Thank goodness I have a hobby.

Posted: April 10, 2020 in Station wagon, transportation
Tags: , , , ,

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It’s now March 41st, our 98th day of state mandated “shelter-in-place” here in Michigan, after a month of self imposed sequestration.  (Only kidding, it’s really some day in April, or maybe May, I’m no longer sure).  What I know, and appreciate more than anything right now, is the fact that auto repair has been deemed an “essential” activity, I have a Visa card, Speedway, Jegs, Summit Racing and even Amazon Prime have warehouses stocked up with ’52 DeSoto parts I need and UPS and  FedEx trucks are making deliveries.

70242021_10220759892929812_3824282547290898432_nMany of you know that our ’51 Pontiac wagon was totaled last August by some knuckle-dragger who rear-ended it while our son Craig was turning left into his grandmothers driveway.  The car wasn’t repairable (even if it had been, I wouldn’t have wanted it after that), Craig was injured, requiring surgery and the young woman he was pushed into was also hospitalized. When the dust settled and we began the search for a replacement it turned out to be more difficult than I t though.  I found lots of cool old cars that I would have bought, but Kim, rightfully, insisted on another station wagon.

81224098_487308888641585_7682498020574756864_nWe began looking at CraigsList ads, eBay, Hemmings, Bring a Trailer, FB marketplace, the HAMB classifieds, and FB friends joined in, sending me links to cool wagons they found from all over.  One of the ones a friend sent was this, a CraigsList ad from Minnesota for this ’52 DeSoto wagon.   This is the best photo the guy had on the ad, the description was vague, he didn’t respond to the first couple of messages I sent, and never sent any more photos when I asked.

The story was sketchy as well, he’d had the car for 10 years, never had it running, had gotten it from someone who’d done some work but he was unsure, or unwilling, to say what had been done, what the condition was now, and, to top it off, he had moved and the car was 5 hours away from him, in the very western part of Minnesota at his brothers place.  Who wanted it gone.

After a couple of weeks of trying to get more info and photos, continuing the search, I finally got a little response, still not what I was very comfortable with, but we decided we’d make the 660 mile trip to get it, and if it wasn’t worth bringing home, we’d simply not pick up the U-Haul trailer I rented in that MN town, come home and keep looking for the right car.

What’s a couple of days when you’re retired, right?

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When we got to New Ulm, the owner got ahold of me and said he wasn’t going to be able to drive from Madison WI, but to go ahead and meet his brothers at the property, and they’d have it ready.  Evidently his communication with them wasn’t any better, they were surprised that he didn’t make it too, but had gotten the car out of the shed it was in, washed it, replaced a flat tire that wouldn’t hold air, and helped get it up onto the trailer.

It was better in many ways than I’d anticipated, the body looked amazingly rust free, although it sports what has to be one of the worst home-grown paint jobs I’ve ever seen.  The color, brindle brown and tan, is the best part of it, and even that is awful.  Whoever did it went to a staggering amount of  work to do the worst paint job in the world, the engine had been out, and looked like it had new gaskets, everything clean and detailed but dirty from setting, and it has the original interior.  The chrome is as bad as the photos hinted, none of the die-cast, pot-metal trim is repairable, and the huge bumpers are dull under the spray bomb silver.  It had all been removed, painted and replaced though, I admired the effort if not the end result.

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I got busy as soon as it was off the trailer, and got the 276 running by simply adjusting the dual points in the dual point distributor.  They were set incorrectly, it had no spark, which is why the guy never could get it running.  I believe the engine was rebuilt, it has a new carb, starter, generator, fuel pump, all the ignition wires, coil, etc., are all new, and the engine does have new gaskets, even head gaskets, that are not painted over.  It was never run, but it fired up instantly after 20 minutes of tinkering.

Even so, it wasn’t up to what we’re going to use the car for, particularly the awful Fluid Drive and 4 speed, vacuum shift “Gyro-Matic” transmission, so out it came, and I bought the 2018 Chrysler 345 (5.7) Hemi seen above, with it’s HP70 8 speed transmission from a Challenger.  I found out that I couldn’t use the factory wiring harness from the donor car, and bought a MOPAR Crate Hemi wiring harness, and a stand alone transmission controller.  That came from an aftermarket supplier, Chrysler doesn’t support this 8 speed transmission in non-factory applications.  The workaround is expensive, but it’s out there.

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87391868_10222525239902383_54373847880695808_nI’d initially thought I’d use the cars original front suspension, add disk brakes and dropped spindles, but the power steering was huge, bizarre linkage, and would have cost more than simply replacing it.  So, that’s what I did.  The new suspension is from “Speedway Motors”, a “Heidt’s” crossmember, tubular upper and lower control arms, Mustang II style spindles with GM style 11″ rotors and calipers, a T’bird power rack.  I made my own front frame stub, had had the car up on the Salt Flat wheels I’d bought for the ’59 T’bird and never used.

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At the rear is a 2001 Ford Explorer 8.8″ rear, 3.73 gears, Limited Slip, and disk brakes.  I put it 2″ blocks, the ride height is just about perfect on the stock springs.  Those still have their factory sheet metal jackets, are greasy and look good to go as is.  The cardboard skirts are a nice touch too, don’t you think?

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One of the first things I bought after getting the car home was this ’59 Imperial grill.  The original DeSoto grill teeth are, in my opinion, awful, and the chrome was gone.  I thought this echoed the “toothy” look, the chrome is pretty nice, I like the horizontal grill bars behind it, and it fits the opening perfectly.  I also bought the missing rocker moldings and a decent driver quality chrome gravel shield for the left rear fender.  I mocked up the front sheet metal the other day to fit the grill, and make sure inner fenders cleared the new engine.  They didn’t of course, but only needed some minor trimming to make it look like the 5.7 was made for a ’52 DeSoto.

The heavy stock bumpers are not going back on, I’m thinking ’49-’50 Chevy bumpers would look much lighter and won’t break the bank.

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I picked a color called “Dark Garnet Pearl” from “Kirker” paints in single stage urethane, and got the firewall painted the other day.  The wiring is started, note the new PCM on the firewall.  The battery will move to the right front inner fender, behind the core support.  The car came with a new “Rhode Island Wire” wiring harness in the correct linen wrapping, so I’ll use that for the lighting and original parts of the car, the engine’s harness is self contained and you can see all that will show of it in this photo.  The PCM I think I’ll make a cover for to disguise it as maybe part of the original ventilation system, which actually was in the spot it now occupies.

93021960_10222949267302803_1145373975757455360_oI have a “Vintage Air” heat/cool/defrost unit that arrived yesterday, That fit up behind the dash with a little trim on the lower lip.  I’ll have to lose the factory lower dash valance panel, but the slim vent cover, seen here, occupies much of that space, and actually looks pretty good.  There’s a complete extra dash which has all the missing trim I need, a radio delete plate and prettier gauges, so it’ll all get nicely finished.

I’m very happy with the dial shifter, mounted on the dash here where the ashtray had been, and proud of the little fiberglass bezel I made for that.  I tried to make that mimic the instrument pod bezel, which will all be painted body color.  The steering column was an extra bit the guy had, it is from a ’54.  I think I’ll leave the shift lever on as a disguise.  The wheel is beautiful, translucent ivory plastic with just one minor crack.

This is how I’m dealing with my enforced social isolation.  I’d actually be doing much the same, but I am ordering things, parts, that I’d have simply run to the auto parts store for before.  I’m sure that when this Covid crisis is over, life will be different, drastically different for some, but we’ll adapt.  We’re fortunate (Kim just retired at the beginning of this crisis) to not have to worry about our jobs, financially we’re secure, but we do miss our friends and most of all, or family and grandson Milo.

This will pass, and when it’s all over, I’ll find some other project.  That Hemi under the bench is calling, it wants to be used in a hot rod, maybe a Model A couple on ’32 rails…

 

 

Comments
  1. Keith Vander Pol says:

    You’re making great progress. The Imperial grille looks great. I really like your new paint color!

    On Fri, Apr 10, 2020 at 1:53 PM Cool McCool’s Garage wrote:

    > flynbrian48 posted: ” It’s now March 41st, our 98th day of state mandated > “shelter-in-place” here in Michigan, after a month of self imposed > sequestration. (Only kidding, it’s really some day in April, or maybe May, > I’m no longer sure). What I know, and appreciate more tha” >

  2. David Foutch says:

    AWESOME……..

  3. flynbrian48 says:

    Thanks for coming along for the ride!

  4. Doris Huffman says:

    It’s the Del Rey truck camper I want to inquire about because we were dealers in Powell, Ohio in the 1960’s and 1970’s so there isn’t much my two sons don’t know about them, having worked on them and visited the factory more times than I could count. We were close friends with the manufacturer. If you have any questions yu can contact us. Second son Dale wants to buy a truck camper and go to Alaska now that he went this past summer on a tour. I saw your Del Rey on your website and was curious where you got it. Doris Huffman, Delaware, Ohio

    • flynbrian48 says:

      Thanks for the comment Doris. We no longer have it, I sold it three years ago to a young couple here. They are moving to the U.P. And just sold it too. I didn’t have indoor storage, and we weren’t using it after completing the Spartan, but was a nice unit and fun to use. Everything worked in it, we reupholstered it, I repaired the roof and painted it. It was pretty well built, and VERY heavy, put my 1 ton GMC on the overloads. Tell your son to watch CraigsList, FB. marketplace, and the Tin Can Tourists web site classifieds, truck campers are relatively inexpensive compared to tow behinds. Regards, Brian

  5. Rodney Kiser says:

    Great progress Brian! I like the new color you plan to paint it. I like the modern drivetrain too. The best of both worlds.

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