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The Story Of A Car Part, 1 of 2


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I have been chastised by Don Coatney, rightly, to post the story of the car I am working on. So, below is the story as I wrote it the night before I picked it up. At the end, I will muse on a few things I have found out since I started on the car since the fall.

Enjoy the read....James


Cleo's Car a 1949 Desoto Convertible

One of my earliest memories is standing in the back seat of my mothers 1949 Desoto Convertible. She purchased the car new in Norfolk Virginia from an outfit called Centre Motor Company.

As a child in the early 1960's, I loved standing up in the back seat as she drove down Main Street in Sebastopol, California. In those days the Southern Pacific Railroad still ran a train right down the middle of Main Street out to the old gravenstein apple canneries. I used to wave furiously to get the engineer to blow the whistle as we drove fender to fender past the big locomotive.

At some point around 1967 the car was parked in the garage on a permanent basis. The top was down and my childhood train set on a sheet of plywood was set across the top of the car and stuff was pilled up on it.

I used to climb in and out of the seats under that plywood as it made for a good "fort" as any young boy would. In the spring or summer of 1970, I got into the back seat "fort" with a girl who was a tomboy and pal. I got my first tentative kisses from her in that back seat.

Sometime in the mid-summer of 1970, my mother sold the car to a Chrysler collector across town in Sebastopol, California. His wife was good friends with a neighbor of mine and I suspect that that is how he found out about the car. His wife drove a black 1962 Chrysler 300.

My mother sold the Desoto because the steering had gone bad and my father told her that parts were no longer available. I suspect he just wanted "that old car" gone. A few months after the cars departure, my father died a few days after Christmas in 1970.

The man that purchased the car was named Dom. He collected Chrysler Corporation cars (Chrysler-Desoto-Dodge-Plymouth) for many years. He was not big into restoration. He just liked collecting cars and MOPAR parts.

A year or two after my father died, my mother and big brother who drove the Desoto across the United States when the family moved from Virginia to Northern California in 1955, gave me a racer go-cart for my 12th birthday. This lead to a life long love affair with engines, automobiles, trains, and vintage airplanes. By the time I was 15, I had a hot rod roadster with a baby Hemi in it and many more cars up until college.

Even though I am a collage boy, I have had a continuous string of old cars ever since.

During high school and early college I would see the old MOPAR collector Dom at auto parts stores and car shows. We would talk about the older Chrysler products. I would always ask him if he still had moms Desoto. He would always nod yes.

I was lucky enough to have Dom invite me to come over and take a look at his collection from time to time. I would of course gravitate over to take a look at moms Desoto.

My Mother died in 1985.

Around 1999 or 2000 I was at Dom's and asked him if he would sell me back my mother 1949 Desoto. You have to picture in your mind the fact the Dom has three large garages with dozens of cars and mountains of parts crammed in. Dom looked at me and pointed to a white 1950 Desoto Convertible, nearly identical to my mothers green 1949 and said; "sure you would not take that one parked up front?" I just looked at him and he looked into the back corner of the shop where my mothers car stood and he said; "I will sell it back to you for 30 years of storage fees". He did so with a wry smile on his face.

I could tell he did not want to have to move everything around to get that car out. Keep in mind that Don had a reputation of never selling anything. So his comment jumped my heart in that there was a chink in the armor.

I told him that he should call me in the next year or so when he gets around to rearranging the garage. Dom nodded and that was that.

I got busy over the next couple of years and had not see or heard from Dom. I sent a formal letter to him around 2003 asking to purchase the car back. I never heard a thing back. Since I was no longer living in Sebastopol, I had not heard anything about what may have happened to him or the car collection. I assumed that he died and the collection was long gone.


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Around 2009, I was with a friend at a very small car show on the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco. A man at the show was from the area around Sebastopol and was interested in and drives a 1946 Desoto. I asked him if he knew of Dom and the cars and he responded by telling me that Don had just died two months ago!

Apparently Dom had developed Alzheimer's disease not long after the last time I had seen him around 2000. I now know why he did not return my letter of 2003.

The man at the show also told me that Dom's son was going to give his local car club a tour of the collection in a few weeks. I asked, of course, if I could come along.

After another 10 years of not seeing the car, I went with the car club to Dom's house. My mothers car was sitting in the same back corner it had for almost 40 years. I asked Paul, Dom's son, if in a couple of weeks I could bring my big brother by to look at the car. The odd thing is that my brother, the one who came across the US in the car in 1954, lives not a 10 minute walk from where the Desoto sat and never knew it over the last four decades.

We talked with Paul and looked at the car. I told Paul that if his mother ever wanted to sell that car to please let me know. He indicated that she was a little on the unrealistic side of what all the cars are worth. I can understand that, as "Widow Inflation" it is a common thing.

A year or so went by and about September of 2010, I decided to send a letter to Dom's widow and formally ask to purchase the car back again. I talked with the folks in the National Desoto Club, several antique car appraisers and hit the auction reports to come up with a fair offer on the car. It was tough as not many of these cars are around. After a lot of work I came up with a fair number and sent off the letter.

A few weeks later, I got a call from Don's widow telling me she would sell me the car. I was ecstatic like a young child on Christmas eve. I have wanted this car back since I was in High School when I had picked up an appreciation for the late 1930's to early 1950's automobiles.

The car is in the same, very shabby, condition as when it was sold some 40 years ago. That is...the same condition, plus 40 years of sitting. I am writing this on the eve of picking up the car from ole Dom's place. I am sure that the car will need more time and money that it will ever worth to fix it up. But how can one put a price on childhood memories ?

James Douglas

San Francisco, California

November, 5th 2010.


Since I picked up the car I have found out a few interesting things.

I found the original canceled check for the down payment as well as the first couple of years Virginia registration forms.

The Chrysler Production Report shows the car was built on May, 20 1949. A Virginia State Police Inspection Certificate show the car inspected, no doubt at the dealer, on 08-04-1949. The Canceled check for the balance of the down payment ($550.08, I have the receipt as well) of $464.10 was dated September, 8 1949.

Interestingly the next summer the car had some damage of the left side of the car. That damage repair was paid by check, the receipt of which I found, and was $353.70. That was a huge amount back then.

The body looks strait as an arrow. However, someone cut out the inner webbing of the drivers side rear side window and then just welded it back in. The drivers door looks like it was a different color on the inside. The rear fender looks like a replacement in that the area under the tail light was not body color but MOPAR part blue. The paint is only degrading bad between the door and the rear fender.

My guess is that mom or dad scrapped the side of the car and they replaced everything with factory parts. The lower sill shows no signs of impact so I think it was a long hard scrape.

The only way you can tell is when the upholstery if off and see the welds around the window. The inside of all the panels look as good as new. On close inspection I can tell in the door jam that the panel was welded by hand and not done using a spot welder. Very good welds and hard to notice unless you look rear hard.

Given the fact that the National Desoto Club is having the National Meet in Reno this year, the first time on the west coats in a while, I am trying like hell to get the car done by June.

The car will need everything, but the body is very very straight. Dom, pickled the engine and drained it so all that stuff is go to go we think. My dad had the engine rebuilt about a year or two before it was parked by Automotive Engineering.

I pulled the engine down to the short block in place and everything looks good. Pistons are 40 over which agrees with the paperwork. Valves look good. Little to no ridge in the bores. We will see on that.

The wiring is shot so I ordered a new harness. 2/3 of the chrome and stainless is good as Dom smeared all of it with wax and left it in place prior to storing the car. The upholster is totally screwed up by mice/rats.

Wish me luck...I am going to need it.


PS. Photos later....

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I have been to "Doms". I bought a NOS blue Desoto steering wheel and more from him 10 plus years ago! He was a great guy. Great story james!


Edited by Dodgeb4ya
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That is incredible. I'm glad you were able to get it back. I can somewhat relate as when I was 10 I convinced Dad not to give up on the 51 plymouth he had owned since 16. At that point he'd already owned it 33 years. Shortly after that he sent it off to be restored and its now a national prize winning car.

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..James, I enjoyed reading the story of your mother's 49 Desoto Convertible.Restoring it will truly be a labor of love.Happy to hear you were able to locate and also buy the car.:)

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Great story. I'm glad you got the family car back. The one thing I've always liked about old cars, trucks, bikes, whatever is the history. Sometimes when working on my plymouth I find an old repair and wish I knew the story. These cars were just regular transportation back in the day but have such a story to tell. Thanks for telling yours.

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Very, very interesting. I think nearly all of us have said at one time, "I wish I had kept that one." You are able to get back the one that your dad let get away. Great story and well told. That car was and will be a treasure. As mentioned, please post pictures when you can.

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Thank you James for a well written story about your adventures in your mothers old DeSoto and the finial return of the car to you. Good luck on your dead line to finish the car before the National meet. If you do not finish you should still take it as a work in progress for all there to enjoy with a plaque with the history of the car.

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Great Story! I can relate to the car as a family heirloom. I have a '53 Plymouth Cranbrook (which brought me here) that was purchased new by my great-aunt. And I have a '65 Ford F100 and a '72 Cutlass purchased new by my dad.

I just moved to the Bay Area, if you ever need a hand...I'm not much of a mechanic, but I can lift and hold heavy stuff while other people wrench on it!:D

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Great Story! I can relate to the car as a family heirloom. I have a '53 Plymouth Cranbrook (which brought me here) that was purchased new by my great-aunt. And I have a '65 Ford F100 and a '72 Cutlass purchased new by my dad.

I just moved to the Bay Area, if you ever need a hand...I'm not much of a mechanic, but I can lift and hold heavy stuff while other people wrench on it!:D

Sounds like it is time to update your location, which currently says you're in Texas!


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  • 1 year later...

Hi All,


It has been a while since I posted.  This last year has been busy with an ailing mother-in-law and we have been doing the San Francisco-LA run quite a bit.


I have been able to get back on the 1949 Desoto the last few months.  The other day, on what would have been my late mothers 97 Birthday, I started the car and moved it under its own power for the first time since 1970.


I have a number of things to do yet, about 3 weeks of work, then off to the shop for the interior and the top.


I hope everyone is well.


Best, James



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Congratulations on the great progress! The car looks wonderful! More pictures and details of the restoration would be appreciated not just by me, but all readers. I remember when you first posted about the car. What a great story!

Edited by RobertKB
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