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1952 Desoto Firedome

dominiondominion Member Posts: 1
edited March 2014 in Chrysler
My teenager is asking about purchasing a 1952 Desoto Firedome as his first car. I dont have any experience in evaluating the price, and what to look for and what not to look for in making this type of purchase. He says that the engine has been removed and replaced w/ a new hemi engine w/ 63K mi. Asking price is $5K. Only seen photos so far, and is about 2K mi away from us. thanks.


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    Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    The price would depend very much on the condition (it would have to be very nice for $5K) AND even more important the body style. Coupes are worth more than sedans, since so many fewer were made.

    And make sure your son doesn't get too excited about the word "hemi". These hemi engines are not the hemis used in Dodge and Plymouth muscle cars of years later. The Desoto hemi was a modest engine of about 160 HP driving a very heavy car. So a Honda Civic will leave it in the dust.

    Still, a nice old car and a no longer existing marque, so it might be fun to own. Would be a lot better if it were a coupe though. Nice looking and worth more.

    As for things to look for, aside from the usual mechanical things on any used car, look for rust and for sloppy and incorrect restoration work. Also keep in mind that these cars should be driven, as they will never become valuable. Maybe the best kind of old car to own , and enjoy!
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    andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,769
    ...when I was a teen, I was pressing for a '53 Firedome! Small world, huh? Those things were solid, sturdy cars, but unless it's a hardtop or convertible (unlikely, because DeSoto sold mainly workaday 4-door sedans back then) it better be in damn good condition to bring $5K.

    Do you know what kind of Hemi engine it has? The original was a 276.1 Hemi 2-bbl that put out 160 hp (gross). DeSoto had a ton of Hemi's, later on though...the 291, 330.4, 341, and 345. Then there were the Chrysler Hemi's...331, 354, and 392. I think there was also a Dodge 325 Hemi, and some earlier Dodge Hemi's, as well.

    For the usual stuff, I'd say check underneath for rust. These were incredibly solid cars, and would probably slice through most late '50's cars like a hot knife through butter but still, it's a 50 year old car now. Believe it or not, parts aren't THAT hard to find for them. I have some old classic car parts catalogs, and they usually list more mechanical stuff for earlier '50's Mopars than later '50's models!

    The transmission was most likely a 4-speed Fluid Drive semi-automatic. The engines on those cars were durable enough, and rear ends back then lasted forever, so the weakest link may be the transmission. I don't know how hard a Fluid Drive is to work on, but I have a '57 Firedome with a 3-speed Torqueflite, and the mechanics are afraid to even mess with that thing!

    They still had 6-volt electrical systems back in '52, so make sure that if you get it and it won't start, to not jump-start it with a modern car! I don't know how, exactly you're supposed to get 'em started then, but the '53 that I wanted was done in by an incorrect jump start. It had been my Granddad's car, but he sold it in '86 when I reached driving age. It wouldn't start, so the guy towed it home on a roll-back. Got it home, and tried to jump it with a 12 volt system. I don't know how bad it fried it, but the guy gave up on it, pushed it to the edge of the woods behind his house, and now, 15 years later, it's still sitting there. Pisses me off every time I think about it, because I would've at least tried to fix it up. And it was just about rust-free, too! Gawd only knows how sitting for 15 years in the weeds would change that, though!

    Oh yeah, a '52 DeSoto weighs close to two tons, rides a 125.5" wheelbase, and is probably about the length of a modern Town Car. Make sure your kid really wants something that big! Good luck!

    PS: check out http://www.desoto.org . It's the home page of the National DeSoto club, a good place for DeSoto resources.
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    Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    No, Andre, you meant 3-speed Fluid Drive, right?
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    andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,769
    I'm not sure, but I thought the Fluid Drive had 4 forward gears, just like the early Hydra-matics? At least the way my Granddad explained it to me, you had to depress the clutch to go into 1st, but then it would upshift to 2nd automatically. You had to use the clutch again to go into 3rd, but then it would go into 4th automatically. I think they just called the 1-2 range "low" and the 3-4 range "hi".

    I have a friend who used to own a '50 DeSoto, and we used to caravan together when we'd go to shows and stuff. I was always amazed that his car, with its inline-6 and whopping 112 gross hp (what's that, about 80-85 net?) had no trouble keeping up with my 270 hp '57 out on the highway. Sure, I'd smoke him from a standstill, and I wasn't exactly hot-rodding around on the highway, considering the car has not seatbelts, but that '50 had no trouble keeping a highway speed.

    I remember reading an old consumer-based magazine (may not have been CR though), that said the 276.1 hemi knocked 4 seconds off the DeSoto's 0-60 time, compared to the last one they tested with a 6-cyl. But still, I think we were dealing with numbers like 21 seconds versus 17!
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    Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I never remember a 4 speed Fluid Drive, but I am constantly being surprised.
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    dpwestlakedpwestlake Member Posts: 207
    I've heard of that transmission. It was in several early Mopars.
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    andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,769
    Chrysler came out with Fluid Drive in 1939, but in '41 came out with something called a "Vacamatic". Here's a link to it...


    Turns out the Vacamatic was a 4-speed. I think over the years, most people probably just called them all "fluid drive", even if the proper name may have been "vacamatic" at one time.

    But wait there's more. In 1942, there was something called a "Simplimatic", that the website just describes as "a semi-automatic transmission combined with a fluid coupling". I don't really know what the difference is between all these though.

    I'd also guess that the Fluid Drive's last year was around 1954. The Powerflite 2-speed automatic had been introduced in 1953, but was only available on Imperials that year. It was optional across the board for '54. I know in DeSotos, it was still technically optional in 1955, but I read somewhere that something like 99.6% of them had Powerflites that year. I guess the other 0.4% just had a 3-on-the-treee manual shift.

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    isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    A 52 De Soto that had a button on the end of the gearshift. It put the car into "passing gear".

    I do think there are better choices for a daily driver!
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    andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,769
    ...evidently, my Granddad thought the same way, about there being better choices in a daily driver. That's why he got rid of that '53 we had, because I had my eye set on it! I remember him saying that he didn't want me driving around in something that I'd be bringing back to him every time it broke down. So I ended up getting my Mom's old '80 Malibu, and I ended up bringing that one to him every time it broke down, so I don't know. Maybe I would've been better off with the DeSoto!
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    im_brentwoodim_brentwood Member Posts: 4,883
    That's still a bit of a freeaky car to drive daily.. drum brakes.. old-ech suspension.. lack of modern safety features.

    I mean, a wonderful old car and all.. but.. for a 16yr old? I mean, my Vauxhall recently got cut off on I-4, and it has a pretty darn good 4-wheel drum system for its era, and its been TOTALLY rebuilt.. but..

    I got real scared. And no seatbelts..etc..

    Am I being crazy? Seriously.. maybe as a project father/son deal.. Great! But for a daily driver maybe a cheap 1989 or so Mercury Grand Marquis or something might be a better "run to and from school" car?

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    andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,769
    I don't know how similar the '52 DeSoto's brakes are to my '57, but I can tell you the '57's are a pain! First, you need a wheel puller just to get to the brakes up front! The drums are presed on. Then, the front ones are needlessly complicated. Most drum setups just have a cylinder that presses out from both ends, hitting both shoes at once, up towards the top. My '57 has TWO cylinders on each side. The upper one presses against one shoe, and the lower presses against the other.

    I don't know if the two-cylinder setup really helps anything, but I never had any complaints with this car's stopping ability. They do need to be adjusted pretty regularly though, although I wonder if part of that is just because of the car sitting so much that the brakes get a little rust and glaze on 'em, and start to groan and screech.

    I don't know if the '52 would have the two-cylinder setup, but it's probably a safe bet that you're still going to need a wheel puller to get to those front brakes! I don't know how common a tool like that would be anymore, either. My mechanic has one, so I just let him mess with the brakes!
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    ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    ...I have to agree with you on this one. I remember my uncle buying an early '50s car as a 'driver', it ended up being a semi-permanent driveway decoration at my grandparents' house. This was almost thirty years ago, I can't imagine it's any easier now to keep a fifty year old car on the road. If the son wants an 'older' car as a driver, even something from the late 60s (power steering, likely disc brakes, seat belts) would be better! As a driver, I'd get something a bit more safe and fuel efficient (how about a Volvo 240?).
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    speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    My advice would be to buy the car. Just don't pay five grand for it. The average teen-ager only learns from bitter experience and, who knows, maybe he'll like it. He probably won't, and you'll probably lose money, but he's only 16 once and it's a great bonding opportunity. Years later when he's your age he'll look back and be amazed you did it for him.
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    isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    I think you meant to say you need a puller to get the REAR drums off and not the front.

    Those can be a nightmare. The special puller has three arms that bolt to the studs. The center screw contacts the end of the axle stub. then you take a big hammer and hammer the crap out of the anvil on the puller. If you're lucky, it'll come off. Sometimes it takes a torch as a convincer.

    And, yes, the fronts have a seperate wheel cylinder for each brake shoe. I think they called these "Center Plane".

    And they are a lousy design. It also takes someone who knows what they are doing to adjust these.

    If equipped with power brakes, the bellows for the booster sits right on top of the master cylinder. this makes checking the fluid a PITA as well.
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    dustykdustyk Member Posts: 2,926
    were called "Full Contact" as I remember.

    When I began doing auto repair work these were still plentiful. The first time I saw one was on a '49 Plymouth. I had replaced the front shoes and turned the drums. The customer was complaining about pulling, which I originally figured was the result of the poor condition of the brakes. After the new shoes and resurfaced drums were on, my road test verified the craziest pulling. It was inconsistent and changed in manner by the time I got back to the shop.

    This design was clever in some respects. The use of two wheel cylinders allowed full shoe contact with the drum. An older guy that I worked with said "replace ALL of the front wheel cylinders." I did and that solved the problem. This design, while efficient, was highly dependent on everything working in precision, especially the wheel cylinder travel. If one cylinder moved ever so slightly less, you'd get uneven brake application.

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