1956 DeSoto; Dramatic Tail-fin Age
DeSoto built only 4,030 units of the Firedome Seville four-door hardtop sedans for 1956. The first DeSotos with tailfins were the 1956 models, and the designers finished those fins with chrome-laden tri-tower taillights for a dramatic look at the rear of the car.
Frank Peiffer and his wife Lanette come from DeSoto car families, so it makes sense that they acquired a 1956 Firedome Seville.
The couple answered an ad for a car for sale in Canada. They learned the DeSoto was originally purchased in Wisconsin with a base price of $2,833. After a few years it went to California before returning to Wisconsin and then on to its fourth owner in Port Dover, Ontario, on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie.
The owner admitted his DeSoto had some rust problems on the rear quarter panels, explaining that one side had a hole about the size of a soccer ball. Peiffer attributed that to the harsh Wisconsin and Canadian winters. “Otherwise,” he says, “all else seemed sound.” The only reason the DeSoto was on the market, Peiffer says, was the owner wanted to devote his time and resources to fishing on the lake.
Peiffer and his wife were a bit apprehensive, but it appeared to be a reasonable deal, so Peiffer told the owner that he would buy the DeSoto conditional to an on-site inspection.
“Our trip had to be scheduled around his fishing trip weekends,” Peiffer remarks. The inspection did not reveal any surprises and the mighty Hemi 330-cubic-inch V-8 was still cranking out an honest 230 horsepower. Everything seemed to be in excellent working order, including the windows in the rear doors. “They provide wonderment for all,” Peiffer says. From a lowered position they scissor their way up, overlapping the adjacent windows, a sight to behold.
When the title changed hands, the fourth owner gave the Peiffers a $2 Canadian coin as a souvenir.
Once the DeSoto rolled off the truck on its 126-inch wheelbase, the Peiffers were able to carefully go over the car. They found that the two-speed PowerFlite transmission operated with push buttons. The car also has power steering, power brakes, and power seats, which were added after the car left the factory.
“The AM radio is original and still plays with all the original static common to the era,” he says. A speaker in the rear helps provide surround sound static.
When the Peiffers repainted their DeSoto, they also addressed the rust problem. They found a new stock right quarter panel, but the left side had to be fabricated out of sheet steel. “That’s quite a feat,” he says, “considering that there is a half-inch lip around the wheel well.”
After restoring the DeSoto to excellent condition, the Peiffers mailed a “thank you” letter to the previous owner. A few weeks later they received a letter from his widow saying sadly he had died a week after selling the car. The Peiffers intend to keep the $2 coin as a part of the DeSoto’s history.