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Nana’s Car (Or the Car that Wouldn’t Go Away)
by Carl Nordstrom

My wife’s grandmother (Nana) bought a shiny Carmel Blue DeSoto Club Coupe from Burton Motors in Minneapolis, MN on July 21, 1948. Five years later the family moved to Bellevue, WA. Nana soon followed (coincidentally my family moved from Long Island, NY the same year, 1953).

Birth Certificates

Some years later, Nana’s granddaughter became the love of my life. Married in 1961, we went to live in Sweden to begin my career. Three children joined us along the way.

In 1969 I was offered a job in Portland, OR with a fledgling industrial design firm. While traveling the back roads of the surrounding countryside we came upon a prune dryer with acreage. The deal was made in the spring of 1972. The restoration of our eventual house began soon afterwards.

In the meantime, Nana was aging and I was offered the DeSoto for $75.00 (wow). Later in 1972 I drove the DeSoto from Seattle to Portland.

A brief description of my wonderful purchase is as follows: the paint was badly faded to a chalky gray. Dents embellished all four corners and most of the stainless trim was dented and retained by pan head sheet metal screws. The floors, driver and passenger, were rusted (some clever person attached sheet metal under the floor mat so you couldn’t step through). The rockers were also in a similar state. With only 72,000 miles on the odometer the car drove amazingly well. The seats had covers, but were torn. The radio worked, but blew a fuse every week.

The prune dryer project consumed all of my time. Nana’s car proved invaluable. With its cavernous trunk I hauled sand, cement, cement blocks, bricks, and a rototiller. I had a de facto pickup truck. As the project intensified, I could no longer burden Nana’s car and unceremoniously put it aside.

Years later (about ten) I built a barn and dragged Nana’s car inside. It was in pitiful shape. Mice had opened a veritable hotel. The penthouse in the headliner was especially sought after. The wool attracted moths. Moisture pitted and rusted the wood graining and the beautiful die cast trim on the dash. Nana’s car smelled like a pig sty.

One day I realized that I was the owner of a piece of junk. Nana’s car had to go! Nana’s car was sold several times. Each purchaser had buyer’s remorse. The last buyer was from Keizer, OR. Nana’s car was towed by chain from Newberg to Keizer with me as the steer man and brake man. While descending Chehalem Mountain trying to keep the chain taut, the speedometer needle sensed displeasure and made violent swings from 0 to 100 mph and back again. The needle gave out and died. The shaft broke, the spring came unwound, and the needle collapsed behind the glass.

Barn Find

A year later came the inevitable call. Would I be willing to buy back Nana’s car? Surprisingly Nana’s car was now reaching near collector car status and I handed back the $400.

There are some important side notes to be added. My wife, Kip (Katherine) the same namesake as her grandmother, had driven to Yellowstone in 1949 with her Nana and older sister, Barbara (Bobby) in the backseat of the DeSoto spending much of the time under a blanket. She was only eight at the time. I guess looking out the window was of no interest to two little girls.

Over the years I managed to find some donor cars for replacement parts. One I found in the woods near Rock Creek Tavern and bought all four fenders, grill parts, and a clock for $50.


Work in Progress

More Progress

Upon retirement in 2003, I needed a project. The car that wouldn’t go away was just sitting patiently in the garage. I went through every nut, bolt, nook, and cranny. Took the body off the frame, rebuilt the front suspension and motor. I repaired the salt damaged sheet metal. If I couldn’t solve a problem, I always found someone who could. The speedometer needle is back in place doing its thing. I love Nana’s car.

Finished Interior

Nana's Finished Car

Acknowledgement: Shawn Burke, my neighbor and decorative painter from England did the faux wood graining on the dash and window reveals. Doug Crawford, of Elderly Auto Parts provided invaluable assistance and of course, parts. The upholstery job was done by Jim’s Custom Upholstery. The engine machine work was done by Gray’s Automotive Machine Shop.

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