1937 DeSoto S-3 Business Coupe - $24,900
     
  • Overview & History
  • Specifications
  • Image Gallery
It was treated to a comprehensive frame-off restoration in the late 1980s by noted restorer Jim Capaldi, and like all of the Addams cars, it was built to run.

DeSoto’s Airflow experiment ended in 1937, and Chrysler’s #2 brand emerged from the ashes with a comprehensive lineup of pretty darned nice cars. Styling was all-new and a bit more conventional, the chassis was revised, more horsepower was on tap, and a new overdrive transmission allowed the DeSotos to cruise effortlessly on the nation’s burgeoning interstate highway system. For many enthusiasts today, the DeSoto name is just an unusual footnote in history, but it’s worth reviewing the many virtues of the brand today—they were essentially Chryslers without the Chrysler price tag. That means that a DeSoto offers state-of-the-art engineering, great driving qualities, and a bulletproof powertrain that make pre-war Mopars such fantastic cars to own.

This very pretty 1937 DeSoto S-3 business coupe comes from the legendary John Addams collection. It was treated to a comprehensive frame-off restoration in the late 1980s by noted restorer Jim Capaldi, and like all of the Addams cars, it was built to run. Thanks to the DeSoto’s excellent combination of reliability, speed, and comfort, it was Mr. Addams’ favorite tour vehicle for non-CCCA events. The handsome medium blue finish is period-appropriate, closer to Riviera Blue than the car’s original code 408 Sable Brown. The all-new styling is quite handsome, more conventional than the Airflow but no less striking, and the rounded fenders, wrap-around grille, and abundant use of chrome suggest a car that should cost far more than it does (then and now). With the restoration approaching its 40th birthday, there are obviously some minor signs of age and use, most notably some checking on the passenger’s front fender and on the deck lid around the rear ornament, but none of it is failing and isn’t noticeable from more than a few feet away. We’d suggest just leaving it alone and having fun. Harwood Motors gave the car a deep clean and buff to bring back the shine, and it looks wonderful in person, offering a period-perfect glow and that soft gloss that looks perfect on 1930s cars. Panel fit is still excellent and the brightwork shows very few signs of age, mostly because most of it is stainless steel that should look good practically forever. Addams was fond of accessories, so this car carries a set of fender-mounted marker lights that double as the turn signals, bumper guards, and a rear-mounted back-up light that doesn’t appear to have ever been hooked up, although it is complete. And while you’re looking at the details, be sure to note the beautifully ornate taillights and the license plate light housing that mirrors the shape of the front grille. From any angle, this is a very attractive car.

The business coupe is strictly a 2-passenger vehicle, ostensibly designed for the travelling salesman to showcase his wares. As a result, the front bench is comfortable for long drives and thanks to correct tan mohair upholstery, it looks very correct throughout. There’s almost no wear on the seating surfaces, no splits or tears, and the door panels were trimmed to match the factory patterns. Rubber mats were standard, but the woodgrained dash and lovely art-deco steering wheel suggest the DeSoto is more upscale than you’d expect. All the gauges are fully operational, as is the optional AM radio in the dash (it’s joined by an AM/FM/CD stereo head unit in the glove box, which is powered by a 6V-12V converter under the hood). There’s also an Excel heater under the dash for those cool autumn evening cruises. As its name would imply, there’s a neat set of storage shelves behind the seat as well as a mammoth trunk designed to carry, well, almost anything. Viewers with sharp eyes will also spot the chrome T-handle under the dash, which controls the optional $35 “Gas-Saver” overdrive, giving this coupe the ability to cruise at 60-65 MPH. The interior lights work properly, the windshield cranks open for additional ventilation, and the whole thing feels tidy and well-assembled. Even the original jack is still tucked into its slot in the left rear quarter panel.

The 228 cubic inch inline-6 is, like may of Chrysler’s early powerplants, a serious over-achiever. It makes 93 horsepower, eight more than Ford’s V8, and the silky smoothness of the flathead six gives the DeSoto a very upscale feel on the road. And there are few engines more reliable than these, with excellent parts availability and a proven track record for durability. It was fully rebuilt during the restoration and if we had to guess, it probably has 25- 30,000 tour miles on it today—still fresh and nicely sorted. It starts very quickly with the floor-mounted starter button and settles into an easy almost silent idle after a few seconds of warming up. For a simple flathead engine, it’s impeccably smooth and if you didn’t know what was under the hood, you would probably be surprised by its modest specifications. On the other hand, Chrysler built this engine for decades and were able to perfect it, so even in 1937 it features things like full pressure oiling with a filter, hardened valve seats, and a regulated electrical system. It is also correctly detailed with corporate silver engine enamel, a big oil bath air cleaner, fabric-wrapped hoses and wire clamps, and a reproduction wiring harness. It obviously hasn’t been used in inclement weather since the restoration, so it is clean and fresh-looking and runs just as great as it looks.

The same is true underneath, where you can see plenty of evidence of the frame-off restoration. Excellent floors without any patch panels, an independent front suspension, which was introduced in 1935 and features tube-type shock absorbers, and a stainless steel exhaust system make this DeSoto ready to tour. Chrysler products used hydraulic brakes from the beginning, and the binders on this DeSoto are particularly effective, with a firm pedal and great modulation for a surprisingly modern feel. The 3-speed manual transmission shifts well with no chatter from the clutch, but you might get a little crunch going into 2nd if you rush it when it’s cold. And the factory overdrive unit is fully operational, shifting into overdrive above about 30 MPH when you abruptly lift off the throttle and dropping out when you slow to a stop. That overdrive allows easy cruising and the silky smooth six doesn’t mind spinning along at modern highway speeds. An auxiliary electric fuel pump has been fitted just in case, but the factory mechanical pump works just fine and even the leaf springs have correct gaiters for a smooth, quiet ride. 4.10 gears in back make it feel lively around town but obviously the overdrive compensates at highway speeds. Factory steel wheels are outfitted with trim rings and hubcaps and wear a recent set of 215/75/16 Diamondback (Goodyear) wide whitewall radials.

Documentation is very extensive, including owner’s manual, shop manuals, parts lists, accessory catalogs, advertising brochures, overdrive manual, and more. Obviously John Addams was a very enthusiastic owner of this DeSoto.

Even better is that this car was purchased from the Addams estate by its restorer, Jim Capaldi, and he has been its caretaker for nearly a decade—who better than the guy who restored it? It’s a beautiful car with fantastic road manners, and the practical coupe body style makes it great for touring. It’s a lot more car than a comparable Ford or Chevy, all for a price that’s thousands less. If you haven’t considered a DeSoto before, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look. And if you’re already a Mopar guy, you’re going to be delighted with this wonderful S-3. Call today!

Harwood Motors always welcomes and recommends personal or professional inspections on any vehicle in our inventory prior to purchase.

Vehicle: 1937 DeSoto S-3 Business Coupe
Price: $24,900
Stock Number: 117047
Mileage: 75,060
VIN: 5574130
Engine: 228 cubic inch inline-6
Transmission: 3-speed manual + overdrive
Gear Ratio: 4.0999999999999996
Wheelbase: 116 inches
Wheels: 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps
Tires: 215/75/16 wide whitewall radials
Exterior Color: Blue
Interior Color: Tan mohair
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