C’mon Baby Flite My Fire

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 Ed Britz takes the ’55 DeSoto’s “advanced styling” and Hemi power to the next level and beyond.

Photos: Paul Stenquist

Ed Britz built this ’55 DeSoto Fireflight all by himself working daily for two years and eight months.  The grille is from a ’56 DeSoto, while the bumper is the original that has been modified.  Mirrors are ’88 Ford Escort.

“Enough already with the gazillion dollar customs hammered out by top-name shops working with unlimited budgets. We wanna see something that the average guy who’s never picked up a tool before in his life can do all by himself. Something anyone can duplicate on a budget of 16 dollars or less.”

OK, we hear ya’. So here’s a cool custom that Ed Britz did virtually all on his own. We’d like to say that Ed never used tools before, and he just threw this ’55 DeSoto Fireflite together from stuff he found laying around—just to satisfy  all you anti-pro, anti-high-buck critics.

Maybe next time. 

Stock backlight is recessed into the body. The stock rear bumper is flipped upside down (those crafty Chrysler engineers designed it to work either way). Taillights are stock. All factory emblems and badges have been removed.

But this custom still is a great example of one man’s vision, skill and skinned knuckles. Ed got his start in the car-building game quite early—at the age of 12 when he cobbled up a wood soap box derby racer. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What history? You ask. Okay, okay. So we don’t get off that easy with a really short story.  Ed graduated from his soapbox days to his own body shop. After hammering on countless bodies—both cars and customers who were slow in paying their bills, Ed (now age 70) retired.  But he kept his hand in custom car building. Good thing, or we’d be showing you pictures of Ed sitting in a lawn chair in Florida someplace (you know, he wanted his lawn chair to be different from all the others…)

Indy Cylinder Head 528-cube Hemi sports nice brightwork along with serious horsepower.

So anyhow, Ed, who likes unusual cars (if he liked unusual people, we’d introduce him to Ehrenberg) told us that he never saw a customized ’55 DeSoto before. Maybe he didn’t look hard enough, or maybe they we so modified that they couldn’t be recognized as such. We happen to see modified ’55 DeSotos all over the place. In fact, where we are, you need a remote key fob to locate your ’55 DeSoto custom from all the others in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

Caddy Eldo seats and tilt-tele column add to comfort and convenience. Interior was the only area of the car that Ed farmed out.

But we digress. Ed looked for a ‘55 Desoto for about a year, and all he found were rusty cars.  In September ‘06, he found one located in Salt Lake City from an ad in Hemmings.  He called the owner and was told the car was solid but wasn’t running.  The guy sent a couple of photos and the car looked very solid.  They made a deal, and Ed overnighted him $5000. Ed contacted a shipper, and had the car picked up.  When it arrived a week later in Delmont, PA, surprise!  The photos were fifteen years old and only vaguely resembled the hulk that now resided in Ed’s driveway.   But Ed, motivated by knowing that the completed project certainly would be featured in Mopar Action, bit the bullet and moved forward—an easy decision as behind him was a pool filled with man-eating sharks.

Vintage Air A/C controls are hidden in what used to be the ash tray.  Air Ride Technologies controls are recessed and hidden in the console.  Power options consist of seats, windows, brakes, antenna, steering and trunk pull down.

After addressing rust and other issues required to bring the DeSoto up to square one, Ed started on the body mods. He chopped the top 3 inches and lengthened it to create a visor over the windshield.  This, he says was the most difficult part of the job as the chop job is much more complex when you’re dealing with a wraparound windshield (a first for DeSoto in ‘55). Ed also had to cut a new curved windshield and flush-mount it with no moldings or rubber gasket. Custom guys always do things the hard way. The rear glass is original and recessed into the body. 

The package tray is made from a ‘56 DeSoto dash and customized to match the front dash, making this a rare dual-dash car.

Ed then proceeded to remove the rain gutters and replace them with a custom lip.  He trashed all the stainless trim around all windows, along with the vent windows and all the factory emblems, doodads and door handles. Then he made his own custom body side moldings out of brass and had them chromed.

Up front, Ed replaced the stock grille with one from a ’56 DeSoto. Custom cars never use the stock grille.  The ‘56 parking lights are shortened and recessed into the grille.  The amber parking lenses are custom formed.  The rear bumper is flipped upside down and tucked in close to the body. All the bumper bolt holes are welded shut. Nothing gets in; nothing gets out.

While the license plate frame is a Studebaker piece—a really tough item to find in Mopar parts bins, Ed wanted more Mope than Stude when it came to underhood particulars. Good thing, too. Taking the easy way out, Ed just ordered a 528-inch Hemi from Indy Cylinder Head. A rather stout unit, the Hemi is built with an Eagle crank, 10.25-to-1 Wiseco pistons, Comp Cams 292 hydraulic cam, roller rockers and, of course, Indy’s own aluminum heads. The beast is fed by an 800 cfm Demon carb and jolted by an MSD ignition. Ed fabbed his own headers and hooked them to a 3-in. stainless exhaust with Flowmaster muffs built by Jim Dettman. The Hemi hooks to a GM automatic that was put together by Keisler Engineering who also supplied the driveshaft, and thence back to a 9-in. Lincoln rear with 3.55 cogs. At least it’s all American.

The DeSoto retains its original frame which serves as a convenient location to attach the Dakota front suspension with its stock disc brakes that work with a Corvette master cylinder and Wilwood proportioning valve. The Dak rack and pinion steering hooks to an ’87 Caddy tilt/tele column and Flaming River wheel.

Back yonder is a 4-link setup with Speedway Panhard bar fabbed by Outlaw Performance. Also evident is the stock Lincoln swaybar and disc brakes. The airbag suspension is from Air Ride Technologies.

For the interior, Ed modified the ’55 dash, fabbed his own gauge insert and filled it with Classic Instrument dials. He installed a Sony sound system and Vintage Air A/C. He controls all the controls from the comfort of 2000 Caddy Eldorado seats. The tan leather interior is the handiwork of Dave Crissy Custom Interiors.

With its distinctive black and ’56 DeSoto Avenger Gold paint that Ed shot himself (he’s one of only a few painters to shoot themself and survive), his custom ’55 DeSoto is an easy standout from the sea of all the other ’55 DeSoto customs in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

Clean lines reflect the 3-inch chop and handmade side trim.   Wheels are by Intro: 7×17” up front and 8×17” on the rear.

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