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1956 DeSoto Sportsman

By Vern Parker

Parts from about one-fourth of the United States have contributed to the restoration of Jack Gallagher's 1956 DeSoto Fireflite Sportsman.

“I've always liked orphan cars,” Gallagher confesses. Automobiles which no longer are in production appeal to him.

In August of 2010 he located the 1956 DeSoto two-door hardtop offered for sale by a broker of antique cars in Florida.

Detailed information about the car was transmitted and Gallagher discovered that the car was originally sold in Mississippi once it had left the factory in Detroit on Nov. 28, 1956.

The DeSoto in Florida was not a perfect car but all of the parts were there so Gallagher gambled and bought the car sight unseen. It was, after all, a desirable model.

On the back of a truck the DeSoto was transported to Gallagher's Bethesda, Md., home. After the truck left Gallagher started his DeSoto to put it in his garage when, he reports, “The number eight connecting rod let go.”

That was the bad news. The good news was that the cast iron block was not cracked. For more than half a year the DeSoto languished in his garage while Gallagher collected parts for the rebuilding the engine and arranged for skilled artisans to make his car whole once more.

Happily, there was no rust with which he had to contend. “Everything from the front seat forward has been rewired,” Gallagher says.

The upscale DeSoto has power equipment including:

* Seats.

* Brakes.

* Steering.

* Windows.

At the driver's left finger tips is a four-gang power window switch on the door.

On the package shelf by the rear window are mounted the two rear speakers for the AM/FM radio. The speakers flank a vent through which a fan blows air to help defog the rear window.

The aforementioned states that contributed to the rehabilitation of the DeSoto include Alabama, Arizona, California, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

When new the 4,030-pound two-door hardtop had a base price of $3,256. Only a total of 7,479 such models were manufactured during that model year.

Beneath the hood of Gallagher's DeSoto is the desirable 330.4-cubic-inch HEMI V-8 Overhead Valve engine that delivers 255 horsepower.

All of that power is transferred to the rear drive wheels via the Powerflite Automatic Transmission operated with push button controls. The four push button control module is positioned near the driver's left hand.

Under the gray headliner overhead is the red carpet on the floor. In between are the black and white upholstered seats trimmed with gold piping. Gallagher points out that the gold piping matches the gold “DeS” on each wheel cover.

On each rear fender is an external air scoop which can either draw fresh air into the cabin or, with the flip of a switch force feed the air conditioning unit in the trunk. To avoid overheating the engine the radiator capacity is 24 quarts.

The 7.60x15-inch tires support the 18.4-foot-long DeSoto on a 126-inch wheelbase.

Gallagher never tires of climbing into his red and white DeSoto with the distinctive tri-tower taillights. There he can grip the two-tone, two-spoke steering wheel adorned with a 360-degree horn ring and relive some of the glory of his DeSoto with the soaring tailfins.

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