Designed For The Superhighway Age!
In the second year of the iconic Forward Look design, fins were in full bloom. While the overall body and trim style was the same as 1955 (albeit the loss of the established “toothy” grille), the upper rear quarters now sported full fins that resembled a natural-looking evolution from 1955. Along with the fins came the iconic triple light towers that would last through 1959 for DeSoto. The other big news for Chrysler Corporation in 1956 was the change from a 6-volt positive ground system to 12-volt negative ground. Other changes had a more subtle tone, such as the change of guage and front end emblem colors from black to white backgrounds, or the rounding of edges on all the “v” emblems on the car.
1956 did have a few noteworthy introductions and options available. The 4 door hardtop, available as a Seville or Sportsman trim level on a Firedome or Sportsman only on a Fireflite, made its debut. This was a one-year only body that included a unique fold-down rear wing window that actually came down forward into the rear door as the main glass was lowered. In addition to the instant gasoline heater that was available and self-winding DeSotomatic steering wheel clock, the biggest gimmick of the year came in the form of the Highway Hi-Fi record player, which played unique 16 2/3 rpm records. A standard set of 6 came with the car, but many more were available. This option also automatically got the seek-and-scan searchtune radio upgrade as well. For more information regarding the record players and steering wheel clocks, visit http://www.roadkillontheweb.com/.
While these were all big news indeed, the headline grabbers for the year involved the introduction of the Adventurer model. Intended to be an internal competitor to the Chrysler 300 (introduced the previous year), DeSoto for the first time ever had a true performance car. The Adventurer had a unique 341 c.i. with a dual 4 bbl intake and carburetor set-up that produced a whopping 320 hp! Unofficially, the Adventurer actually ran faster at Daytona Beach than the Chrysler 300B did, but both cars were fast for their time. This was evidenced in the Adventurer being selected as the official Pike’s Peak Hill Climb pace car in 1956. Where the DeSoto really set itself apart though from its Chrysler counterpart was in the glitz and glam. Offered in two-tone combinations of black/gold/white, the Adventurer also received gold wheel covers and a gold tweed cloth and leather interior, unlike the more stripped down and sportier Chrysler 300’s. This first year, the Adventurer was only available as a hardtop, which presented a problem when the Indianapolis 500 wanted to consider it as a pace car also. Thus was born the 1956 DeSoto Fireflite pace car. Essentially it was a Fireflite body and motor with the colors, interior, hubcaps, and special trim of the Adventurer. There were at least two different pace cars used officially in the Indianapolis 500 as evidenced by the differences in dash pad color, stickers, and trunk cut-out for the main camera car. It has never been confirmed if either car had the optional Adventurer dual quad 341 hemi, though the one test-driven by a magazine at that time clearly was the standard Fireflite motor. Pat Flaherty would go on to win one of the pace cars as part of his prize. It is unknown if this car still exists today nor is the serial number of that car known.
The National DeSoto Club also maintains a registry for all known 1956 DeSotos. If you have one and would like it added to the list, please contact David Frank at email@example.com.
Firedome engine: 330 c.i. (hemi) 2 bbl standard, 330 c.i. 4 bbl or 341 c.i. dual 4 bbl optional
Fireflite engine: 330 c.i. (hemi) 4 bbl standard, 341 c.i. dual 4 bbl optional
Adventurer engine: 341 c.i. (hemi) dual 4 bbl standard
Wheelbase: 126 inches
Los Angeles Firedome VIN Start: 64028001
Los Angeles Firedome VIN End: 64034406
Detroit Firedome VIN Start: 55258001
Detroit Firedome VIN End: 55329506
Los Angeles Fireflite VIN Start: 62048001
Los Angeles Fireflite VIN End: 62051424
Detroit Fireflite/Adventurer VIN Start: 50366001
Detroit Fireflite/Adventurer VIN End: 50392114
Firedome 4-Door Sedans Produced: 44,909
Firedome Seville 4-Door Hardtops Produced: 4,030
Firedome Sportsman 4-Door Hardtops Produced: 1,645
Firedome Seville 2-Door Hardtops Produced: 19,136
Firedome Sportsman 2-Door Hardtops Produced: 4,589
Firedome Convertibles Produced: 646
Firedome Wagons Produced: 2,950
Fireflite 4-Door Sedans Produced: 18,207
Fireflite Sportsman 4-Door Hardtops Produced: 3,350
Fireflite Sportsman 2-Door Hardtops Produced: 7,479
Fireflite Convertibles Produced: 1,485*
Adventurer 2-Door Hardtops Produced: 997
*Includes pace cars (actual and replicas)
Source: The Plymouth and DeSoto Story by Don Butler