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By Karl Pippart III   Photos courtesy of the Classic Auto Research Service archives

The flathead engine era at Chrysler Corporation was being transitioned to the scrap heap as the 1950s unfolded. Modern, overhead valve V8s were being phased in on a yearly basis. First, it was Imperial and Chrysler in 1951; then DeSoto got to show off its new power plant the following model year.

HemiheadWith Mel Carpentier in charge of Engine Design, he designated the talented Fred Shrimpton to perform the engine’s initial design layout. Fred was ultimately responsible for the engine designs of all three early Hemis: FirePower, FireDome and Red Ram.  DeSoto’s 276.1 cubic inch mill featured a bore and stroke of 3.625”x 3.344”; 7.1:1 compression ratio; 1.75” diameter intake and 1.41” diameter exhaust valves  which were set at a 53 degree angle to each other;  a 2-barrel carburetor and a 244-244-26 degree cam. The package was good for 160 hp @4,000 rpm and 250 lbs. ft. of torque @2,000 rpm.

The V8 DeSotos debuted on February 14, 1952. The new S17 Series brought some much needed pep in the step of DeSoto’s product line. Specifications went unaltered in 1953, aside from a series designation change to S16. The S19 Series of 1954 saw a bump in the power numbers. Power was increased to 170 hp @4,400 rpm and torque to 255 lbs. ft. @2,400 rpm, mainly due to an increase in the squeeze-to 7.5:1.

During this time period, as with the other car manufacturing divisions, DeSoto was a beneficiary of the relationship between the Advanced Styling Studio headed by Virgil Exner and the Italian Coachbuilder Carrozzeria Ghia of Torino, Italy. What Exner and staff designed, Ghia built as several memorable Idea Cars during the 1950s. There were a number of FireDome-powered Idea Cars built during the mid 1950s, and they included...
Finish the article in the new April issue of Chrysler Power Magazine.