DeSoto, like many automobile manufacturers, were heavily involved in the war effort and indeed were responsible for the assembly of the fuselage sections for the Martin B26 Marauder amongst many other important war machines. The transference back to a civilian factory with appropriate tooling did not take place until 1946 but DeSoto's first real post-war model appeared in 1949 as "The Car With You in Mind." DeSoto's top line, the Fireflyte, was introduced in 1955. It offered avant-guard aeronautically inspired styling, which was coupled to a 200 hp four-barrel V8 engine with hemispherical segment combustion chambers. The 1956 DeSoto Fireflyte Convertible pictured here was apparently purchased new by a doctor from Bremen from whom Mr. James Becker of Elkhart, Indiana, purchased it in 1960, using the car regularly until 1974. In the files accompanying this car it is noted that Mr. Becker "blew her up" in 1968 while drag racing. When the local Chrysler dealer was unable to repair the engine it was sent to Chrysler Corporation for a rebuild. Officials at Chrysler confirmed that this car was one of 42 constructed with the 320 bhp engine and installed in a convertible. A drag racer indeed! The car was subsequently purchased by noted Chrysler collector, Walt Erickson, who commenced a thorough restoration. The car was disassembled with the relevant parts being re-chromed, repainted, re-trimmed, and the front end rebuilt. It is now finished in yellow over black and sports five original Chrysler wire wheels, two four barrel carburetors with "batwing air cleaners" and is described as being in good to excellent condition. This car is "loaded," as not only does it sport the 341cu. in. "Pacecar" engine but it also features power steering, power brakes, power seats, dual antennae, dual exhausts, and all signal seeking radio with the optional Hiway HiFi record player, the height of the mid 1950's rolling audio experience. The '50s personifies the era of cruising coupled with drag racing and this very good example of a rare DeSoto fulfills both requirements more than adequately.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1956 DeSoto Fireflyte
Years Produced:1956
Number Produced:1,485
Original List Price:$3,565
Tune Up Cost:$145
Distributor Caps:$15.39
Chassis Number Location:Left fron door hinge pillar
Engine Number Location:Block top by water outlet
Club Info:National DeSoto Club, 3567 Daniel Paul Court, Reno, NV 89506
Alternatives:1956 Chevrolet Bel Air, 1956 Ford Fairlane, 1956 Plymouth Fury

The car pictured was sold at Brooks’ auction at Quail Valley Lodge, Carmel Valley, California on August 28, 1999 for $46,000 including buyer’s commission. This car wasn’t a high quality restoration, with its age showing. Restored DeSoto convertibles don’t typically bring prices like this, $15-25,000 being more usual, making this result, quite exceptional. Perhaps it was the big engine with dual quads, or the Hiway HiFi, if the new owner can find 45rpm records he’s willing to sacrifice to its notorious skipping and scratching.

More intriguing is how the dual quad 341ci Adventurer engine came to be in this chassis in the first place. The Standard Catalog specifically states the pace car replicas had the standard 330ci Fireflite engine. Is this car’s engine a clever bit of junkyard scrounging and substitution by the drag racing Mr. Becker? Or a rare factory-built special? Finding satisfactory support of factory-special origin will realize the true value of this car although it is unlikely ever to be more than the amount paid here.

Like Mercury and Oldsmobile, DeSoto finds itself largely ignored by the collector car market, which concentrates its attention and spends its money on Fords and Chevies. Restored ’56 Ford and Chevrolet convertibles routinely bring $25-30,000 while their up-market cousins like Mercury and Pontiac sell at a discount that runs from at least 10% to as much as 25%. Today’s collectors, when kids, didn’t lust after up-market cruisers, as successful as these nameplates might have been. They’re spending their money to realize their dreams, not those of their fathers.

This is a neat car, with a dramatic yellow and black paint scheme that perfectly suits the style of the times and Chrysler Corporation’s fascination with fins. It has 235 fewer pounds for its 20 hp to pull around and should be as fast as a Chrysler 300B, no mean accomplishment by itself. But a Chevy Bel Air or Ford Fairlane convertible is more reliable as an investment and more liquid.-Michael Duffey

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