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My 1948 DeSoto 3 window coupe restoration project.


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I acquired my 48 Desoto coupe long ago.  I lived in San Diego from my birth until 1988.  My first old Mopar that I bought in 1978 was a 1950 Chrysler Windsor club coupe.  That was the first car that I rebuilt the engine.  I took automotive classes in junior college in auto mechanics and auto body and paint.  In 1979 I put a want ad in the WPC club newsletter for a 3 window coupe, which was a body type I really wanted.  Soon after, I got a letter with a picture of a blue 48 DeSoto business coupe.  I was not expecting a DeSoto, but maybe a Plymouth or a Dodge, as DeSoto business coupes were rare.  So I wrote back to the guy who lived in Idyllwild up on the mountain and said I'd like to come and see it.  He said he would meet me in the town of Banning, since that's where the Greyhound bus would let me off.  I test drove the car and gave it a compression test.  The engine was very worn out and it was a miracle it had enough compression to even start.  So we went back to the cafe where we met and I offered him $1500 for the car.  My plan was to drive it home to San Diego.  He said he couldn't sell it now because he didn't bring the pink slip.  So I had to take the bus back to San Diego.  A couple months went by and he didn't call me, so I called him and raised my offer to $1600.  He took it, so that Saturday I took the bus up to Banning again.  It was now May, 1980.  I got the car and paid him and got the title.  I was getting late and the sun was getting low, so I needed to start south.  After getting a full tank of gas, I headed south and would up in Hemet.  I was lost, so I asked a farmer how should I go to get to San diego.  He said don't go south from here as you will get lost on tiny back woods roads.  He told me to go west toward the freeway that goes by Lake Elsinore.  I don't think it was called I-15 then.  I think it was the 395.  So it started turning dark as the sun set over Lake Elsinore.  The radio was playing that song from South Pacific called Bali Hai.  It was a very poetic feeling to hear that as the sun set over the lake.  The sun disappeared and it turned very dark.  Then the engine started coughing badly.  I thought Oh no, I'm going to break down 70 miles from San Diego!  Luckily, it stopped and started running good again.  What a relief!  I made it home around 11:00 ok.  Then I learned of an auto mechanics class where you could rebuild your engine.  So I did.  It was the second engine I had rebuilt after the 50 Chrysler.  The weird thing is after rebuilding my engine and putting it in the car, I didn't bother to try to start it up.  I made the fool's choice of deciding on a ground up restoration when I didn't have the time or the money to do that.  So the years piled on and after several moves, I at least kept the DeSoto.  I only got to starting it up last year.  I took the body off and worked on getting the drive train in perfect order.  I had some problems with the clutch, the starter, the u-joints, and the radiator.  Also problems with the front brakes.  But I got the drive train in great condition finally,  Now I'm trying to finish the wiring and put the dashboard back in.  Then, I will finish the paint job and install the glass.  Lastly, I will look for an upholstery shop and finish the car.  I am glad I saved this DeSoto for all of these years!  

 

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Edited by marcapra (see edit history)
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Many said to junk it, even just two years ago, because You'll never get that pile of nuts and bolts working again.  I began to believe them when some 40 years had passed by and I was still not driving the car.  I think the thing that motivated me to get it done was the hiring of a talented handyman.  He wasn't a mechanic at all, far from it, but was good at doing hard things  and putting things together or taking them apart at my direction.  He helped me take the body off the chassis and then put it back on when we were done with the chassis restoration.  My old car friend said you will get really motivated to finish the car after you get the engine started.  He was right.  Hearing that flathead start and run was big shot in the arm to getting motivated.  but there is still tons of work to do after you restore the drive train.  Literally tons of work to do on all the little things like wiring, door latch mechanisms, how to fix a broken door catch, the things that few people know anything about.  so I have to rely on myself to figure it out.  

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  1. Planning and Budgeting: Create a detailed plan for the restoration, outlining the specific tasks and timeline. Set a budget that includes not just the purchase price but also costs for parts, tools, and any professional help you might need.

  2. Research and Documentation: Gather as much information as possible about the car model, its original specifications, and historical details. Document the progress of the restoration with photos and notes.

  3. Quality Parts and Materials: Use high-quality, authentic or OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts whenever possible. Authentic parts will ensure the car retains its originality and value.

  4. Professional Help: Depending on your skills and the complexity of the project, consider seeking professional assistance for specialized tasks like engine rebuilding, bodywork, or upholstery.

  5. Safety Upgrades: While maintaining the original look and feel, consider incorporating modern safety features like seat belts, improved lighting, and better braking systems.

  6. Attention to Detail: Pay attention to the smallest details, as they can significantly impact the final result. Restoring classic cars often involves a lot of patience and dedication.

  7. Preservation vs. Modification: Decide early on if you want to restore the car to its original condition or if you prefer to modify it for improved performance or aesthetics.

  8. Restoration Forums and Communities: Join online forums and communities dedicated to classic car restoration. You can learn valuable tips, share experiences, and seek advice from fellow enthusiasts.

  9. Enjoy the Journey: Classic car restoration can be a labor of love, so take the time to enjoy the process and the satisfaction of bringing a vintage car back to its former glory.

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9 hours ago, marcapra said:

Many said to junk it, even just two years ago, because You'll never get that pile of nuts and bolts working again.  I began to believe them when some 40 years had passed by and I was still not driving the car.  I think the thing that motivated me to get it done was the hiring of a talented handyman.  He wasn't a mechanic at all, far from it, but was good at doing hard things  and putting things together or taking them apart at my direction.  He helped me take the body off the chassis and then put it back on when we were done with the chassis restoration.  My old car friend said you will get really motivated to finish the car after you get the engine started.  He was right.  Hearing that flathead start and run was big shot in the arm to getting motivated.  but there is still tons of work to do after you restore the drive train.  Literally tons of work to do on all the little things like wiring, door latch mechanisms, how to fix a broken door catch, the things that few people know anything about.  so I have to rely on myself to figure it out.  

Man, can I ever relate to THIS!

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On 7/27/2023 at 4:54 AM, alsancle said:

We have AI bots running amok.

Boy, that AI sure gives detailed advice!  I think I can throw my shop manual away after advice like this "if you  don't think you can do something, seek professioal advice!"

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  • You have made great progress on the project. The car is looking great, and you are well on your way to a complete restoration.
  • You have done a lot of the hard work, such as stripping the car down to the bare metal and repairing the bodywork.
  • You are now starting to put the car back together, and it is really starting to come together.
  • You have a few more challenges ahead of you, such as rebuilding the engine and installing the interior.
  • However, I am confident that you will be able to complete the project successfully.

Here are some of the things you have accomplished so far:

  • You have stripped the car down to the bare metal.
  • You have repaired the bodywork.
  • You have sanded the car and primed it.
  • You have started to put the car back together.

Here are some of the challenges you still face:

  • You need to rebuild the engine.
  • You need to install the interior.
  • You need to paint the car.
  • You need to get the car registered and insured.

I am confident that you will be able to complete the project successfully. You have put in a lot of hard work, and you are clearly passionate about the project. I am sure that you will be able to overcome the challenges that lie ahead.

I am excited to see how the project progresses. Please keep me updated on your progress. I would love to see pictures of the car when it is finished.

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Marc, great story! I was stationed at the submarine base at Ballast Point on Point Loma from 73-77 and always loved San Diego. I finished college at UCR in 79, so I spent a lot of time in Southern California. I absolutely love the state. My youngest son and I spent a week in San Diego about a month ago, his first time in California - an hour or two after we got in the rental car he was on his phone looking at apartment rentals!

 

The 40s Mopar 3 window business coupes have grown on me, like the 49-50 Nash Ambassador and 49 step down Hudson, and I really like the look now. I appreciate your car and how you’re proceeding. Your 40 year wait for AI to come along and guide you was a wise move 😂.

 

I finished a body-off restoration of my own in April, so I know you are well on your way. Looking forward to your first drive since 1980!

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I live on a cul-de-sac street now in Temecula.  A few years ago, I noticed that every weekday a 1950 Nash Ambassdor in original condition drove down my street.  I asked him why and he said he was delivering little kids from school!  Love seeing these old cars in action!  Hope mine will be on the road soon.  After all the drive train is restored.  Working on the paint job now and then the dashboard to install.  

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  • 5 months later...

Nice work Marc. I love your origin story. It looks like you have made significant progress. I think most folks here know how this old car thing goes. Sometimes we are hot, and sometimes we are cold. One thing I have learned that helps move things along is try to do at least one thing on the car every day. If you are feeling it, keep going. Take a break if you need it but keep moving forward. Once the dirty work is done, the fun begins. Best of luck on your project. Please keep us informed on your progress. I and others would be interested to see. 

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My progress on this DeSoto has slowed down somewhat since I lost my handyman.  But I'm back at work on it now.  I bought four new American Classic tires from Coker and will be painting the body soon.  Then the restored dash will go in and wiring the chassis will be done..  

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  • 2 months later...

I have been back to work on the DeSoto, since it doesn't look like my helper is going to return.  My dash is just about ready to install, as well as my steering wheel.  Today, I painted the steering wheel and installed the hood hinge.  I had to tap the screw holes in order to screw the hinge in.  I wonder if I have to install the front fenders before installing the hood?  

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My brother Dean who lives in Oceanside, about 50 mins. away, agreed to come over and help me with things like installing the dashboard, which is pretty heavy with all of the things installed plus wiring harness, and the hood.  I'm thinking maybe I should wait until I get the front fenders installed and more of the front end structure before we mount the hood.  

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Posted (edited)

Today, I hooked up the throttle linkage connecting the bracket to the cowl, and connecting the bell crank to the rod.  I still have not connected the gas pedal to the shaft as I have not installed the floor board yet.  The gas pedal goes on the floor board.  I think you have to make some progess on a car every day, no matter how small, to sustain interest.  If you think about everything that needs to be done, it can seem overwhelming, so I just give myself small, doable goals each day.  "A journey of a thosand miles begins with the first step" (Confucius).    

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Edited by marcapra (see edit history)
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  • 3 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

AT the request of some restorers, I am putting some pics of my 48 DeSoto dashboard after I painted it and woodgrained it, as the original finish was flaking off.  I show a pic of the inside of the dash which shows the base coat.  The base coat is very important as it gives the overall tint of the dash.  It is always a lighter color than the darker woodgrain that is applied over it.  I did this work over thirty years ago and used printer ink for the woodgrain.  I used acrylic lacquer for the base coat.  If I was doing it today I would use oil paint for the woodgrain.  When dry, I top coated it with several coats of clear lacquer.  Then I polished it to the appropriate shine.  

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Edited by marcapra (see edit history)
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As you can see in these pics, part of the dash and window panels are straight grain and parts in the middle are what is called burled.  The straight grain is made just by dragging a one or two inch bristle brush across the part as you jiggle the brush.  The burled parts are simply made by using a wadded up piece of paper, dipping it in the woodgrain paint, and lightly stabbing the part.  This does not take an artist to do.  It is just simple crafts and anyone can do it, although the pros can do a more stunning job if you are willing to pay.  

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Today I lubed the speedo cable and installed it on top of the trans. just behind the trans. solenoid.  I wasn't sure if there is a correct way to route the cable so I placed on the exhaust pipe shield where the trans. wires are and snaked it up of over the bell housing into the engine compartment, then back through the hole in the cowl to be ready for the dashboard when I install it on Monday.  Does that sound about right?  The original cups for the solenoid and the interrupter switch had cracked off, so I substituted some new Everdry Mopar spark plug covers, which I think will work.  

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I asked a question in techical about this flange on the cowl.  I didn't know what it was for.  No one else knew either.  But my part car buddy, who has a 47 DeSoto took a pic under his dash.  It turns out that a strut bolts on there and helps support the steering column by securing it to the cowl.  Good to know, so I'm putting this obscure info here to possibly help other restorers with the same question.  

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On 4/23/2024 at 12:17 AM, marcapra said:

I asked a question in techical about this flange on the cowl.  I didn't know what it was for.  No one else knew either.  But my part car buddy, who has a 47 DeSoto took a pic under his dash.  It turns out that a strut bolts on there and helps support the steering column by securing it to the cowl.  Good to know, so I'm putting this obscure info here to possibly help other restorers with the same question.  

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I need to make a correction about this pic.  The flange in this above pic is mounted backwards on the steering column collar. The black flange should come out over the shift lever side.  

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After much help from J. Keiser, I got my under dash strut oriented the correct way.  This strut is probably on all the MoPar products from at least 41-48 or more.  Its purpose is to brace the heavy steering column and dash to the cowling above.  The bottom of the strut will screw onto a flange that is connected to the steering column.  But I can't do that until I mount the dash board.  

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Posted (edited)

I'm gluing on my sill mats today.  You have to screw on the sill moldings first because the sill moldings go under the sill mats.  I'm thinking of ordering a carpet kit from Newark carpet supply and also ordering some material to make a lining for the large trunk area.  They sell loop and pile carpet and loop is the more original kind, but they don't make a color I like, so I guess I'm going with the pile.  I like the medium gray carpet at $315 post paid.  I'm going to be wiring the engine soon after installing the dash, so I'm putting up these illustrations of the engine wiring from a 48 Plymouth Parts book, and a cowl grommet illustration from a 48 Dodge Parts Book.  These pics are not in the 48 DeSoto Parts Book.

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Edited by marcapra (see edit history)
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On the 48 Dodge illus. above it shows on the top left grommet, two holes for the radimeter cable and the oil pressure gauge line.  My DeSoto doesn't have that.  All I have is the one on the right meant for the speedo cable.  Does that mean I am supposed to put all three lines through that grommet?  As you can see, it has one big hole for the speedo and four small holes for the radimeter and oil line.  Is that how it goes on a 48 DeSoto?  That would be kind of a crowded grommet.  In the pic below I show the oil line and the speedo going into the grommet that is near the middle area on the cowl.  The grommet is just hanging on, that's why it looks wrong.  

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I checked my collection of stored 48 DeSoto pics that I found online, and found the answer.  It looks like my guess was right.  All three lines go in that one grommet.  

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I got the three lines, radimeter, oil pressure and speedometer, into the cowl grommet and put the clamp on.  I will connect the other ends to the back of the dash when I install the dashboard.  Installing the dash will be a big deal.  It means I will soon be able to start my engine from the front seat.  Imagine that!  I have a question about my transmission wiring harness.  Where should I connect this ground wire?  Maybe the positive side of the coil or maybe the PRI terminal of the transmission relay?  The PRI stands for primary and has a wire that goes to the positive side of the coil.  

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I put the two transmission ground straps on the screw that holds the trans relay to the inner fender.  today I tried to install my seat and boy was it a challenge!  I found I couldn't screw in all eight bolts into the floor, so I removed the seat frame from the mounting brackets.  I had to slide out the rod from the seat frame as it goes through a curved lip in the middle of the frame.  the left side of the rod goes into a hole where you have to bend the rod down to get it out.  The right side of the rod screws into a small nut held on by a small cotter pin.  with the frame out of the way, it was easy to screw the seat brackets down and put the rod in, but impossible to get the rod into that curved part under the seat frame.  I thought maybe the seat control will work without going through that lip.  but it doesn't.  so tomorrow back to the seat problem.  

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When you do something for the first time, it's hard and you make some mistakes. When I went to the garage today, I had an idea.  I unbolted the left side bracket and removed the rod.  Then I unscrewed the rod a little bit from the nut on the other side.  Then I put the rod back on the loose bracket, but put the rod on the elongated hole at the back instead of on the small round hole at the front.  This made the rod go sort of cross ways over to the other side.  I thought that elongated hole must be there for a purpose because it is much easier to get the rod in it than in the small round hole.  So I tightened the 5/16 fine thread nuts back on the six studs.  To my amazement, it was now super easy to lift the rod into the slot when I put the frame back on.  Then I proceeded to put the seat cushion and seat backs on.  The seat cushion just sits in its place, and the seat backs have short rod that goes in a slot at the middle of the seat frame.  Then you use a large special type screw to secure the outside of the seat back so it can swivel forward if you need to put something in the package area.  This seat has the same unoriginal upholstery as when I bought the car in 1980.  I'm going to get the car reupholstered later after I finish the rest of the restoration.  

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Today, I put on the cowl lacing.  It takes a bit of finesse to do.  I used a sharp awl to punch holes where the holes were in my cowl.  then I put the punch screws in and hammered them in.  The lacing protects the cowl from contact with the back of the hood.  I also got some floor mats from AB, which he says are repops of mats sold by MoPar in 1950.  They look beautiful!  They have the logo MoPar molded in them.  

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