1946 DeSoto Custom
To relive the feeling your parents or grandparents enjoyed, this ’46 DeSoto is an excellent choice.
If you were around just after World War II, you probably saw DeSoto sedans just like this one dressed up in taxi cab livery scooting around every major city in the country. With their combination of bulletproof reliability, comfort, and performance, the DeSoto was an ideal choice. Add in the fact that they look sleek thanks to a 1942 facelift that carried over into 1946, and you have one of the smartest choices if you’re looking for an economical way to break into the hobby.
This particular 1946 DeSoto Custom 4-door sedan is one of those cars that couldn’t possibly be duplicated for the asking price. It’s a 1988 AACA National First Prize winner, and today it is all but impossible to restore a car to this level for less than three times the current asking price. Now 1988 wasn’t all that long ago in terms of collector cars and the restoration standards of the time were sophisticated, so an AACA badge on the grille means it’s outstanding in every possible way. Since then it’s been driven only sparingly by a knowledgeable hobbyist who understands that the fun of old cars is in capturing the feel of a bygone era. That means 6-volt electrics, bias-ply tires, and all the other wonderful things about old cars that so many people feel the need to “upgrade” when they restore a car. To relive the feeling your parents or grandparents enjoyed, this ’46 DeSoto is an excellent choice.
The two-tone Gunmetal Gray over Pearl Gray bodywork is period correct and was taken directly from the DeSoto color charts, although the trim tag says this particular sedan was originally plain old black. With four doors to work with, it must have taken some time to get everything to fit just so, and today it shows extremely well with good fit and finish. The paint appears to be single-stage enamel and there’s no metallic in the finish, so it looks great on the ‘40s shape without that cognitive dissonance that comes from modern sparkly paint on an old car. The fastback shape was red-hot in the post-war era, offering a sleek profile and impressive space inside without giving up trunk space. Long fenders that blend invisibly into the front doors were part of the 1942 redesign, along with the headlights fixed into place flanking the grille. It shows very few signs of use since it collected its awards, with only a few chips on some of the high-wear spots like the hood corners. The overall presentation is excellent and this car attracts a lot of appreciative glances as it goes down the highway.
Of particular note, the chrome on this car is outstanding. From the densely-populated grille to the spectacular hood ornament that remains incredibly crisp and sharp in its details, someone had to have invested a small fortune in either restoring perfect NOS pieces or having the chrome refinished. I’ve never seen a re-chromed hood ornament with this much detail! All the stainless has been polished, and the emblems, particularly the deck lid cloisonné, are vivid and bright. Find another DeSoto that needs trim and you’ll spend more than the asking price just making the chrome look this good. Wow!
The 1940s were famous for high-style interiors that retained some Art-Deco glamour but added a subtlety that would be lost by the time the 1950s got started. The pinstriped Bedford cord interior looks like a finely tailored suit that doesn’t need to shout to get noticed. New cushions under the upholstery were obviously installed when the car was restored and it remains firm and comfortable today with only very slight signs of stretching on the driver’s side. Nicely finished door panels offer a contrasting pattern highlighted by polished trim, and again we extend kudos to whoever was in charge of getting the brightwork finished because the details are crisp in every regard. The woodgrained dash and garnish moldings are simply spectacular, done in a correct style with a slightly gray color that works quite well with the upholstery. All the gauges are fully functional with bright faces and crisp markings, and the engine-turned panel holding the auxiliary switches is brilliant. This DeSoto did not receive an optional radio, but it does carry a heater and defroster, both of which work well thanks to testing during our 35-degree photo shoot. Carpets show the correct weave and have been bound with matching gray vinyl, along with a set of custom-made floor mats for added protection. And while you’re looking around, be sure to watch for DeSoto himself, whose profile is shown in multiple locations that will delight you. The trunk is also nicely finished with a correct rubber mat and full-sized spare, and you’ll be pleased to learn that the trunk has never been rusty or patched.
As the #2 brand under Chrysler, DeSoto received a slightly larger 236 cubic inch inline-six powerplant which was rated at 109 horsepower in 1946. For those of you out there scoffing at the six cylinder, please come drive this one and I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised, just as I was. There are millions of V8 Fords running around, but this DeSoto runs just as well as any of them with lighter suspension and brakes. The engine bay was obviously detailed for show when it was competing, but now it demonstrates a few signs of use, having been driven several thousand miles since then. But the silver paint on the block still looks great, the correct hoses and clamps are still in place, and the carburetor doesn’t get cranky, even in the cold. It starts quickly, idles remarkably smoothly, and bops around town easily, especially with the Fluid-Drive transmission that makes traffic easy, not a chore. Yes, it takes some familiarization, but the system is rugged and reliable and offers a cool alternative to the other transmissions out there, which was entirely the point of the post-war period. The chassis is what you’d expect from a show car, completely clean and solid with all the systems being in top condition. Four matching steel wheels have been fitted with trim rings and hub caps, along with 7.60-15 Allstate wide whites of indeterminate age.
This car also includes an accessory external sun visor which has been painted to match the upper body color but never installed, so it’s in its original paper wrapper from the body shop. There’s also a pair of NOS DeSoto-logo fog lamps that are new in the box, as well as the usual manuals and brochures from the period.
A neat old car with a lot of charm and the care-free performance of a modern machine. If you’re looking for a no-hassles old car, want to find out what the hobby is about without a major investment, or simply love the fact that someone invested in a frame-off show-winning restoration of a DeSoto sedan, this is a wonderful choice. Everyone has a Ford or a Chevy, but finding one of these is a treat. Call today!