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Heavy Metal Affliction -- Dual De Sotos

John Schommer
Thursday, June 21, 2012


Heavy Metal Affliction takes many forms: hot-rodding, racing, tuning, and styling, among them. But one of the purest forms of car love is restoration. It is also one of the most difficult, because creating something of your own design is simply a matter of choice and budget. Restoring a car to its original specifications takes research, patience, and, in some cases, hand fabrication of things that no longer exist. When done properly, however, the end result recreates a piece a history that can be shared for generations. This edition of Heavy Metal Affliction is one of those tales.


Larry Zappone of Woodinville, WA has loved cars all his life and has been retired for some time, so he gets to spend much of his free time appreciating what he has created. He has professionally restored two amazing 1956 De Sotos: an Adventurer sedan and a Fireflite Pace Car. These cars are stunning in every capacity, from their period body shapes to the impeccably detailed dashboards to the “Hiway Hi-fi” record players located right under the dash. Yes, you read that correctly: record players.


Many of you may be asking yourself, “What is a De Soto?” De Soto was a performance luxury line purveyed by Chrysler until the late 1950s, similar to what Oldsmobile was to GM. The De Soto line featured an attention to detail that even the Chrysler 300 could not match in its era. Both of Zappone’s cars are Hemi-powered, as they were from the factory.  The Adventurer’s 320-hp Hemi, with its thirsty, dual four-barrel carburetors, is capable of a top speed of 144 mph, stock. Not bad for an almost 4,000-pound heavyweight, and when gas was only 19 cents a gallon, the car’s thirst was not a concern. Performance came foremost.


Back in the era when the Hudson Hornet was the stock car champion and cars with fins were the "in thing”, De Soto was building what the automotive connoisseur was looking for. In fact Chrysler Corporation can be credited with starting the finned rear-end concept. Their target audience was the “mature performance enthusiast.”



Additional features that make these De Sotos unique include a push button transmission, a self-winding clock built into the steering wheel, the aforementioned under-the-dash record player that came with its own catalog of 16 2/3 RPM records, and lots of gold. I have never seen a car with so much gold; much less ones that wear it so well. Under the hood, the gold continues adorning the delta-shaped, batwing air cleaner that sits atop the loping V8.

Zappone picked up the Adventurer in 1974, and did a full restoration that took six years to complete. The car has since been shown at numerous Concours and shows, winning a plethora of awards and it’s driven to shows regularly to this day.


The Fireflite Pace Car was acquired in 1994 from another De Soto enthusiast. It was literally sitting in a field wasting away. When it was delivered to its new owner, Zappone’s wife commented, “You paid all that money for this pile of rust?” As the pictures show, the Pace Car had a long road to where it stands today, seven years long; more than twice his initial expectation of the time it would take to bring the car back to glory.


Zappone did all the disassembly and reassembly himself, as well as all the mechanical, detail, and stainless restoration work. Major bodywork, the $15,000 paint job, and the upholstery were assigned to various best-in-class craftsmen. Larry completely rebuilt the drivetrain and 330 c.i. Hemi, and it now runs happily on unleaded fuel.



The convertible Pace Car is also driven regularly to shows up and down the West Coast. Its initial shakedown cruise was from Seattle to Victoria, B.C. and later to California where the car won its junior and senior awards from the Antique Auto Club of America.


The level of detail these cars have been restored to is only matched by Zappone’s seemingly limitless knowledge of the history of De Soto and the models themselves. He grew up in the age of James Dean, open wheel racing without seatbelts, and cars that were built by men, not machines. Subsequently, he is handy with any type of tool and understands every component of his cars. One of the most unique skills he has is embossing the upholstery with the De Soto emblems, a process he configured on his own and provides to fellow club members upon request.


These cars have been featured in magazines such as Car Collector, Collectible Automobile, and on the cover of the Old Cars Price Guide. They were also photographed for the Mopar Buyer’s Guide and Hemi Muscle Cars. Here is a short list of some of the awards they have won.


1956 De Soto Adventurer:

Best in Class: Concours d’Elegance, Port Gardner, WA 1992

Best in Class: Concours d’Elegance, Forest Grove, OR, 1996

Best in Show, De Soto WPC (Walter P. Chrysler) Club National Convention 1995

Best in Class, National De Soto Club National Convention, 1998


1956 De Soto Fireflite Pace Car:

AACA: Senior Award 2003

AACA: Bomgardner Special Annual Award, 2003

Best in Class: Concours d’Elegance, Forest Grove, OR 2006 and 2009

Best of Show, De Soto WPC Club National Convention, 2009


For more details about the De Soto Adventurer and Pace Car, check out Zappone’s dedicated website.


Here are a few more pictures:







Thanks to Larry for access to his beautiful and rare cars, and thanks to his nephew Doug for making us aware of his uncle’s willingness to share them. The automotive passion and fun loving attitude their family share was a blast to experience.


If you have or know of a ride you would like to share with us post about it in our Request for Community Rides thread. If you would like to comment about or compliment the De Sotos, post in this week’s Heavy Metal Affliction Thread.