DeSoto was introduced by Chrysler in 1929 as a mid-price brand to slot under the Chrysler brand. Like most cars of this era, DeSotos did not originally have proper model names: Rather they used generic designations like Custom and Deluxe. However, by the 1950s DeSoto had a collection of great model names (a surprising number of which involve fire), a few of which went on to find success at other automakers, but many of which are still waiting to be rediscovered.
In 1952, DeSoto released their first car with a proper model name, the Firedome. The Firedome moniker (also spelled as FireDome and Fire Dome) was also applied to the Hemi engine that debuted in the same year. Firedome (the model) would last appear in 1959.
I still think Firedome is a great name for a Hemi engine because of the play on words (Dome=Hemisphere. Get it?), but alas Chrysler has not been as brave reusing DeSoto names as Ford has been with Edsel.
Much like the Firedome, in 1953 DeSoto applied the Powermaster designation to both their six-cylinder engine and to the car into which it was installed. Powermaster (both the model and engine) would disappear from DeSoto’s lineup after 1954 as DeSoto switched exclusively to V8 power in 1955. While variations of this name are still in use today (the Power Wagon and Promaster van both come to mind), the Powermaster name was never applied to another vehicle.
DeSoto was clearly onto a great thing with the fire-themed names, or so they thought. The Fireflite was introduced in 1955 as the range-topping model in an attempt to expand the DeSoto model lineup. The Firesweep followed in 1957 as a Dodge-based entry-level model. No doubt worn from overuse by DeSoto, vehicle names based on “fire” have since been few and far between. The most successful of which is probably the Pontiac Firebird, which sold about 2.5 million examples between 1967 and 2002. Chrysler also made one last dip in the “fire” well with the 2004-2008 Crossfire.
Ah, Suburban. I could probably write an entire article about this name alone. Suburban was the name of the extended wheelbase, three-row sedan produced by DeSoto from 1946 to 1954. But wait, I can hear you ask, didn’t you just say that the 1952 Firedome was the first DeSoto model with a proper name? Let’s wade through the history of the Suburban name.
“Suburban” (the body style) traces its origins to the US Body and Forging company of Tell City, Indiana. Starting in the late 1910s, USB&F manufactured a wide variety of commercial truck bodies for use as depot hacks and delivery vehicles that could be attached to light truck frames from Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, and others. “Westchester Semi-Sedan Suburban” was the name of their wooden station wagon body, introduced in 1933, which could be attached to a Dodge truck chassis. In 1934 the name was shortened to just “Westchester Suburban,” and then further shortened to just “Suburban” in 1939. USB&F would go on to produce wooden wagon bodies for a wide variety of automakers, including Studebaker, Hudson, Willys, Chrysler, and Plymouth (although interestingly enough, not GM).
GM introduced the Chevrolet “Suburban Carryall” in 1935 (along with a GMC version in 1937), and Suburban was well on its way to becoming a generic term for a long-wheelbase wagon. “Carryall” was another commonly used generic name for this body style, but today we best know this type of vehicle as a Sport Utility Vehicle (which is a really clunky name – it’s too bad Carryall didn’t stick).
At some point, “Suburban” morphed from generic body style description to model name. Plymouth would be the last company outside of GM to use the Suburban name, making a Fury Suburban station wagon until 1978. GM secured an exclusive trademark to the “Suburban” name in 1988, so only then did Suburban become a proper model name, one could argue.
So when DeSoto released their Suburban in 1946, it was more of a generic body style name (along the lines of “Pickup”) than a proper model name.
The DeSoto Adventurer was introduced in 1956 as a high-performance halo model on the FireFlite range. Initially, it was only available in the black/silver/gold color combination pictured above.
Adventurer and Fireflite would be the only DeSoto model names to survive until 1960. There were no model names in 1961 – all DeSotos that year were sold simply as “DeSoto.”
Adventurer would be reborn as a trim package on Dodge D-Series trucks starting in 1968. By 1970, Adventurer became its own model, complete with its own SE and Sport trim designations. The Adventurer name would continue to be used on Dodge’s pickup trucks until 1979.
I’ve always thought Adventurer was a fantastic name. My Dad briefly owned a mid-1970s Dodge Adventurer pickup truck when I was a kid. Even though he only used it for work, every time I saw that “Adventurer” badge my mind instantly conjured up images of Indiana Jones rolling through spider webs and vines while avoiding flying poison darts. Every ride in that truck was an adventure, at least in my mind!
Dodge apparently agreed with me, and revived the Adventurer name one last time in 2005, this time as an off-road appearance package for the second-generation Durango. It was basically a Durango SLT, but with “Mineral Grey” front and rear fascias, as well as some standard items that were usually sold as accessories, like side steps, a rear cargo organizer, and a roof cargo carrier (clearly seen in the photo above). By 2009, the Durango Adventurer trim was gone, presumably off on one last adventure.
Unlike Edsel, the DeSoto name would go on to grace other vehicles after finishing its US production run. Turkish truckmaker Askam, originally formed as a joint venture with Chrysler 1962, ended up with several castoff ChryCo names, including DeSoto and Fargo. Chrysler divested itself of its stake in Askam in 1978, but Askam continued to produce vehicles using the DeSoto and Fargo names until its bankruptcy in 2015.
Curbside Classic: 1956 DeSoto Firedome Sedan – DeLovely
Car Show Classic: 1960 DeSoto Adventurer – Really, Really DeLovely
I can’t imagine having a Spanish conquistador as a brand name succeeding in today’s snowflake society. Then there is the issue of the word, “fire” which could be twisted in numerous political ways.
We did have an elementary school here known as “Juan De Onate Elementary School” (usually shortened to Onate Elementary School) their mascot was the Conquistador and when the new school was built about 3 years ago (Combining George Washington and Juan De Onate Elementary Schools) they became simply Del Norte Elementary School with their mascot being “The Stars”
“Snowflake” is an annoying term that’s just about reached the end of its usefulness. Besides, a growing number of people prefer not to continue immortalizing history’s more questionable actors.
As late as 1985, when I owned a 1972 Ford Torino wagon, New York State’s DMV referred to the bodystyle as “SUBN” (for Suburban) on the registration. Maybe they still do, I haven’t lived there since.
Also of note: Having been born 4 years after the demise of the DeSoto brand, I was completely unaware of its existence… until the mid-70s when I saw Howard Cunningham driving one on the sitcom “Happy Days”.
On the registration of my Highlander the state of NM had designated the body style as “WAGN”. How many soccer moms would be upset to learn that? Might as well say “MINIVN”
I think in general, DMV verbiage tends to lag behind normal speech by a few decades.
Here in Virginia (and I think some other states), minivan registrations say “SPORTVAN.” I know Chevy used the term “Sport Van” in the ’60s and ’70s to denote their full-size vans with windows, so maybe the term caught on with DMVs looking for a way to classify such a vehicle? Still, it’s an odd thing to call a minivan… I’m still searching for the sportiness in mine.
My 2018 VW Alltrack is listed as a suburban on my NYS registration
Nash Rambler comes to mind as another brand that used the Suburban name.
Too bad there wasn’t a DeSoto Firewood wagon.
Especially if the tires were Firestones!
They provide a better ride than Flintstones
Beat me to it. I was thinking of Bruce McCall’s Bulgemobile as well.
After Desoto dropped the Powermaster name, Ford used it on the 800 and 900 series farm tractors from around 1957 to 1962.
Was Bruce McCall on DeSoto’s marketing team?
You might think you’re kidding, but you’re close. Bruce McCall actually did work for Ford of Canada in this period. Here’s an illustration that sure looks like his, especially the child behind the wheel.
Here’s another that must be his…look at the script and the gauge numbering.
When I was a young kid in the mid 1960s my grandma was driving a 55 DeSoto Firedome. I thought Firedome was a strange (but cool) name and, of course, I had no idea what it meant.
I had never thought about the recycling of DeSoto names. One other that you missed was the name for their 2 door hardtop in the late 50s – the Sportsman. Dodge re-used Sportsman for the passenger versions of the B series van in the 70s. I am not sure if there was an A series Sportsman.
I think Packard and Studebaker have even better names to recycle, though Jeep did use “Commander” again, unfortunately on a very lackluster vehicle.
. . . although “Scotsman” and especially “Dictator” will never, ever be used again. Well, conceivably Scotsman could as long as it wasn’t on a car that was cheapened in every possible way.
I think another name that was missed here was the 1956 DeSoto Firedome Seville, a lower spec hardtop in the Firedome series that year only, below the Sportsman hardtop. Interesting use of the name, even in that year, as the hardtop version of the 1956 Cadillac Eldorado was also called the Seville. And look what fame that name went on to gain.
My grandmother had just this car, the two-door Seville in a pink and charcoal gray two-tone scheme. I was only 9 years old at the time, but I couldn’t keep my little mitts off that car whenever she came for a visit. I still remember endlessly poking the newfangled push button transmission selector. It was a stunningly beautiful car.
Yes there was, the regular 100″ and the extended 108″ version. My 1969 A-100 Sportsman.
Another name who was used by DeSoto in export markerts, Diplomat, who was mainly “Plysotos” and “Dodgsoto” by being sold as a DeSoto instead of Plymouth and Dodge.
http://www.forwardlook.net/forums/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=9466 Diplomat was re-used for the M-body Dodge Diplomat.
Same thought occurred to me while reading this article.
Perhaps they were not mentioned because they were never sold in the U.S.
Still a very enjoyable article though.
I’ll attempt to post a pic of our good ol’ Dodge Diplomat, (“Molly Grey”) the middle child of our M-Body 3-car set of sister cars (Plymouth Gran Fury, Dodge Diplomat & Chrysler Fifth Avenue).
I wouldn’t mind having one just like this, but only if I could shoehorn a HEMI and a proper transmission under the hood.
When I was a little kid our neighbors had a ’51 Plymouth Suburban wagon and at that time PA license plates for wagons were different than those for regular psgr. cars . . . they were embossed “Suburban.” My dad had a Studebaker and I always thought it unfair that he didn’t have a plate embossed “Commander.”
Perhaps overlooked regarding cars with “fire” in the name was the Oldsmobile Starfire, first used in the early Sixties as a top of the line moniker and then again as a Monza clone in the late Seventies.