Following American industry trends, high performance assumed greater importance for 1956 after the January announcement that a DeSoto Fireflite Convertible was selected as the official pace car for the upcoming Indianapolis 500. Remarkably unmodified with the exception of improved chassis components, the actual pace car was powered by an unmodified 330 cubic inch V8 engine with a single four-barrel carburetor. Production of a limited-edition “Pacesetter” convertible followed, and then in mid-February, the new top-level Adventurer two-door hardtop coupe was introduced to the public.
Based on the upscale Fireflite series, the new Adventurer was similar in concept to the Chrysler 300B as a high-performance, limited-production image leader. Sometimes referred to as the “Golden Adventurer,” the new model was powered by a highly-modified 341 cubic inch V8 engine which included dual four-barrel carburetors, large-port cylinder heads, a high-lift camshaft, enlarged valves and stiffer valve springs. To handle the increased power output of 320 horsepower, the engine was based upon a tough reciprocating assembly including “slipper” pistons, heavy-duty connecting rods and a shot-peened crankshaft.
Unlike Chrysler’s better-known 300 series, however, the DeSoto Adventurer was further distinguished by a much more glamorous exterior package highlighted by gold-colored accents along with many other desirable standard features, including whitewall tires, dual exhaust outlets, dual outside remote-control mirrors and rear-mounted manual radio antennas. Other standard equipment included electric window lifts, windshield washers, an electric clock, a padded instrument panel and a power-operated front seat, as well as a heavy-duty suspension and power brakes. Distinctive “Adventurer” nameplates and bright metal strips on the trunk lid further added to the car’s unique persona as the top DeSoto model. Aside from its staggering list of standard equipment, the Adventurer’s performance credentials were confirmed by its role in pacing the challenging Pike’s Peak Hill Climb, while another example was entered into the famed high-speed trials at Daytona Beach.
A dramatic restyling for 1957 marked the second phase of Exner’s “Forward Look,” which was known as “Flite Sweep” and characterized by a longer and lower jet aircraft-inspired overall shape with a massive front bumper and enlarged tailfins with imposing “Tri-Tower” taillights. A glamorous Convertible Coupe was added to the Adventurer line, while the standard high-performance “Hemi” engine grew to 345 cubic inches. With its 345-horsepower output, the Adventurer became the first American production automobile powered by a “standard” engine providing output of one horsepower per cubic inch of displacement. Thanks in part to the Adventurer, DeSoto experienced its third-best sales year in its history in 1957.
For 1958, the DeSoto line received minor detail changes and benefited from a renewed commitment to quality control standards by Chrysler Corporation. On the engineering side, the “Hemi” V8 engine was discontinued in favor of a new wedge-head design. Despite protests by performance enthusiasts, the new engines were simpler, easier and cheaper to build than the beloved “Hemi” while providing comparable power levels. Consequently, the Adventurer received a 361 cubic inch unit for 1958, growing to 383 cubic inches for 1959.
The 1957-1959 models marked the final true DeSoto products, since Chrysler’s adoption of unitized body construction for 1960 reduced the 1960-1961 DeSotos to nothing more than badge-engineered Chrysler sedans and hardtops. Therefore, the 1959 DeSoto Adventurer was truly the last of its line, and today, it remains without a doubt the most dramatic statement of DeSoto’s rich history and importance to the successful development of Chrysler Corporation.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2010 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.
350 bhp, 383 cu. in. V8 engine, dual Carter AFB four-barrel carburetors, TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission, independent front suspension with torsion bars and anti-roll bar, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 126"
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel