The DeSoto Firedome convertible coupe, designed by Virgil Exner in 1955, was a proud example of his design philosophy. If Exner had pursued a career in architecture instead of automobile design, he would have been a proponent of Louis Sullivan’s concept that “form follows function.”
Exner was well-known for his original design work for Pontiac and the Raymond Loewy studio, and he created automobiles that demonstrated his approach to automotive design, which he called “art made practical.” The DeSoto “Forward Look” of 1955 is a prominent illustration of this philosophy in action.
The automobiles, which were named after the adventurer Hernando DeSoto, were intended to appeal to the owner’s sense of adventure. However, unimaginative, boxy postwar automobiles became the polar opposite of this spirit. With sales of all of Chrysler’s vehicles plummeting, the company had only one option: invest more than $200 million in designing, manufacturing, and producing models that were restyled under the leadership of Exner’s team. In 1955, the investment was repaid in the form of record sales.
This restored 1955 DeSoto Firedome is one of only 625 convertibles built that year in the marque’s low-line range, making it a rare and valuable collectible. The new Firedome, which was advertised as the automobile “designed for tomorrow,” was lower, broader, and longer than the previous model, with a 126-inch wheelbase.
A 291-cubic-inch “Hemi” V-8 engine with a two-barrel carburetor produced 185 horsepower, which was sufficient to drive the Firedome to speeds of up to 100 mph while running on normal petrol. Because of its wraparound New Horizon windshield, aerodynamic hood ornament, and chrome-outlined contrasting color sweeps that were new for the year, the Firedome looks to be moving even when it is not.
With its grinning eight-toothed chrome grille at the end of its slanted, rounded nose, the Firedome made no attempt to be subdued or reserved. The external color scheme of this car, which was red and white, was one of 55 available color combinations, each of which had a matching interior color scheme.
The external color scheme of the 1955 DeSoto Firedome is carried over into the interior style of the vehicle.
The improvements made to the interior were not merely ornamental. The gullwing-shaped dual-cockpit instrument panel featured a glove compartment, a radio, a clock, courtesy lights, and the chrome-plated “Flite Control” shift lever for the PowerFlite transmission, among other features. The two-speed PowerFlite transmission, which was hailed as the “finest entirely automatic transmission available,” assisted the driver in navigating through traffic, rocking the car out of snow or mud, braking down steep hills, and slipping into tight parking spaces.
Despite the inclusion of optional equipment like power steering, brakes, windows, radio antenna; four-way power front seats; and air conditioning, all five Series S-22 Firedome vehicles were priced at or around $3,200 without options. It was, however, the eye-catching “Forward Look” style of our highlight car that helped it take home first-place trophies at two consecutive National DeSoto Club annual meetings.