Behind Closed Doors: 1949 DeSoto Sedan

Do you ever wonder what lurks behind those garage doors you pass every day?  Could be box after box of Hallmark Christmas ornaments.  Could be empty.  Or, it could be an old car that has been in extended hibernation like this 1949 DeSoto sedan being sold on eBay out of Bloomington, Illinois.  Completely covered in dust and grime, a careful look reveals a car that is in remarkably good shape.  While there are a few problems, a post war Mopar lover could walk away with a heck of a deal here.  Bidding has only make it to $1,225 on this no reserve auction with less than 24 hours left.  Is this the kind of low buck project you need behind your garage door?

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.  This car will need to have the driver’s side windshield and door glass replaced.  These are flat glass, so they can be cut at your local glass shop and the windshield gasket can be found at many aftermarket Mopar vendors.  The engine is also stuck.  Marvel Mystery Oil has been added to the cylinders in an attempt to free it up.  However, the seller has not tried to turn it over since the addition.  There is an ignition key, but the door key is missing.  It rolls freely, but the brakes are currently out.  Finally, there are a few minor rust holes in the trunk.

The good news is that all of the other parts are there.  The rear fender trim and the hubcaps are in the car.  Looking around, we see that everything appears to be solid and showing only minor dents and scrapes.  The massive bumpers look like they will polish up to useable condition.  Even the paint, which is said to be a repaint rather than original, may buff out to acceptable levels.

The car also comes with a large sun visor.  These were popular accessories for the time, but you have to figure they acted like a big air brake when it came to fuel economy.  Not that fuel economy was a primary selling point for these cars.  Chrysler products of this era were enormous, and you paid for that size at the pump.  Still, they were good, reliable transportation.  It is just unfortunate that they don’t have much of a collector following today.

Looking inside, we find a dash in very good condition, a rebuildable steering wheel, and rather ratty upholstery.  The seller tells us that this car was a radio delete model.  However, it did come with a clock and we can see a heater below the dash.  If on a budget, you may be able to cover the seats with cheap blankets until you can afford to reupholster the cavernous interior.  The good news is that all of the trim pieces, handles, and knobs are still present.  I guess you even get a rubber floor mat from a Thunderbird with the deal.

In the back lay the four missing hubcaps.  We can also see the damage moths have done to the upholstery.  Other than that, all the trim, handles, and knobs look to be present back here as well.  It is like this car was just parked in a garage and left for decades.  While I don’t like the smell of mothballs, it would have been worth enduring that stench if it kept them out of the car.

Under the hood, the evidence of the Marvel Mystery Oil effort is plain to see.  Chances are good that this old flathead six will come unstuck with a good soaking and some pressure on the crankshaft.  Still, it might be rebuild or replacement time.  Parts for these engines can be easily located, and some can still be found on Rock Auto and at your local NAPA.  Getting the radiator cleaned, replacing the water pump, and exchanging the likely rusty remnants of the water distribution tube along with a fuel system clean out are mandatory here.  Once running, these are reliable and torquey engines.  Given that the car has a Fluid Drive semiautomatic transmission, it won’t be a fast car.  It will, however, be velvety smooth.

If you dig this kind of Mopar, then this car is a real bargain.  while the engine needs attention, and you can smell the interior through your computer screen, this is one solid old DeSoto.  If you are short on funds for your project, but you are long on talent and effort, then this may be a car worth bidding on.  You are not going to find a more solid car for the money.


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  1. Arthell64 Member

    Didn’t Howard Cunningham drive a car like this? Looks like other then a possible engine rebuild it wouldn’t take much to get her running and driving. Neat car

    Like 11
    • Ken

      Howard’s car was a Suburban. I remember the episode in which the Fonz hopped it up so Richie could win a drag race.

      Richie: Fonzie, you wouldn’t hurt my dad’s car, would you? I’d be grounded for life!

      Fonzie: Richie, if you crack up in that rod, there ain’t gonna be nothing left of you to punish!

      Like 8
    • Mike

      That was my first thought too. I also always have to laugh when people describe cars like this as “radio delete”. I’m pretty sure that a radio was an extra cost option in most vehicles until the early-mid 60s.

      Like 5
      • Dave

        You would be correct. The radio was optional. My father, while ordering his 1967 F100, declined the radio option but took the heater and rear bumper options. The 1971 Plymouth Fury cop car I owned was radioless. Packaging radios with trim levels came later…my 1977 F150 had an Aeronutronic AM/FM stereo as part of the Explorer package.

        Like 2
      • Chunk

        My father bought a brand-new Plymouth Arrow in 1976; my mom sneaked it into the dealership and had a radio installed for his birthday later that year.

        Like 1
  2. canadainmarkseh Member

    I sure like these post war cars they are my favourite. You might be surprised to know that these cars aren’t any heavier then a dodge caravan. In fact some are lighter. You’d also be surprised to know that these old visors are open at the back so the wind passes right by them. They don’t grab air like you’d think. And thirdly these old cars would get about 25 mpg which is respectable considering there age. Chrysler styling wasn’t that great but there engineering was. That’s why so many of them ended life as taxis. Yellow cab in New York used to get a million miles out of theses and the other cars in the Chrysler line up. Nice old car.

    Like 11
    • luke arnott Member

      25mpg on a US gallon?Don’t think you would get that on an Imperial gallon!

  3. Mark

    Love it. Same color Maroon as my grandmothers 1949 Chrysler Windsor. Grandparents bought it in 1951. She quit driving in 1973. Last time I saw it in the small town she lived in was 1975

    Like 2
  4. art

    Hmmm…let’s get our terms correct. There was no radio to delete. If you wanted a radio, you paid, if you wanted a heater, you paid, if you wanted back up lights, you paid…ditto whitewalls, trim rings, cigarette lighter, exterior sun visor, arm rests, outside rear view mirror, window washers, and pretty much anything else beyond a basic, basic car.
    Nothing much was standard, especially back then, unless you were looking at high value vehicles like an Imperial, a Roadmaster or a Deville.
    So many sellers claim their car has a “rare” delete option, a radio, a sunroof, power seat…lol…it’s not on the car because the original buyer did not want to pay for the option or the ordering dealer wanted all or some extremely basic, low price cars in inventory. Dealers knew their particular local market and ordered accordingly so as not to have a car sitting in inventory that would be difficult to sell. It’s fair to say that this car, ordered by a Southern California dealer, might have significantly more options than by a Desoto dealer near farm country. If a buyer wanted their car loaded with options, it would probably have had to be special ordered that way. The dealers could add most feature options but some options had to be from the factory only. A $1,793 MSRP did not leave a lot of room for many features.
    Delete the term “delete”.

    I do hope someone rescues this nice looking car and starts to drive her down the road again. The car has a massive stance and is definitely eye catching.
    She’ll turn heads, no matter where she’s driven and the car’s built like a tank.

    Like 10
  5. Dave

    Even though it’s not a 53, this is the car I envision Weird Al driving his family to Darwin, Minnesota in. Wilwood brakes, Vintage Air conditioning, EFI early Hemi spinning a four speed automatic and Dodge Durango rear axle, air suspension. Couches for seats.

    A lot of promise and potential here.

  6. Bob McK Member

    Someone needs to save her.

    Like 4
  7. 86_Vette_Convertible

    I wish, I wish. My Grandparents had a Desoto very similar to this one, though it was green. I remember the rear suicide doors, they were ‘strange’ to me at the time but fun to open and close. I also remember Grandpa shifting the car into first like any other manual transmission car I knew at the time but it not move till he pressed the accelerator. To a kid that age, that was magic, something not to be believed. After all, I’d helped drive the pickup around the farm and it didn’t do that.
    This is one if I was a little younger and a little more space would be here.

    Like 3
  8. TimM

    The body on this car is in really good shape and the interior doesn’t look to bad either!! I’m sure it would be relatively easy to get her running again but I would love to see someone put some disc brakes and a hemi in it and make it the ultimate sleeper!!

  9. Rex Kahrs Member

    So here’s an honest question: Of the 50 cars I’ve owned, I’ve never bought one with a motor that was seized. I’ve bought some longtime non-running barnfind-type cars, but luckily none of them had seized motors.

    Here’s the question: IF you get the motor to un-seize, with tranny oil or whatever fluid, will the motor be good to go? Suppose you get the engine to turn and you replace the pumps and hoses etc. and the thing runs. Is that it? Or will the rings and cylinder walls be hopelessly crusty and just score the cylinders and the car will smoke badly or have no compression. Then at that point, the engine needs rebuilt. And if that’s the case, what makes the difference if the engine turns or not…you’re gonna be rebuilding it if you want the car. I have no answers, only questions.

    Like 4
    • On and On On and On Member

      Good question, I always wonder where and how did it stick. With a flathead it’s easy, pull the head then you can look at the cylinders. With a cast iron block it could really be rusted.

      Like 3
  10. geezerglide85

    Like canadianmarkseh said a lot of these were used for taxis. Paint it yellow and black and make a vintage cab out of it. You would definitely have the only there at a car show. Vintage meters and roof lights are available on E-Bay if you wanted to go all the way.

    Like 1
  11. Bill the Engineer

    It’s a ’46-’48 Desoto, not a ’49. Am I the only one to notice?

    Like 7
    • D Meister

      Looks to be a ’49 DeSoto S-11 (first series). The shorter ’49 is a S-13 (second series).

      Like 1
    • Peter Atherton

      That’s the first thing I spotted!My dad bought a 1950 DeSoto convertible brand newt was the best car for driving in snow, Ever!

      Like 1
    • EddieB

      Thank goodness, Bill. Just saw the listing and immediately saw the incorrect year. Before commenting I wanted to be sure no one else already had caught it. Couldn’t believe I had to scroll this far down the comments before someone set the record straight. Thanks.

    • George

      Nope! Was about to point it out.

      Like 1
    • Ed P

      There were early 49 models that were a carry over from 46-48 cars. The true 49 cars were late to be produced. They hit the dealers about spring 1949.

      Like 2
  12. Ben T Spanner

    The first car I remember riding in was my Father’s 1948 Desoto Convertible. It was traded for a new 1951 Dodge Wayfarer Convertible in December 1950.
    The Korean War was heating up. He was forced to drive junk through WWII and was afraid car production would be shut down
    His first car after WWII was a new 1946 Dodge which was delivered w/o the optional heater, Installation was easy, it just hung under the dash. The Dodge came with a spare rim w/o a tire. Rubber was still in short supply, so you were expected to buy a used tire for a spare. He must have crossed someone’s palm to get that car.

    Like 1
    • Robert L Roberge

      My uncle bought a Packard just after the end of the war that was delivered with wood planks for bumpers. When available, chrome bumpers replaced the planks at local dealer level.

      Like 2
  13. Ken Carney

    Bill, these were built from ’46 to early ’49
    with little to no changes. It’s been said
    that the ’46 and ’47 models didn’t have
    serial numbers to denote which year of
    vehicle you had if you bought one. I owned a ’46 Plymouth P-15 4-door sedan
    that was built just after VJ Day in ’45.
    At first, I had trouble getting it tagged
    through DMV, but with the help of the
    right clerk, I was on my merry way with
    tag in hand. As a car-crazy kid who grew
    up in Bloomington I can tell you first hand that my hometown was a hotbed
    of barn find activities in the late ’60’s
    and early ’70’s. Seemed like every day
    I heard a story of some lucky soul who
    found a mint condition whatever in a
    garage somewhere in town. You’d hear
    tales of a little old lady who had her late
    husband’s Duesenberg squirreled away
    in a garage, but I sure never found it.
    What you mostly found there were pretty
    common cars like old Fords, Chevy’s, and
    Mopars, with a few brand X models thrown in. The oldest car I found there
    was a 1915 Model T center door sedan.
    It was in near mint condition and sitting
    on blocks in a garage over on Morris
    Avenue, not far from Miller Park. I didn’t
    buy that one, but Dad and I bought up a
    lot of ’30’s, ’40’s, and ’50’s cars, got them
    running and driving, and sold ’em as used
    cars to the local teenagers. Got to the point I liked finding old cars better than
    dating girls! That’s when my folks put
    their feet down and said no more barn
    finds! That is, after all, how I got my
    ’50 Packard limo!

    Like 2
  14. Mike Mazoway

    Two things. First the glass is flat so you can get any competent glass shop to make new pieces for you. Second, there are a gazillion parts available for old Mopar flat heads. Just plan on about $3K to do a full rebuild including new pistons, cam, valves, lifters, guides, and machine shop work.

    Like 1
  15. Lance

    This is the one Miss Daisy put in a ditch.

    Like 1
  16. Ken Carney

    Think that one was a ’48 Chrysler Lance.
    I saw the movie, and the car looked like
    my grandma’s ’48 Imperial 7 pass. sedan.
    Great movie though.

  17. Dan Bowles

    $1805! Somebody got a sweet deal.

    Like 1
    • Howard

      An outstanding deal.

      Like 2
  18. Richard Brunotte

    Looks more like a ’48 than a ’49; make sure the vin matches (if there is a title with it). We had a ’49 Desoto. The hood was wider, and the back not as sloped, and the tail lights were different.

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