Musings.

Posted: July 8, 2020 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

It’s over 90 degrees, I just got back from the local O’Rielley’s with some heater hose, antifreeze and miscellaneous bits for the DeSoto, and putting off going to the shop. It’s 78 inside the shop, not bad, and better than the 92 outside, but not very inviting, so I’m taking a minute and reflecting on my ’52 DeSoto wagon project a bit to kill some time.

A brief recap: Back in August, our beautiful ’51 Pontiac wagon was rear-ended by some brain-dead local yokel in a Ford F150 while we waited for traffic to clear for a left turn, and totaled. We had what I thought was adequate insurance coverage through Hagerty collector car insurance, but, when I started searching for a wagon from the same era, finished to a level we would be happy with both cosmetically and mechanically (we tow a 25′ Spartan Manor trailer), we quickly found that the field was pretty narrow.

Nonexistent really.

I’d have settled for any one of the cars I found, and presented for my wife approval, a ’48 Buick Sedanette, a ’55 Olds Holiday 4 door hardtop, a ’48 Chrysler “Traveller” sedan with a wagon-like roof rack, but she was insistent on a wagon. I of course was trying to come out of the deal with some cash in hand, but it was quickly apparent it was going to take all we got from the insurance, and a lot more to get anything even close to the Pontiac.

Friends quickly started sending me links to wagons for sale on FB marketplace, Craig’s List, Auto-Trader, and I searched the H.A.M.B classifieds every day, to no avail. A couple of mid 50’s Fords that were in the price range on the West Coast, but with original Y-blocks and 3 speeds I passed on, and some really sketchy looking “Street-Roddish” ones, with cosmetics I couldn’t live with were passed over as well.

In December, a friend sent me a Craig’s List ad from New-Ulm MN for this ’52 Desoto. It looked promising, if one looked past the brindle and beige color and spray bomb silver on all the chrome, but the price was appealing, so I called.

After several attempts, I finally got of the guy who owned it, who was as vague on the phone as his print ad, and TERRIBLE photos were. He didn’t seem to know anything about it, despite having owned for 10 years, he didn’t know if ran or not, though MAYBE the brakes were up, couldn’t say anything about the condition of the body under the hideous paint was, so I gave up on it, being 7 hours away.

Several weeks later, after finding NOTHING, I called him again, wrung a little more information from him, and decided we’d take a chance and drive to scenic western central Minnesota at the end of January to look it over. If it was what he said, I’d load it on the U-Haul trailer I received in the little town there, and if not, we’d turn right around and head home with the cashiers check for $1500 less than he was asking in my wallet and keep looking.

Turned out, when we got there (he never showed up from his home in Milwaukee but had his brothers who live on the property help us), it was much better in some most ways, the chrome was terrible, but the body was rust free, mostly intact original interior and a 276 Hemi and Fluid Drive. We loaded it up, handed over the check and headed home.

He said he’d never been able to get it running, and added another gem of information when he called the Saturday morning we were to meet him to say he wasn’t coming, and oh-by-the-way the engine was missing the exhaust manifolds.

Really?

I wasn’t going to use the original engine anyway, so that was no big deal. When we got home, and the car was unloaded in my garage, I had it running in about 20 minutes. The dual points in the distributor weren’t set properly. And, it DID have exhaust manifolds, they are invisible from the topside, and the brakes were up, with all new lines, and hoses. The engine appeared to have fresh gaskets, carb, distributor and generator look new, there was a new Rhode Island Wiring harness in the back seat in a box with a receipt for $900 and a better steering wheel and column from a ’53 with an automatic instead of the “Gyro-Matic” this car had, and a complete ’53 dash.

It was getting better, and in fact, was REALLY good when I looked underneath. The body had been off, the frame cleaned and painted, and underside undercoated, which was now peeling off from setting on concrete, but no rust anywhere. The spots that looked sketchy were plastic filler applied poorly over some dents with no prep, the original beige paint was still shiny under the plastic when I popped it off.

So, here I am 6 months later. I have a 2018 Chrysler 5.7 Hemi in it that starts and runs great. Stainless exhaust all the way back, 2 1/4″ mandrel bends I did myself. Mustang II style front suspension with GM rotors and calipers, a Ford 8.8, 3.73 limited slip rear, disc brakes at all 4 corners. Right now the left front fender is back off as I discovered the engine’s A/C compressor, a variable displacement one, wasn’t compatible with the Vintage Air system I bought, and had to remove it for access.

The new one is in, which of course has slightly different locations for the hose ports, which meant I had to get a couple of different fittings with service ports, which means I can’t finish the lines until they get here, but the system is done other than that.

The brakes need to be bled (I’m waiting for a pressure bleeder so I can do that by myself), the dash has to be painted and wood grained, then it can go back in, the newly painted steering column can go back in and the car should be able to move under it’s own power for the first time in over a decade.

It feels good to flex my muscles a bit as a builder, and it’s nice to have the funds available to be able to build it exactly how we want, although I admit it’s daunting for me to accept that I’m spending as much money as I have on it so far. I feel sort of guilty about it, since I’ve always built cars on a shoestring budget, scrimped and scrounged and (usually) settled for something less than what I really wanted because of that.

This one is different. I had a conversation with a friend in Oregon who just bought a beautiful ’55 Ford wagon, all restored, to replace his ’55 Ford sedan, totaled, like our Pontiac, in a traffic mishap. I was a bit jealous at first, since he’s driving his, but I know that in the end, if I’d bought one like his, I’d now have it spread all over the garage just like the DeSoto is, because it wouldn’t have been quite what we wanted, and one thing leads to another.

And, they buy-in would have 4 times where we started. We’ll end up with a car done to our wants and needs, for the same or less money, minus of course the labor, but, I’m retired, so…

So, I’ve waited long enough, back out the shop now to get the heater hoses on, maybe the brake bleeder and A/C fittings will come yet today and I can get those at least started as well. Or not, it’s pretty hot outside…

Comments
  1. Kevin Bowen says:

    Cool.

    On Wed, Jul 8, 2020, 10:26 AM Cool McCool’s Garage wrote:

    > flynbrian48 posted: ” It’s over 90 degrees, I just got back from the local > O’Rielley’s with some heater hose, antifreeze and miscellaneous bits for > the DeSoto, and putting off going to the shop. It’s 78 inside the shop, not > bad, and better than the 92 outside, but not very i” >

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