1956-1960 DeSoto Adventurer

1956 DeSoto Adventurer Engineering

The 1956 DeSoto Adventurer's new image backed its sizzle with sinew -- 320 bhp. The division bored its own hemi V-8 to 341 cid and added a high-lift camshaft, heavy-duty valve springs, aluminum pistons, forged-steel connecting rods, and a forged-steel crankshaft shot peened for strength. Compression was 9.25:1, compared to the 330 V-8's 8.5:1, and spark plugs and distributor timing were unique.

The Adventurer was the only DeSoto with dual four-barrel carburetors. A delta-shaped "batwing" air cleaner covered the two down-draft Carters and like the rest of the engine, was painted bright gold. A dual exhaust system, $32.90 on other models, was standard on Adventurer. The two-speed Powerflite automatic was the only transmission and could team with axle ratios of 3.54:1, 3.73:1, 4.1:1, or 4.3:1. As on other '56 DeSotos, the automatic transmission was controlled by mechanical push buttons on the dash to the driver's left.

Color offerings for the 1956 DeSoto Adventurer included the black body with gold roof and sweep pictured here.
Color offerings for the 1956 DeSoto Adventurer
included the black body with gold roof and sweep
pictured here.

Heavy-duty Oriflow shock absorbers were fitted "for maximum ride control," according to the factory specification sheet, and handling was improved over tamer models via special front coil. Stunning new styling, which made Chrysler the envy of the U.S. industry; a 345-bhp, 345-cid hemi engine; and new torsion-bar front suspension were the key features of the 1957 Adventurer. Still, it remained somewhat of a secret. The two-door hardtop, which at $3997 basic cost a little less than a dollar a pound, saw just 1650 assemblies. Power brakes were standard, but power steering cost $96.90 extra.

Among the Adventurer's few other options were a self-winding Benrus clock in the steering-wheel hub, a gasoline-fired interior heater that could reach 100 degrees in 15 seconds, and Chrysler's new Highway Hi-Fi. The last was a compact phonograph that mounted under the dash and played special 16 2/3-rpm discs.

The inaugural Adventurer tipped the scales at 3870 pounds dry and listed for $3728, $113 more than the Pacesetter. Both the new D-500, which was really a $175 engine and suspension package, and the $2900 Fury, were lighter and faster off the line than the DeSoto, turning 0-60-mph times in the mid-nine-second range. But they were hot rods for the peg-leg-pants set. DeSoto positioned the Adventurer as a fully equipped car for the mature performance enthusiast. It clearly wanted to identify with the 300-B, and in the absence of Adventurer-exclusive advertising or showroom literature, issued an owner's manual supplement, just like the one in the 300-B signed by Chrysler division chief engineer R. M. Rodger.

The Adventurer's manual was signed by DeSoto President L. Irving Woolson. "It isn't very often that any man or woman has the opportunity to see one's dream come true," he wrote, "but a dream of ours has become a reality in your new DeSoto Adventurer. We believe it to be the finest DeSoto ever built. May I congratulate you on your choice of this superb automobile."

The 1956 Adventurer had a $691 price advantage over the 300-B and would be the only Adventurer with a better power-to-weight ratio than the 300-B, carrying 12.1 pounds per horsepower, to the 4145-pound standard-engined 300-B's 12.2. But the 300-B was quicker and more ferocious. A 340-horse model ran 0-60 mph in 9.0 seconds for Hot Rod, turned the quarter-mile in 17 seconds at 84 mph, and topped out at 140 mph. Motor Trend timed an Adventurer at 10.5 seconds 0-60, 17.5 seconds and 81 mph in the quarter, and claimed to have recorded a top speed of 144 mph.

The Chrysler had better high-speed throttle response, and its competition-bred suspension gave it the edge in cornering, but critics admitted that DeSoto had produced the genuine article. "All honest and available, 320 horsepower is enough to make any car a bomb," wrote Don MacDonald in the July 1956 Motor Trend. "Combined with a striking gold and white color scheme and an especially deluxe interior to match, it adds up to a very desirable piece of property." He continued, "handling is excellent, with a heavy-car feel," noting, "as is usual practice on Chrysler Corp. 'sports' models, the Adventurer has stiffer-than-stock springs and shocks. These produce a ride which we favor, altho [sic] we admit we don't seem to be in line with the majority of car buyers in this respect."

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