- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thomas Kenney was about to enter his teenage years when his father drove up to their Havertown, Pa., home in a new 1955 DeSoto.

For the next five years he washed and polished that DeSoto, but just before he was to get his driver’s license, his father sold the car, thus preventing him from ever driving it on public streets. However, he recalls many a trip up and down the driveway and in and out of the garage as a reward for keeping the car looking like new.

On April 20, 1955 Ella Shellenburger in Hatfield, Pa., also purchased a DeSoto, a Firedome Special Coupe. The base price was $2,541. Her fashionable car was a two-door hardtop model with no power steering, no power brakes, no power seats, no power windows and no air conditioning. It did have an AM radio, heater and dashtop clock.

She drove her Surf White over Avon Blue DeSoto for more than three decades, accumulating 82,000 miles along the way. A year after having the two-speed Powerflite automatic transmission rebuilt in 1986, she sold her car to Art Sesselberg in Bridgeport, Conn.

The second owner reportedly rebuilt or replaced virtually all of the drive train, starting with the valve seals in the 291-cubic-inch Hemi V-8 engine. The DeSoto was repainted in the original colors in 1993.

Around the turn of the century, Dr. Kenney began searching for a 1955 DeSoto similar to the one his father had sold so many years before. His hunt continued for several years with each lead dissolving into disappointment until he saw Mr. Sesselberg’s ad offering the blue and white 1955 DeSoto Firedome Special Coupe for sale with 94,609 miles on the odometer.

“I took the train to Connecticut to investigate,” Dr. Kenney says. He liked what he saw and on Oct. 30, 2004 he purchased the car. Then the owner asked Dr. Kenney how he planned to get the car to his Hampstead, Md., home. When told that he planned to drive it, the owner gave that plan an emphatic thumbs down, explaining that before a long highway trip the car should be given a physical examination.

Dr. Kenney agreed and returned the following week, on election day, with a trailer and towed his DeSoto home. The handsome car stretches a couple of inches more than 18 feet long between bumpers.

The 7.60x15-inch tires looked good but they were 20 years old, so they were replaced with new white sidewall tires. All the fluids were changed including five quarts of oil plus one more for the filter, ten quarts of transmission fluid and 24 quarts for the cooling system including the heater. The new tires in addition to new king pins and tie rods make for accurate steering of the 3,801-pound car. “Making a three-point turn is like a trip to the gym,” Dr. Kenney says.

Even with 185 horsepower, the automatic transmission has its limits. Dr, Kenney reports, “It starts off slow but goes pretty good afterward.” The ride is very comfortable on the 126-inch wheelbase. “My car runs real quiet,” Dr. Kenney says with a smile, “I tell people that it’s an electric.”

Dr. Kenney had the seats reupholstered soon after he purchased his DeSoto using what he believes is the last bolt of two-tone blue sear sucker material that came with the car and other spare parts.

Earlier this year, the city of Tulsa, Okla., celebrated the centennial of the state by opening a time capsule that had been buried 50 years ago. The major item buried was a 1957 Plymouth Fury. The municipal officials invited several owners of Chrysler products from that era to attend the ceremony. Upon receiving his invitation Dr. Kenney began agonizing about the best way to ship his DeSoto to Oklahoma when a friend suggested the obvious: drive it there.

The 1,225-mile trip to Tulsa took three days and Dr. Kenney arrived in time for the June 15 ceremony. He made the trouble-free return trip in two days with the cowl ventilator and two wing vent windows providing fresh air.

Inside the car is a symphony of blue - from the light blue headliner to the dark blue carpeting. The seats, door panels and dashboard are all two-tone blue. Encircling the should-wide steering wheel is a chrome horn ring. Protruding from the dashboard is the unique gear shift lever, referred to as the “Flite Control.” From the top, the gear positions are: Reverse -Neutral-Drive-Low. There is no parking gear.

On the far right end of the dashboard, next to the glove compartment is “Firedome” spelled out in gold lettering.

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