Cohort Pic(k) Of The Day: 1953 DeSoto Firedome Sportsman – The Toothy Grille Reaches The UK

L. Seddon posted this ’53 DeSoto Firedome Sportsman at the Cohort. It’s been a while since any of these old toothy Chrysler products appeared on our pages, so let’s give this one a bit of attention.

I admit those teeth are an acquired taste, but the DeSoto was one of many models from the ’50s with chrome dentures. Buick being the other that comes to mind. It’s a rather attention-grabbing face, but the ’50s was the decade where fashion took over Detroit entirely. With its toothy grille and chrome detailing, the DeSoto was probably the most stylish brand within the Pentastar realm.

Since our Cohort sample was found in an enthusiast’s garage in North Yorkshire, we’ll have to use a brochure image to savor its profile, which I find rather sharp. By the early ’50s Chrysler was feeling the pressure of Detroit’s fashion wars, a situation it couldn’t ignore anymore. The ’53 line had the first new body since 1949 and was styled under the guidance of Henry King. While the new DeSoto looked sleeker and was a full inch lower, its interior still held chair-height seats and was two inches wider. Chrysler wasn’t going to let style ruin its sensible side, as engineering was the company’s core. And after all, “Styling with a purpose” was DeSoto’s motto.

This Firedome Sportsman comes with Chrysler’s famous Hemi-powered V8 and a “Tip-Toe Shift” automatic. DeSoto had introduced the FireDome V8 in 1952, and at the time the engine produced more horsepower per cubic inch than any other competitor. It delivered 160 horses from 276.1 CID at 4400 rpm, with 250 pound-feet of torque at 2400 rpm. Reviews from the period referred to the model as the fastest stock car they had ever tested.

Being Chrysler’s mid-range competitor, period advertising extolled the model’s luxury trimmings and ‘European styling.’ Not that it had much of it, but I guess it just sounded exotic. And is not like customers at the time would have been any wiser.

Motor Trend’s review considered the model possessed ‘a spacious interior, and as much comfort as you’ll find in any car of its class.’ Under driving, Chrysler’s engineering shone, with steering being commended for its 3.5 turns from lock-to-lock, and its 41.5 feet turning radius being a foot and a half tighter than GM’s offerings. However, the Tip-Toe Shift was apparently not too smooth, occasionally delivering a noticeable clunk between shifts.

’53 was a good year sales-wise for DeSoto. No wonder this Firedome is grinning widely. Or is it? Honestly, I can’t tell if it’s grinning or gnashing its teeth. Then again, Detroit’s fashion wars were just heating up by the mid-’50s, and these DeSotos look rather tame against what was to come.


Further reading:

Cohort Classic: 1953 DeSoto – Did Its Owners Catch It In The Pacific, On A Long-Ago Trip To The Oregon Coast?