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Category: 1937 Buick

’37 Buick: Finally Putting Something Back Together!

Removing the pulley
Removing the pulley

“You are very good at taking things apart, let’s see if you can actually put something back together.”  Those were the words from a friend of mine who has been following my 1937 Buick progress for a while.  With his words in my head and with much of my engine at the machine shop, cold weather forced me from my unheated garage into my basement where I could work in warmer conditions.  My car’s starter had been restored just prior to my purchase so I brought my attention to the generator.

I am not an electrician but understand the basic operation of a car’s generator and have attempted to explain it here.  Inside the generator there is a central shaft called an armature.  On the inside of the generator’s case are magnets wrapped with wire called field coils.  As the armature is rotated by the fan belt it spins by the internal magnets.  This generates electricity and that electricity amplified by traveling through the field coils.  This is known as electromagnetic induction.  The current generated is then passed through metal pucks called brushes that rub the armature and the current passes on to the device demanding electricity (lights, battery, etc.).

I assumed that, at the very least, the internal brushes were changed at some point in the car’s 77 year/ 57,000 mile history but there was no evidence indicating that any work had taken place in the post-WWII era. 

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’37 Buick: Let’s Get Technical

If you are a numbers person you are going to love this post.  I try to make my entries as fun and personal as possible but this time I have to get a bit technical.  While I am not a mathematician, I do love analyzing data

A view from the case
A view from the case

and I had the opportunity to harvest a lot of data when I measured various clearances in my 1937 Buick engine.

As I closed out my last journal entry I left you with the engine in various pieces.  What I didn’t mention then is that before I removed the cylinder head from my engine I adjusted my valve tappet clearance and performed a cylinder leak-down test.  If you aren’t familiar with a leak-down test, this is the process of introducing compressed air into a cylinder through the spark plug hole when the piston is at top dead center of the combustion stroke.  At this position the intake and exhaust valves are closed so the only place for air to escape is from the valve seals, the head gasket or cylinder rings.  The gauge on the tester reports a percentage of leakage and up to 20% leakage is considered acceptable.  My cylinders ranged from 10% – 17%.  There were no obvious problems to be found with the leak-down test but this gave me some basic information to think about before I removed the cylinder head and essentially “broke the seal”.

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’37 Buick: Engine! Engine!

If you’ve been following my journal entries you may remember that my car sat unused for decades until I bought it. With relatively minimal work I was able to get the car running and usable for some short trips. During this time, however, I noticed that my engine produced a

Load leveler in place with chains drawn tight.
Load leveler in place with chains drawn tight.

tremendous amount of white smoke from the exhaust and crankcase breather tube. I seemed to have plenty of power and at first I hoped that this white smoke was simply a result of sitting around. I thought perhaps the problem could be stuck piston rings and hoped that by simply running the engine things would work themselves out but by the time I decided to take my car out of service for restoration the white smoke was still an issue. Being an optimist, I thought I could pull the engine and just replace the piston rings. As you will see in the next few journal entries, reality would soon set in and I would realize my engine was more tired than I initially thought.

When I removed my 1937 Buick’s front suspension I removed the car’s entire front clip. This allowed unobstructed access to the suspension parts and also created clear access for engine removal. My first step in the engine removal process was research. I searched through old issues of the Torque Tube magazine, various discussion forums, and the 1937 Buick Shop Manual.

My biggest concern was that the fully assembled Buick straight-eight engine is heavy. More appropriately it is VERY heavy, closing in on 1,000 pounds.

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’37 Buick: Top Fuel

Sending unit freshly pulled from the tank.
Sending unit freshly pulled from the tank.

Like any car, my 1937 Buick needs a steady flow of good, clean fuel to run properly. Carburetors can be finicky beasts so it is essential that no debris can get stuck in any jets, seats or airways. With this in mind I decided to restore my fuel tank and the gremlins that lived on the inside and outside of the tank. While I never observed any debris or discoloration in the car’s fuel pump sediment bowl, I wanted to have complete peace of mind while driving the car. Also the exterior of the tank was covered in a thick, gooey undercoating and I wanted to seal the interior of the tank — this made removing the tank absolutely necessary.

With my car on jack stands and the rear wheels removed, I cracked open the 1937 Shop Manual and read “when it is necessary to remove the fuel tank from the car, remove the filler pipe at upper end, disconnect gas feed pipe from the gas gauge pipe, then disconnect the straps at front end.” I also read that “it is necessary to raise the car about a foot” in order to remove the tank. I read everything there and mostly agreed with the approach. What I didn’t agree with was the height that I needed to raise the car. Surely the 10-inches of clearance that I gave myself would be plenty right? Wrong. Your first lesson in this journal entry is that if the Shop Manual tells you to do something — do it. You can’t outsmart the Shop Manual, there is no sense in trying to defeat the Shop Manual and every line written in the Shop Manual is there for a reason. Let us continue….

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’37 Buick: Wow, that’s a lot of grease!

She is still smiling!
She is still smiling!

I admit it, I worry a lot.  I am always wondering when the next hurricane will strike, when the next extended power outage will occur and when my basement will flood again.  The last thing a worrier needs while getting acquainted with their “new” 1937 Buick is to have the rear wheel fall off during a confidence-building drive. So, when it happened to me I began thinking about every nut and bolt on the car and I knew I wouldn’t be able to drive the car with peace of mind unless I could inspect each important vehicle component.  I made the decision to completely remove the car from service so I could clean and restore each part that needed attention.  Of course I wanted to do the work myself but there would certainly be occasions where I would have to send things out to professionals.  I went into the restoration thinking it would take at least two years before the car was back on the road.  Sure I could take shortcuts and just replace vital bolts or components but I quickly realized it was important to do the job once and do it right the first time.

For no particular reason I decided to address the car’s front suspension.  General Motors introduced “Knee Action” front suspension in the mid-1930s and this is the type of front suspension my car has.  There is no solid axle between the two front wheels.  Instead, there is a steering linkage that connects the two wheels.  The suspension features a coil spring and also a shock absorber.  Wheel hubs are mounted on a steering knuckle and attach to a shock absorber arm on the top and a lower arm on the bottom.  This setup produces independent front suspension and a ride that is more comfortable than a solid axle.

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’37 Buick: Ups & Downs

The headliner in my Buick was in relatively great shape when I got my car.  It was tight as a drum, relatively little fade, and there were no rips or cuts.  Unfortunately, the Buick

Original headliner showing water damage.
Original headliner showing water damage.

developed a leak at some point in its 75 year history and that leak showed up as water stains just below my rear window.  Without removing the headliner there would be no way of knowing where the car was leaking although I assumed the rear window was the culprit.  I hated to remove the original but this was an item that I wanted to look great.

Having never replaced or modified a headliner I wasn’t really sure how to proceed. In all honesty I didn’t even know how the thing hung there, seemingly by itself, since there were no hard anchor points that you can touch when poking your finger into the liner. Some research was in order before I started so I turned to the book Car Interior Restoration by Terry Boyce.  Originally published in the mid-1970s with a second and third edition to follow, this book is a gold mine for anyone working on a car from the 1930s.  It is still found easily on the used book market for just a few dollars.

By reading Boyce’s chapter on the headliner I learned how it was attached to the car.  There are several “listing wires” that pass through sleeves sewn in the back of the headliner. Then, this sleeved wire is simply pressed on to hooks that are found on metal brackets welded to the inside of the car’s roof. The sleeves are almost ½” wide which gives the headliner that “hanging from nothing” look.

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’37 Buick: Got Wood?

Shortly after installing a new wire harness and getting my Buick running, I wanted to do a few things to make the “Old Girl” pretty again.  Of course I still wanted to drive the car while doing

Fresh ink on several pieces.
Fresh ink on several pieces.

these projects so the first thing I decided to tackle was redoing the ’37 Buick’s woodgraining. My trim pieces didn’t look horrible, but they had some surface rust in several areas and the graining was actually different colors on different pieces presumably because of sun fade.

Going back to the late 1930s, there were a few high-end automobile manufacturers (Packard, etc.) that used real wood as trim pieces around the windows and dash but, for the most part, manufacturers from this era provided metal pieces with a woodgrain pattern stamped or painted on to the piece.  In 1937, Fisher Body applied this woodgrain pattern on to primed metal sheets and then stamped and formed the individual pieces. Using metal was wise because it won’t expand and contract the way wood does, it is cheaper to stamp metal sheets than to have a carpenter spend time fitting, cutting and sanding wood and these finished pieces really do look like wood!

My first step in this project was to remove all of the garnish moldings and dash.  The moldings came out very easily but the dash required more patience.  Naturally I had to remove the gauges, knobs, etc. but within a few hours it was all out of the car and on the floor of my garage. Being at the point of no return it was then time to determine just how I was going to redo my woodgraining – would I send it out to a professional, buy a kit and redo it myself or something different?

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’37 Buick: The “Old Girl” Lives!

The guts of the fuel pump are exposed. Hole in diaphragm is in the 4 o'clock position.
The guts of the fuel pump are exposed. Hole in diaphragm is in the 4 o’clock position.

In my first journal entry I talked about my background and how I acquired my 1937 Buick.  If you haven’t already read that entry I can bring you up to speed by telling you that after fabricating and installing a new wire harness I was able to get my car to run, but only while my father continuously dripped fuel down the carburetor’s throat.

Clearly I was having fuel flow issues and with a car that sat for well over a decade this was no surprise to me at all.  The 1937 Buick Special’s fuel line starts at the tank under the trunk, runs along the passenger side frame rail to the engine compartment where the fuel pump sits on the lower front portion of the engine on the passenger side.  From there the fuel is pumped up to the top of the engine, crosses near the radiator and then travels back another foot to the carburetor.  In my first attempts to start the engine I had already drained the old gas from the tank and replaced it with new fuel blended with aviation gas.  I was getting fuel to my fuel pump’s sediment bowl but nothing beyond that point.

There are a few reasons why I chose to add aviation gas (100LL) to my fuel tank. As a private pilot I have very easy access to it but first and foremost is the fact that aviation gas contains no ethanol and, when properly stored, can last years with no loss of octane.  You read that right, YEARS not months like modern gasoline.

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’37 Buick: Starting Out

Proud new owner.
Proud new owner.

Antique car restoration is not something that happens easily and it sure doesn’t happen quickly. During the course of a restoration you will share blood and oil with your machine, plenty of sweat and likely a few swear words here and there.  It’s a journey that is well worth the trouble.  The end product will give you something to brag about, a time machine that will let you experience motoring the way people did in the past, and it will give you a chance to share your victories and defeats with other people who can appreciate what you’ve done.   The journey toward that end product is just as rewarding and my car, a 1937 Buick Special Business Coupe, is currently taking that journey.

Let me introduce myself; I am Chris Ritter and I live in Bethel, Pennsylvania.  I am the Head Librarian at the AACA Library & Research Center in Hershey, PA.  I have a very unique and enjoyable job that allows me to be surrounded by old car sales literature, shop manuals, wiring diagrams, paint chips and so much more every day.  I started working for AACA in 2008 and after spending a few months with the collection I quickly realized I am in love with cars from the 1930s and anything Art Deco.  Post-war cars don’t do too much for me, pre-Great Depression cars are cool and respectable but to really get my heart racing I need to see something from around 1934-1939.  Big fenders, torpedo headlights, a long engine compartment…..you get the idea.

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