1956 DeSoto Fireflite news, pictures, specifications, and information
Convertible Pace Car
On January 11th of 1956 DeSoto announced it had been selected to pace the 1956 Indianapolis 500 Race. DeSoto chose a Fireflite convertible featuring special interior and exterior trim features. The car was equipped with an Adventurer 341 CID Hemi motor, producing 329 horsepower. A heavy-duty transmission and stiffened suspension completed the performance features. All this allowed the Pace Car to reach a top speed of 144 mph. The interior and exterior were sprinkled with liberal amounts of gold trim, all of which were later used on the 1956 Adventurer. The Pace Car was often referred to as a 'Pacesetter,' a name conceived by DeSoto management. Because the Pace Car was never designated as a separate model, no accurate production records exist. It is believed that no more than 500 were produced, with only about 35 remaining today.
This limited edition Pace Car, which is one of 25 remaining, from a production thought to be as few as 100. It is equipped with a rare 15 jewel 'DeSotomatic' self-winding steering wheel clock and a 16 2/3 RPM Highway Hi-Fi Record Player.
The DeSoto Indianapolis Pace Car Convertible was distinguished by its DeSoto Adventurer Gold paint and forward look emblems.
The car standard equipment included DeSoto's first pushbutton transmission and a 350 cubic-inch HEMI V8 producing 255 horsepower. The base price was $4,356 and weighed 4,070 lbs.
This 1956 DeSoto Indianapolis Pace car was a Fireflight convertible, which was distinguished by being trimmed with a DeSoto Adventurer interior, gold wheel covers, grill, and medallions. This example is one of approximately 25 remaining from a production run thought to be just over 100 vehicles.
This car is equipped with a rare 'Desotomatic' 15 jewel self-winding steering wheel watch made in Switzerland by Benrus. It has the first in-car highway Hi Fi record player available only from Chrysler Corporation. Music plays for nearly 45 minutes on one side of the record.
1956 was the first year for DeSoto's pushbutton powerflight transmission and the pace car was fitted with a dual quad 341 cubic inch Hemi V8 producing north of 320 horsepower. All pace cars were painted Gold and White, with a base price of $3,565.
Sold for $115,500 at 2012 RM Auctions
Sold for $75,000 at 2015 Mecum
In 1955, DeSoto unveiled Virgil Exner's fresh new 'Forward Look' lineup and sales nearly doubled over the previous year. Their flagship for 1955 was the FireFlite. It had a plush interior and like all DeSotos, was powered by Chrysler's Firedome Hemi V8 engine with a choice of either a 3-speed manual or push-button operated Powerflite automatic transmissions.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony Hulman and his organizing committee chose the FireFlite as the Official Pace Car of the 1956 Indy 500, citing its 'outstanding performance and superb handling characteristics.' DeSoto produced about 400 Pacesetter special-edition convertibles with White and Gold paint to commemorate the honor and supplied dealerships with stencils to recreate the lettering on the official race vehicles.
This particular restored example is formerly part of the Charlie Thomas Collection. It has seen little use in recent years. It has vinyl lettering, power-operated Saddle vinyl top, Gold vinyl upholstery with tweed seat and door inserts, and a rare Highway Hi-Fi 45 RPM record player. Other features include special-edition Gold wheel covers, power front seat, power steering, dash-mounted clock, push-button radio with dual power rear antennas and a well-detailed trunk and undercarriage.By Daniel Vaughan | Feb 2016
In 1955 the DeSoto Fireflite was wider and longer than previous DeSoto models. It came equipped with a V8 engine and PowerFlite automatic transmission. Multiple colors were used to highlight design details such as the fang-shaped panels. The windshield was DeSotos first wrap-around design. The interior was new and slightly radical with a dual cockpit gull wing theme. The PowerFlite automatic was operated by a Flite-Control lever located on the dashboard. There was ample space to accommodate six adults comfortably. The bench seats were long and comfortable, available in leather upholstery. Under the hood lurked a powerful V8 engine producing 255 horsepower. It could propel the car from zero-to-sixty in less than eleven seconds with a top speed of 110 miles-per-hour. This was more standard horsepower than most other manufacturers were offering on their vehicles.
The DeSoto was more than an exercise in design it was a unique riding experience. For the driver and passengers the engine and road noise was practically not existent. The suspension was smooth and there was comfortable performance. It was a lot of car for the money. The 1955 DeSoto's sold extremely well with over 114,765 examples produced, the best for the company since 1946. For 1956 DeSoto continued to climb the automotive industry ladder reaching 11th place in total production with 110,418 examples. However, this trend was temporary for the company; in five years time it was out of business.
In 1956 a gold and white Fireflite convertible was the official pace car for the 1956 Indianapolis 500, a prestigious responsibility. The word 'DeSoto' adorned the doors, painted in large block letters. On the raceway was a fitting slogan, 'DeSoto Sets the Pace.'
For 1957 the DeSoto appearance was modified with the help of Chrysler Corporation's head stylist, Virgil Exner. The design was bold and radical with tail fins, dual oval exhaust, and triple lens taillights. At speed, the tail fins served a purpose by improve stability. The versatility of the Fireflite was expanded with the addition of a station wagon. The cars built during 1957 were spectacular in design but poor in quality. Some of the models leaked and were unable to keep the rain out of the vehicle during a storm. Other had defective transmissions, power steering units, radiators, and a slew of the other problems. Many were prone to early rusting. This was the down fall that DeSoto endured and ultimately, unable to recover.
The DeSoto Fireflite was an exquisite car with bold styling and proven performance.
By Daniel Vaughan | Dec 2007
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