V8 1952In 1952, DeSoto introduced its first V8 engine: the Firedome Eight, featuring Chrysler’s distinctive hemispherical combustion chamber design. See the successful debut here, including an original promotional spot. 



One year after Chrysler introduced the 331 CID Firepower V8 in 1951, launching the Hemi engine family, the DeSoto division received its own version for 1952, a 276.1 CID V8 rated at 160 horsepower. While the two engines shared the Chrysler Corporation’s trademark hemi architecture, they shared few common components, owing to their different bore spacing: 4.5625 inches for the Chrysler versus 4.3125 inches for the DeSoto. Still, the family resemblance was nearly impossible for anyone to miss.

Built on a state-of-the-art Transfermatic production line at DeSoto’s Warren Avenue plant in Detroit, the Firedome V8 allowed DeSoto to hold its own in the Motor City sales wars for a few more years. By 1953, the V8 was outselling the old L-head six by a two-to-one margin, and from 1955 forward, the V8 was offered exclusively across the DeSoto line. Displacement was progressively increased to 291, 330, and 341 cubic inches before the Firedome hemi was eventually dropped in 1958 in favor of a 361 CID Chrysler corporate V8.

In this 1952 commercial sport, we get some nice views of the Firedome V8’s internal layout, thanks to a working cutaway that shows the hemispherical combustion chambers and efficient port layout in fine detail. There are great views of the new DeSoto on the highway sporting its familar toothed grille, and at the top of the spot, there’s a brief introduction by Groucho Marx, the DeSoto brand’s beloved spokesman all through the ’50s. (See his full pitch here.) Enjoy the video.


5 thoughts on “Video: Introducing the 1952 DeSoto Firedome Hemi V8

  1. It’s kind of funny, today, we think of Hemi’s as these fire breathing, 10,000 hp motors, but truth be known, back in the day, these Hemi’s were heavy, oil leaking slugs, that sucked gas and had trouble pulling these heavy cars around. When I was a kid, I had an older friend down the block that had a ’54 Chrysler, with a bad 6 cylinder motor, and bought a ’52 DeSoto just like this for the Hemi motor, the 276, I believe. We thought it would be an easy swap, but turned into a nightmare. Nothing fit. Once it was cobbled in, it weighed a ton, and leaked oil ( mostly out of the spark plug tubes) ran poorly, and wasn’t much better than the 6. Still, it has been the motor of choice for drag racing, in a moderated form, to this day. It was also used in the trucking industry for a while in the early 60’s, with limited results, before diesels became the motor of choice. The most unusual application I’ve found, is a 331 Hemi powered air raid siren, the loudest siren ever made. It produced 138 decibels, and could be heard 20 miles away.

  2. Seems evident now that the Hemi’s real advantage was its straight, cross-thru valve and port layout. The thermodynamic benefit of the hemispherical chamber shape would be marginal at best.

  3. Until a few years ago I always equated a hemi with the 426 or 392 and nothing else. Until I did the research on the huge number of different engines that Mopar divisions made, some like this of quite small capacity and between the divisions nothing that interchanged. As was the sidevalve 6 also.

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