1956 DESOTO FIREFLITE CONVERTIBLE
By Paul Dagenais.
I found this car in a Hemmings Motor News ad in January 1999. It said “not for the faint of heart”. They weren’t kidding. We brought it back from Dallas. It had been sitting in a farmer’s field in Oklahoma since 1968. The Fireflite model was second only to the Adventurer which came only as a hardtop. The Adventurer convertible was really a Fireflite with a different trim. As a top-of-the-line DeSoto this car has power steering, brakes, windows, seat and top. The AM radio has a “seek” option and two (count’em!) rear antennas. The clock is shaped like a bullet sitting on the center of the dash. The engine is a 330 DeSoto Hemi (not to be confused with the 331 Chrysler Hemi) paired with the Powerflite 2 speed automatic transmission.
When we got it, the car had no floors in the passenger area or the trunk area. The quarter panels were rusted through to above the wheel wells. If it hadn’t been a convertible, it would have been trashed. We disassembled the car for a frame-off restoration. This involved an initial chemical dip to remove the paint and rust resulting in even more of the car disappearing into the vats. In the process of restoration, we’ve replaced the trunk lid (from New Jersey), the right quarter panel (from Washington state), the left quarter panel (local manufacture), the driver’s door and hood (a parts car from Dallas), the rear panel below the trunk lid (salvage yard in Montana) and passenger area flooring (Massachusetts). We’ve learned to shape metal and have become proficient in MIG and TIG welding. I found a windshield on EBay. The motor and transmission came from Kentucky. The lens for the front parking lights come from New Zealand. As seen in the last pictures, the car had been media blasted, epoxy primer coated, reassembled, and been in the body shop since July 2008. I reversed the original color scheme to sage green with a white sweep down the side. The top will be white and the interior will be forest green and turquoise leather. To date it has had 9 coats of color and 12 coats of clear coat. Currently it is being wet sanded and buffed so we can start replacing the chrome.
Update September 1, 2009
Here are two photos of the DeSoto, taken over the past week. A lot has been done since the last report and the car is about done at the body shop. We did have a crisis over the windows. The driver’s window would only rise to about an inch below the quarter window (they should be even). This was a real problem because the front of the window was at the top of the vent window assembly – basically, the entire door
was sitting cockeyed in the car. I am so glad I wasn’t around when Larry Smith (of Larry’s Paint and Body) fixed the problem. He had a grin on his face when he told me that he had taken a power pack and wedged it between the main body brace for the car (the back seat covers this brace) and the top of the front threshold of the door opening – this is just below the pillar where the side of the windshield ends. He pushed the front threshold forward about 3 inches and when it relaxed, he had an end result of about 3/8 inch wider threshold. This means he pushed the entire side of the car, at the bottom of the windshield, 3 inches and the windshield didn’t crack. I’d have had a heart attack if I had been there! Larry just smiled as the blood slowly returned to my face. He said it was no problem as he just made sure all the bolts were loose. EEEEEKKKKK!! Okay, I left a minor piece out – these windshields are extremely scarce as they are about 2 inches shorter than the ones used in sedans and hardtops. I found this one which is NOS on eBay about 3 years ago as a total, fortunate, non-repeating fluke.
When we get the car back, we have to fix some suspension problems, install the wiring harness, assemble all the components under the dash and send it to the upholstery shop. I’m hoping the end is in sight…. But this is car restoration so who knows.
Update: January 6, 2011
Here is a shot of the DeSoto getting loaded on a flatbed and on the way to upholstery.
It went to the upholstery shop for interior and the canvas top. I am so friggin’ excited about this – on January 20th it will be 12 years we’ve been working on this project.
Update: January 2011 – January 2012
I went by the upholstery shop to delivery leather and they were nearly finished working on the back seat. Here are a few shots. Its unfortunate you can’t see the tinsel piping because it really makes it pop.
went by the upholstery shop again and they were hard at it. Almost all the interior panels are done and the top just needs some tweaking. The front seat was sitting up on a work table. They are currently working on the boot liner for the convertible top as well as various other small things. The photos do not do them justice. The guys are doing a great job.
Update: January – March, 2012
Here are the first pictures of the car back from upholstery. The dash had to be installed and other tweaking needs to be done. It has to go back to the body shop for final paint and the upholstery shop for adjustments.