Cohort Pic(k) of the Day: 1955 DeSoto – My Favorite Ride To School

photos by Curtis Perry


Yes, I really did use to trudge a mile through the snow in zero degree weather to school when I was a kid. There was a big empty field a block away that was used as a community garden in the summer for University students and staff, and it was a convenient short cut in the winter. It got so cold one January, the snow crust on top froze so hard that I could walk on top of it; much easier than crunching though it.

But once or twice I was rescued from my Lincoln School Death March by a big burbling ’55 DeSoto that had pity on me. It was driven by Dr. Miller, head of Student Health, and who lived two houses down from us on Park Avenue. He pulled over, and opened the front door. It was like climbing into a big warm living room, that tall sofa of a seat, heat blasting out from under the dash. So it wasn’t just because I knew Dr. Miller’s big DeSoto had a hemi under its hood that made me so fond of it.

This is what greeted me as I slid in. But this brochure rendering doesn’t quite do the dash justice.

Here’s a better look at the dash. Very business like yet elegant for 1955, with the five round instruments and that dash-mounted lever for the PowerFlite automatic. And of course a whale of a steering wheel.

The DeSoto burbled along slowly, on the packed snow streets of Manville Heights. There were rarely snow plows to be seen back then on residential streets; the snow just got packed down. Well, if it was a really big snow the plow would eventually show up.

Although I was pretty young, about nine, I was somehow aware of the hemis that lurked under various Chrysler Crop. cars of that era. I’d seen ads, and probably peered into a raised hood or two. I knew they were somehow exceptional; they were certainly exceptionally big, when looking at them. Those giant valve covers were altogether different than the flatheads or typical V8s of the time. Never mind the name: FIREDOME. Very impressive, to a nine year old. Maybe that’s the demographic they had in mind when they created the name?

Oddly, the higher output 200 hp version was called Fireflite; it should have been the other way around. I’m a bit surprised that a four barrel carb and higher compression only boosted output by 15 hp. But then these were advertised hp numbers, and maybe the DeSoto’s were held back to not encroach on the Chrysler’s.

Ironically, even back then I assumed that because the DeSoto was obviously just a badge-engineered Chrysler that its engine was also just a smaller displacement variant, but no. It’s quite unique to DeSoto, with its own bore centers. But It sure looks mighty similar.

There were days when I saw Dr. Miller from across that field. Dang! I should have stayed on the sidewalks! Billowing clouds of condensation enveloped the back of his car. Nothing like a sub-zero day, with the air so dry, to create a condensation cloud.

That reminds me; the Millers invited us over once to watch The Wonderful World of Disney on their new 21″ RCA color tv console, with the round tube that was cut off at the top and bottom. Wow; that was a big deal. Our old B&W tv was in my parents’ bedroom, which was a bit odd. It’s not that they ever watched in bed. It was a fairly big bedroom, and there was a couch to watch it. So my memories of that house are of all of us kids crammed on the couch watching Ben Casey, or whatever my sister, who was the oldest, wanted to see. Fortunately, Route 66 was on her watching list.

I loved that big DeSoto, and not just because I got a ride in it a few times. It just exuded solidity, strength, safety, comfort, power, quality…As much as I loved the new cars coming out of Detroit at the time, I was a big lover of these big, tall cars of the ’50s.

One day in the early summer of 1962, I saw Dr. Miller drive up to his house with its replacement. It was a red ’62 Dodge, exactly like this one. Wow! Now that’s different! For what it’s worth, I never got to ride in it.