Dear Tom and Ray:
I'm an Army warrant officer in northern Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. All of my colleagues want the usual Iraqi Army war trophies: bayonets, helmets, protective masks, etc. Well, I thought of something more original: I want to take home a 1959 Chevy Impala and restore it. I've done driveway restorations of several '50s and '60s Chevys, and I would have this '59 20 years from now, with a story to tell. I've already scoped out three 1959s here, in various degrees of dishevelment. But while I was ducking down an alley today, I came across a 1957 DeSoto convertible! I'm actually considering buying it from the guy (he wants $2,000 but will take half of that, I'm sure). It's not in bad shape, bodywise, although most of the trim is gone. But it runs. And here's my plan: Road trip! I want to drive the thing back to Germany through Turkey, Greece, up the beautiful Croatian coast (familiar to me from my previous deployments in the Balkans), clipping Italy, Austria and home to Germany, where I am stationed.
Eventually, I would ship it home to the States when I'm done. My problem is this: I don't know squat about DeSotos. Is this car worth the effort? Are parts available? I know nussink! Can you help out a fellow American and car loony? -- Roger
RAY: Geez, they said the sun was strong in Iraq, Roger, but we had no idea.
TOM: I think you have to go for the DeSoto, Rog. You're obviously an adventurous guy. Plus, it will be worth some money if you get it to the United States.
RAY: The '57 DeSoto has that classic look that we all associate with the '50s. It's a convertible with big tail fins and lots of chrome. In fact, the fins themselves are probably worth a thousand bucks.
TOM: Yeah. Just buy the fins, and when you get home, weld 'em onto your Camry.
RAY: Mechanically speaking, I wouldn't worry too much about not knowing DeSotos specifically. Cars were a lot simpler back in 1957. And if you've already rebuilt a couple of old Chevys, you'll find your way around this DeSoto without too much trouble. It's basically a Dodge Coronet.
TOM: But we'd like to make three suggestions. One would be to find a source for parts in the United States now, and send him a retainer. If you go on the Web and do a Google search for 1957 DeSoto parts, you'll turn up some people who have cars they're parting out. You can also check Hemmings Motor News (hemmings.com), which is a great overall resource for old heaps. You want to establish a relationship with a parts supplier now so that when you need a radiator cap halfway through Turkey, you can call him and he can UCS it to you (that's United Camel Service).
RAY: The second suggestion would be to fix it up as best you can before you leave on your road trip. Remember, there are a lot of parts and tools and stuff that you'll be able to "requisition" from the motor pool that won't be available to you on the lovely coast of Croatia.
TOM: And our third suggestion would be to wear your Kevlar vest and helmet as you drive out of the country with the top down -- at least until you get safely into Turkey. Good luck, Roger. Get home safely. Drop us a note sometime and let us know where you were when the transmission fell out!