Patina Perfection: 1951 Plymouth Suburban

The Want-o-Meter is pegging for me on this one, even more so than usual. This 1951 Plymouth Suburban wagon can be found here on craigslist in Bend, Oregon. The seller is asking $12,500 for this fantastic looking car. Thanks to Ikey H. for sending in this tip!

The word patina could not be more appropriate here, and I know that it is most definitely not a popular word with a lot of folks. But, at least the hood and front fenders are perfectly faded and worn, the left side rear of the front fender, not so much. They say that this paint is original and it looks like really normal, even wear other than the patch on the driver’s door. The red wheels and fairly wide whitewall tires are perfect, in my opinion.

In 1949, Plymouth reportedly came out with the first two-door wagon, at least in “modern” times. Of course, that just sets it up for several thousand readers to say, “Yeah, but what about the…”… and that’s cool. If you can think of a two-door station wagon in post-World-War-II America, let’s hear about them. You can see a little wrinkled area behind the right rear wheel and that’s unfortunate. I don’t see much damage or really much rust elsewhere.

The interior is where things really shine, it’s crisp and clean. The seller says that the floorboards are new and, even with no mention of other rust, if this is a Bend, Oregon car originally, I’m guessing that it’s mostly solid. This one has a three-on-the-tree manual transmission and, as you can see, new front seat upholstery. There is also a new headliner and new front and side glass.

Clean, clean, clean, especially for a 68-year-old car. This is Plymouth’s 218 cubic-inch flathead-six which would have had just under 100 hp and 175 ft-lb of torque. The seller mentions that this car has been upgraded with a new wiring harness and a 12-volt system. That’s one upgrade that’s hard to argue with even for keep-it-stock nerds like me. There is no mention of how it runs or drives but given the appearance, I’m guessing that it’s just fine. Are there any fans of these early Plymouth Suburban wagons out there?


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  1. canadainmarkseh Member

    I have a 1951 dodge Mayfair two door hard top that in many ways is similar. After extensive research it is my understanding that the Plymouth lineup got the 217cid engine and the dodge ( especially Canadian) it’s easy to tell the 217 is 21” long and the 218 is 23” long.this is a sweet car which would look much better than it does now. For me to hear original paint is like saying original oil filter especially when it is in this shape. As nice as it is I think I stick with may Canadian exclusives dodge Mayfair of which only some 13460 were made and because of our winters very few have survived.

    Like 7
  2. RalphC

    As much as I love these old flat head Plymouths, the price is far too dear for what is there, at least in my opinion. My generation is pretty much all dead, who else is going to buy this?

    Like 7
    • Gray Wolf

      Wagons have sways been popular here on the West Coast. Always great for hauling a bunch of buddies and their boards, great swap meet vehicle and not bad for drive-ins! Oh yeah, camping too!

      Like 1
      • Gray Wolf

        When we had numerous drag strips here on the West Coast, they used wagons as push vehicles and towing race cars.

      • deak stevens

        Speaking of drag strips i was at lions drag strip every wednesday and friday night, loved that place

        Like 1
  3. Steve R

    Cool car. Great lines and could be a useful driver under the right circumstances. The asking price might be all it’s money, but he has put a fair amount of work into it.

    We always called this sort of paint distress “sunburn” rather than patina. I think patina has a specific connotation when used in association with antiques that doesn’t always transfer well when used with cars and trucks.

    Steve R

    Like 13
  4. Dean Stevenson

    Nice car, but sorry I’d paint it, either a lighter green or light blue, lower it and drive it.

    Like 5
  5. Randolph

    Growing up my neighbor used to have a ’51 Plymouth wagon, and I remember the car had really whiney gears in its manual transmission when coming up the street; it sounded like the gears in my uncle’s ’52 Ford pick up.

    Like 1
    • Marshall

      The very first pick up I drove was a 1952 Ford pick up, back in 1978. The owners junked it not too long after that, as it was in pretty scrappy condition.

      We had a used 1953 Plymouth station wagon in our family back in the 60s. I remember dad gave it away to some neighbor kid just before we moved out west. It had Ohio rust. Also, if that is THEE original paint, I say keep the patina!

  6. Ken Carney

    Great daily driver, but I think I’d want to
    paint it first though. The salt air here
    in Florida would rust this car to pieces
    within a few years in its present state.
    Oh I think I could find some use for it
    around our house. Would make a great
    beach wagon too! Surf’s up dude!

    Like 2
  7. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    It took a while to come up with a post-World-War-II America 2 door wagon. Then it hit me! I think the 1st Willy Wagon came out in 1946. This Plymouth is really nice. Like RalphC on the price, a bit much.

    Like 7
  8. geomechs geomechs Member

    I’ve always liked this style of wagon. A few years back I came across a ‘52 model sitting in a widow’s garage. Price was reasonable (somewhat less than this) and it had, like, 30K miles on it. I immediately approached my wife, who muttered something about us having two different zip codes if I came home with that. Obviously she didn’t share my enthusiasm. But that ‘burb’ didn’t last too long. I mentioned it at a club meeting, and the skuttlebut that ensued found a buyer somewhere down the left coast. It didn’t even need a paint job.

    Now this one: I do NOT like surface rust!!!! Enough said on that topic. I actually understand why some of these old Mopars get changed to 12V; they can be chronically hard starting when hot. However, a change from the anemic 2-pole starter to a 4-pole (industrial) starter cures that problem quickly and with a lot less hassle than changing the whole system over. Okay, soap box is put away and I’ll continue to be my wife’s mule at the SD State Fair…

    Like 6
    • Bill McCoskey

      Geomechs and everyone else,

      Having operated an antique car repair & restoration shop for about 30 years, I have encountered many different 6 volt American cars that when warm, would simply not crank fast enough to start.

      One of the problems is when the starter is using excessive amps, the ignition system often can’t get enough power to work. If voltage drops 2 volts out of 12, that’s OK, but drop 2 volts from a 6 volt system, you’ve got a problem.

      If the correct starter is in good condition, but still turning over slowly, One likely problem is battery cable size. First make sure the replacement battery cables are not for a 12 volt vehicle, they are simply too thin.

      We solved this problem, especially with Cadillac flathead V8 and Packard 356 straight eight engines, the latter with that huge 9 main bearing crank. The solution was to use commercial arc welding cables, typically [if I remember correctly] # 2 gauge cables.

      Here’s the difference between the typical cables on a car, and the welding cables: Size of the tiny individual copper wires used to build up the main cable. Arc welding cables use much smaller gauge wires, packed tighter together. This means there is less “air space” between the tiny cables. Also means more copper to handle the higher amps, while the outer diameter remains the same.

      We even converted a 47 Cadillac back to it’s original 6 volt system, simply by installing high quality copper arc welding cables instead of the cheaper automotive cables.

      And don’t forget the grounding strap between the block and chassis. If those connections are not as clean as those on the battery, or have been painted over when painting the block, your problem could be there. To check the ground strap; while cranking the engine, check the temperature of the ground strap/wire by touching it. If it’s hot, there’s your problem!

      Like 5
      • geomechs geomechs Member

        You are absolutely right, Bill. Battery cable size, and grounds mean everything. In the repair business it’s one of the most overlooked things when diagnosing a problem. I remember getting a bulletin from GM back in early 1977: ‘Automatic Transmission Failure Due To Electrolysis.’ What was happening was the auxiliary ground from the Negative to the front header would break forcing the lights to ground through the frame, suspension, and driveline back to the block. The bronze bushings would plate the shafts and drums with bronze, totally destroying them. Less than a week after receiving that bulletin we got our first casualty. I’ve since seen failures of Chrysler and Ford transmissions. All because of a silly ground.

        Like 2
      • Bill McCoskey


        Years ago I was at a big British car show in Maryland. While visiting the cars for sale area, a man had a very nice Triumph Herald drophead [convertible], a very low mileage car with original paint, upholstery, even original tires.

        He said the car had been in storage for decades, and the engine had locked up, so he had it totally rebuilt. Problem was, on installing the engine, it would not start. No amount of effort from various “advisers” could make it run. It had fuel, it had spark.

        He had been told by the wife to sell it & not bring it home, so at the end of the show I bought it for $100 cash and loaded it onto my trailer.

        Once back at the shop, it took me about an hour to figure out the problem. He forgot to install the ground strap between the body and engine. Yes, it had spark when the engine was not turning, as the minor amount of electric current to make a single plug spark was running thru the fuel & Hydraulic clutch lines. But as soon as it was cranking, the fuel & clutch lines couldn’t handle the current, so it would’t start. [And both the lines got very hot as well, this situation could have turned nasty very quickly!] I found the problem when I burned my elbow on the hydraulic clutch line!

        Like 3
      • geomechs geomechs Member

        Isn’t it always the little things that get you into the most trouble…

        Like 3
  9. grant

    Bend is an interesting place. There’s a bit of money there, so you’ll find gems like this from time to time. Interestingly, if you are in the market for a used pickup, central and eastern Oregon is a great place to look, lots of rich ranchers out there who like a new truck every 5 years or so. Their neighbors also being wealthy farmers who like new trucks, you can find deals on barely used ones.

    Like 2
  10. john A Corey

    From 1957-1960, Mercury made two-door wagons, and they were truly exceptional in that they were HARDTOPS (no frame on door glass AND no B pillar). They were named Commuter, Voyager, or Colony Park (depending on trim level). Put ” mercury two-door hardtop wagon into your favorite search engine to see these rare beauties.

    Like 3
    • L J Greenhaw

      Somewhere I read that your Mercury wagon is the only two door hardtop wagon the “big three” ever made!

      Like 1
  11. L J Greenhaw

    All 1949-51 Ford and Mercury wagons were two doors. No four doors…and they were Woodie or tin Woody-paneled vehicles.

    Like 3
  12. Leman

    I had this same identical car in 1970, a close friend sold it to me for $1.00 it was a one-owner car when I got it and I drove it for 2 and a half years and I sold it for $125.00. It ran great and would go anywhere and got good gas mileage. it was battleship gray I&O.

    Like 1
  13. John S

    On one hand, this car seems highly priced… on the other, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of them around, so… supply & demand holds true. My ’51 Cambridge Club Coupe has a T-5 in front of the flat 6 and is a is a real good cruiser, I suppose this one would be too. Mine has a mild re-ground cam, electronic ignition distributor, twin carbs, cast iron headers with dual Porter steel packs and an Edgy aluminum head, so it’s got a little extra power for taking on the mountains in our area.This wagon has the advantage of ample cargo space, so this would be a great car for road trips.

    • Russell Ashley

      John S your engine mods are exactly what I would like to do if I had this wagon. My first car was a 51 Plymouth convertible that I had a split manifold with duel exhaust on and the sound was music, loud music, but still music to my ears. My Dad had a 50 Plymouth Suburban like the one in the ad and my brother and I went through our teenage years abusing it but it never gave trouble.

      Like 1
      • Decodan

        It is mine now. Not 12.5. Just going to take a little time to decide on my plan for it.

      • Miguel

        Decodan, are you going to leave the drive train original or are you going to mod it?

  14. Del

    Love this car

    Like 1
  15. bobhess bobhess Member

    I’m with Dean. Maybe dual exhausts….? Neat old car.

  16. JimP

    My Dad owned a1951 Nash Airflyte 2 door wagon with the matching exterior wood trim. Art Deco on wheels

  17. Jeff

    I’ve got a ’49 Suburban, one can never have too many Plymouth Suburbans from ’49 to ’52!

  18. deak stevens

    I’ve seen 51’s and52’s lately that are in better condition than this 51 plymouth going for $7500 to $9000 so i think its a nice car would love to have one but a little to pricey.

    Like 1
  19. TimM

    Lot of interesting reading between geomech and bill here!! Thanks for that you guys!!! It seems to me like a cool car that you can get in and drive with your surf board hanging out the back!! And according to your posts the trouble some 6 volts is up graded so it shouldn’t be a problem starting it warm!! Again thanks for the information!!!

    Like 3
  20. Mark-A

    Remember the Dodge Warrior recently, I’ll say it quietly so as not to upset the keep it original or patina lads, well how’s about using a Hellcrate motor with banded slightly larger detroit steels with good brakes coz grip & stopping power is a prerequisite for 700+hp!

  21. Bob McK Member

    Cool car, but a lot of money for a rusty car. 12.5 is what it is worth with nice paint.

  22. Miguel

    I will take your Plymouth Suburban and raise you a DeSoto Diplomat of which was never sold in the US or Canada. They made a few for South America and some other for Europe.

    Like 3
  23. Jbear

    Is there a new listing on CL somewhere? cant locate the one linked here. Thx

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