What’s in a Name? The Second Lives of DeSoto Model Names

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.


1953 DeSoto Powermaster

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.


1959 DeSoto Firesweep

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.


1949 DeSoto Suburban

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.

1937 Studebaker Suburban

“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).

1957 Plymouth Suburban

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).

1978 Plymouth Fury Suburban

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.


1959 DeSoto Adventurer

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!

2005 Dodge Durango Adventurer

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.


Askam De Soto

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.

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