Wednesday, July 21, 2010

San Jose Street Sighting - 1948 DeSoto Custom Suburban

Every time I visit my friend in San Jose, I drive past this car. It's a 1948 DeSoto Custom Suburban 8-passenger sedan. Today, this sort of car would probably be called a "crossover" with its massive long-wheelbase body and three rows of seats. It has all the interior space of a modern SUV without a truck chassis. After World War II ended, DeSoto resumed regular car production. Having no all-new models, they quite literally facelifted the 1942 model and sold it as a 1946. The '42 DeSotos were an unusual animal with hidden headlights and a toothy grille that caused it to resemble something from a Stephen King novel. The new '46s dispensed with the fliplights in favor of fixed units and an even bigger grille. Few exterior changes were made between 1946 and '48, so it's not easy to tell those cars apart. The only clue to this car's year, since even the owner didn't know what year it is (and he's owned it since the 1980s at least), is the wheelcovers. According to someone who knows more about obscure cars than I do, posting on the Internet Movie Car Database, the '48 DeSotos have a full chrome wheelcover instead of the postwar '46 and '47's smaller, plastic-rimmed center hubcaps. Steel was still in short supply following the war, which I presume was the reason for less metal used in hubcaps. Some cars left factories with wood bumpers, to be replaced later by dealers once steel became available for the real thing.

The Custom Suburban was DeSoto's top model in 1948. It is a big, luxurious car with lots of space and a wood-and-steel roof rack. Note the subtle two-tone on this example, with a darker brown tone on the roof. It is powered by a 236ci flathead straight six engine powerful enough to get the heavy car moving and up to speed but won't win any speed trials.
By now you have no doubt noticed things are missing off this car. That's because it's a restoration project in progress. As I write this, it looks a whole lot worse than it did when I took these pictures. As it sat, the big brown DeSoto really didn't look all that bad. But the owner found problems with it and decided to restore it to its former glory. This is the car he drove to high school in, and has owned it ever since, so it holds sentimental value in addition to being a rare vehicle. Only 7500 of these were made during the '46-48 model years. As time goes by, I'll probably see progress being made on it, like a rechromed front bumper, reinstalled side trim and the wood put back on the roof rack. I hope it receives all the love a high-school sweetheart deserves.


  1. My uncle owned one of these magnificent cars about 1960 and hauled 6 or 7 teachers to their school in Davenport, IA every day from Muscatine, IA. At the holidays he'd pile his family and my family (12 of us including the grandparents) into the "white elephant" (that's what we called it) for the trip to see the relatives on the other side of the state. About 1970 it suffered a major breakdown, and he hauled it to the boneyard on the farm where it sat alongside other family cars that had been driven to death - including my aunt's 1955 Buick Special wagon, my dad's 1955 2 door Ford wagon, and my grand-dad's 56 Continental, plus a dozen or so other classics. They survived intact until about 195 when he hired someone to haul them all off for scrap.

    1. Hi Gregory,
      Thanks for sharing your story. I love hearing family car stories from readers. Every old car has a history that it can't always tell on its own! :)