Name: 1959 DeSoto Fireflite Convertible
Year Produced: 1958-1959
Number Built: Very rare, with only 186 produced during the production years (1955-1960)
Class: Full size
Body Type: 2 door convertible
Engine: Chrysler B-series V-8 383 (Firepower)
Power: 325 hp
0-60mph: 8.1 seconds
Top Speed: 121 mph
Transmission: 3-speed automatic
Length/width/height: 219.5 in/78.7 in/55.1 in
Wheelbase: 126 in.
Original Base Price: US$3,018
Current Value: US$7,700 – US$21,000 (Hagerty)
1955 marked a year of great changes for DeSoto, a division of Chrysler Corporation. One couldn’t help but notice the regal presence of their latest offering so much so that the likes of Hollywood stars Betty Grable, Harry James, and Groucho Marx have to stop and stare. Harry exclaimed, “It ought to be great in the stretch. I know a thoroughbred when I see one.”
Such reaction is hardly surprising. The DeSoto had both power and style. It was longer, wider, and more stylish than any previous build. The Fireflites and Firedomes versions were designed with enormous, fang-shaped color panels, and remained the standard on both the Fireflite convertible and hardtop.
More than just appearances in national television (as you may see in this 1959 TV ad video), what could be DeSoto’s great defining moment was when the car company decided to flaunt a shimmering gold and white Fireflite convertible in the most unexpected way and venue: at the 1956 Indianapolis 500. Spectators were unaware of this DeSoto to the extent that they initially taught it was an Adventurer. Save for the large block “DeSoto” name printed on the doors, and signs on the runway that says, “DeSoto Sets the Pace”, the audience could have easily missed it.
The slogan is not just for publicity. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and that was exactly DeSoto President Irv Woolson did when he personally sat behind the wheel and gave the convertible a spin around the race track. The Fireflite convertible easily broke all previous lap records, doing higher than a hundred miles at top speed leaving behind other racers.
However, dark days seem unavoidable. Setting the pace doesn’t necessarily translate in finishing well. By 1958, the DeSoto experienced as much as 70% decline in terms of production. Though management was ready to consider placing the final nail on the coffin on this classic, Virgil Exner and his team of maverick designers were dauntless in their radical new interpretation of the DeSoto convertible. It gave the 1959 model an aggressive new “Forward Look”. Auto blogger Dave Duriacy describes this DeSoto, “The hood was noticeably longer than the trunk and accentuated by menacing fender blades. It had no fins, but rather sculpted quarter panels and a smooth sloping trunk. Significantly, the nameplate on the hood proudly read “DeSoto.” The concept was dubbed the S-series and approved for the coming 1962 model year change.” Consequently, it won the heart of management and new life was breath into the new series. It caught up with the pace once again to the extent that other Chrysler brands were told to take inspiration from the DeSoto.
For all the hype and glitter however, and probably because of unfavorable economic conditions, 1959 was an unfriendly year for the pace setter in terms of production. DeSoto was one of only two car manufacturers at the time to score lower sales in 1959 than in 1958.