Suburbia Fighter: 1948 DeSoto Custom Suburban


Before the days of Minivans and SUVs, there were station wagons. In 1948 if a station wagon wasn’t big enough, well you got a DeSoto Suburban. This large car could haul 8 and their luggage that is if you were comfortable with carrying it on the roof. This 1948 DeSoto Suburban was owned by the same gentleman for nearly 60 years and he took great care of it. It is showing its age now though and is going to need some work. So if you need something with some hauling capacity, but don’t want an SUV, be sure to check this one out here on eBay out of Eureka, Montana.


The seller claims the original motor runs, but it loses oil pressure as it warms up, so we are sure it will need work. This car is as large and heavy as a modern Suburban, but instead of being powered by a big V8, it is powered by a 236 cui straight-six. This is a lot of car for a 100 horsepower motor to move around so it may take a while to get to cruising speed.


The inside of the car needs the most attention and is going to need all the upholstery redone and the holes in the floors patched up. The middle seat is missing, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a replacement. Thankfully, all the wood veneer is intact and mostly in nice shape. After a restoration, this would be a comfortable interior, even by today’s standards. A family road trip in it might actually prove to be enjoyable, although the current 6 volt electronics system won’t allow for the portable DVD player to keep the kids entertained. A 12 volt conversion might be necessary…


The patina is fantastic on this one, but we aren’t sure if the whole family would want to pull up to Disneyland with it looking this way. Whether the next owner leaves it as is or performs a complete restoration, we are sure it will turn heads. The question is, would you ever consider buying this over a modern Suburban with all its modern conveniences?


  1. Kris_01

    Well used and obviously well loved. Does not look like a typical abandoned barn find; looks like it was parked for six or eight months at best. Need some work for sure – low oil pressure indicates worn bearings and possibly stuck rings – but the patina is priceless and the car is worth its weight in practicality.

  2. Karo

    Howard Cunningham drove one of these on “Happy Days.”

    • Bsa

      Yep, he was that owner of 60 years, you are actually purchasing it from his widow, Marion, since Howard passed away a few years ago. Don’t try to ripp her off though because The Fonz is assisting with the sale!!! AAAAAAA!!!

      • Don Andreina

        Always had a thing for Mrs C.

  3. Lil Abner Member

    Happy Day’s this was the one//

  4. Dave Barber

    I was just gonna say where’s Howard?

    • Bsa

      He has gone to see the Grand PooBaah of the Geat Beyond!

  5. Jim-Bob

    The biggest question I have is what does the oil pressure drop to? Almost any engine’s oil pressure drops when going from cold to warm (For example, my Oldsmochevy’s 355 goes from 58psi to 29 psi after it warms.), but it really isn’t all that dangerous until it can’t put out at least 10 psi per 1,000 RPM.

    The rest of the car though looks like a cool old car to get working and cruise around in. I’d do some preservation work (clean out any leaves and dirt in the body and fit new seals), update the electrical system and replace anything rubber. I’d also upgrade the brakes if there was an inexpensive way to do it. I’d also probably do what I did to my daily driver and remove all of the carpeting or rubber mats to try and preserve the floors. It would also be wise to do something to ethanol proof the fuel system and maybe even go with hardened valve seats (or a modern drivetrain swap) to allow the use of unleaded E10 fuel.

    • Don Andreina

      What’s the score with the outer surface?. Do you have to seal it or can you keep it as is?

      • Jim-Bob

        I think it can be sealed with clear, or at least it would the rust slowed to a crawl. I watched how they did it on “Fast and Loud” (please don’t hate me for referencing that show!) and they basically pressure washed it and hit the whole vehicle with Scotchbrite pads before clearing it. (That was on the Dodge/Ford/Chevy truck.) It does take a fair amount of time for a car to rust through from the outside in unless it’s exposed to something highly corrosive-say road salt or radioactive waste water from a nuclear power plant. Most cars rust out from the inside out. This happens from moisture getting inside and sitting for a time. Usually this happens from something that holds moisture staying next to the steel. This is why I stress removing carpets and cleaning out dirt from inside a car that is not well sealed. A little Rustoleum on the inner structure also doesn’t hurt once it is all clean and well drained. This doesn’t just apply to very old cars either as the caulk used to seal the seams of newer vehicles can dry out, crack, and leak rain water in as little as 5-10 years-a problem I am dealing with in a 1998 Nissan truck that I have.) To digress a bit, the truck’s windshield leaked water in the carpets and even with a shop vac and drain holes to get most of the water out it still took more than a week for the carpet’s sound deadener to dry out once it was pulled up.

  6. Don Andreina

    Oh no, there’s a 1960 full size woody Ford wagon in the background. Gimme.

    • rancho bella

      Those ’60 Ford wagons are extremely hard to come by. Wagons, horses, ranches and that big DeSoto all in Big Sky Country……….someone pinch me.

  7. Dolphin Member

    Whenever I see an unusual and interesting car like this in such really terrific pictures I want it, even if it’s not my style. The soft lighting, great color, and the Western setting do about as good a job of selling this big ‘ol Desoto as anyone could wish. Congrats to the seller for a really great listing. This deserves a sympathetic buyer who will give it new rings & bearings and freshen her up for some more travelin’ out West.

  8. paul

    Nice, & original!

    • paul

      I think I wouldn’t touch a thing drive like it is, it really is cool.

  9. Bruce in Italy


  10. 88R107

    Get it safe, clean it up a little a drive it.
    Restoring it would be destroying its history. Made it 65 years so far, please leave it alone.

    • Bsa

      I don’t think a good coat of paint, some chrome plating, and nice orginal upholstery would destroy it.

  11. jim s

    the seller also has a 1962 ford unibody shortbox for sale with a six / manual. they both need to go to good homes. made safe and driven as often as daily drivers can be. great finds.

    • rancho bella

      If I see the words “rat rod” one more time……..I’m going to go “bat sheet”

  12. David

    What about the 1960 Ford in the background?

  13. rustylink

    Perfect touring vehicle for a swing band!

  14. Horse Radish

    I think it would be perfect to tow my 1955 45′ Spartan.
    That has some patina as well.

    • Brad

      That’s the ticket, Horsey. We’re using a ’53 Chrysler wagon to pull our ’54 Airstream. Go for it… and we’ll do a double-date photo shoot.

  15. Jamie Wallhauser

    This is a lovely find, the body style is rare and it is complete. I don’t like the patina on this car, on certain cars it looks terrific (the ’49 Ford comes to mind) but this DeSoto is so classy I think it would look better with a fresh coat of “Babyshit Brown” and fresh leather. I applaud anyone who uses original engines (original electrics?) to tow anything and the idea of seeing this car with either a vintage house trailer or boat would warm the cockles of anyone’s heart — but no one could fault a restorer for dropping a crate V8 under the hood for towing duty. Let’s see if we can follow this one!

  16. geomechs geomechs Member

    This one is a little too far gone to be merely preserved. I think it needs a proper restoration. I don’t mean Concourse quality but fix it up the way it was originally built; paint, upholstry and whatever else needed to be done. Overhaul the engine. If you need a new block, change it up to the Chrysler (250) engine with a little more power. Above all, don’t go too far because it should remain something you wouldn’t be afraid to drive.

    As far as towing goes, a guy in our car club had a ’47 DeSoto club coupe. He bought the car with no engine so he installed an engine that originally powered a Massey Harris combine. He hitched that car to his trailer and towed his ’31 Rumley tractor to threshing shows all over the country. Never had a problem with overheating, even the Fluid Drive kept the pace, just a little slow on the hills.

    • Bsa

      I agree with your restoration idea.

  17. paul

    I am not a patina guy but this car is so unique & so nicely weathered in, I would carefully remove the trim & coat with a flat urethane clear & reinstall the trim , leave the seats with the tears & just work the mechanics to make it safe & running well but retain the stock parts except for maybe a dual master cyl.

  18. Charles

    I have always had a soft spot to those late 40’s Chrysler products. Came very close to buying a 48 Windsor once. My great-grandmother had a 48. It was pea green. She dipped snuff and spit out of the window a lot. The car developed a permanent brown streak down the side of the green paint.

    For this one, I would have to do a light resto on it, but keep it as stock as possible. Patina is fine, but this is a little too much patina to suit me. It does not need to be a concourse restoration though, just a good freshening up.

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