The 1955 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 DeSoto's 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 improving 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. Others had defective transmissions, power steering units, radiators, and a slew of the other problems. Many were prone to early rusting. This was the downfall 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