MCHinson

1938 Buick Century Model 61 - Four Door Touring Sedan - Trunk Back

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I have owned a 1937 Buick Model 61 for a few years. I enjoy driving it on a regular basis. I am also the newsletter editor for the 36-38 Buick Club. I arrived home with the project car on August 14th. This initial post covers the acquisition of this project and my trip home with the car. 

 

I have done a lot of work on antique cars and I have helped others with various antique car jobs. I have owned a number of antique automobiles over the last couple of decades but I have never completed a total restoration on an antique automobile. I have always thought that I should do at least one total restoration in my life. I blame Gary Wheeler for posting his amazing restoration work in the Pre-War Buick Forum. He makes it look really easy. He got me thinking that I really should restore a car. It also does not help that every other month, I have a deadline to publish the Torque Tube II and not enough other members are sending me technical articles, photos, or other Straight 8 material for me to fill the magazine easily. 

 

A fellow club member made me aware of a project car for sale. The car was a 1938 Buick Model 61. The price was really reasonable. Since I have a 1937 Model 61, it seemed a logical project for me to take on. It would mean I was working on something very similar to what I was familiar with, and it would be nice to have a pair of sequential year Model 61 Buicks.

 

The story on the car is that it was purchased in the 1990’s by a retired police officer from Brockton, Massachusetts. He planned to enjoy the antique car hobby in his retirement. He took the car to Al Proctor, who had a garage where he worked on old cars at the time. Al went through the car and fixed everything it needed except paint, as he was not a painter. Al delivered the car to the retired police officer and never heard from him again. In 2016, Al and a friend were driving around scouting for old cars on a Sunday afternoon and happened to see an old Buick. Al eventually tracked down the property owner and got a chance to see the car closer. The more Al looked at the car, the more familiar it looked. It was the car he had worked on in the 1990’s. Al spoke with the owner and discovered that she was the daughter of the previous owner who had Al work on the car. Apparently, he died in 1993, and the family left the car outside on various family owned properties from 1993 until Al discovered it in 2016. The Massachusetts weather was not kind to the car.  Al was able to convince the owner to let him buy and attempt to save the car. Cosmetically the car is a disaster, but mechanically it should be easy to restore. Al said he hooked up a battery and a temporary fuel supply and had the car running about 15 minutes after he got it home.

After Al’s son sent me a few photos and videos of the car running and driving,  I decided to buy the car. His asking price was so low, I did not even try to talk him down at all. The only problem that I had was I am in Southeastern North Carolina and the car was near Boston, Massachusetts. A few years ago, I had made a decision to sell my tow vehicle and trailer as I never intended to again have an antique car that I would not drive anywhere I wanted to go.

 

I began searching for a vehicle that I can buy that can serve as a tow vehicle. I found a few Chevrolet Suburbans for sale locally, so after a bit of research, I was ready to buy a used Suburban. I had previously been offered the use of local AACA and 36-38 Buick Club member Jeff Oaks’ trailer as well as a trailer owned by another friend and former coworker. I was talking with the other friend and told him about the delay in being able to buy the motorhome and that I had decided I could not put the trip off much more and was going to buy a used Suburban. He told me, “You don’t need to do that. I just bought a 2012 Dodge Ram 350 truck that you can use. Why don’t you just borrow my truck and trailer?” I could not argue with his logic so I agreed. It takes a special friend to loan you a truck that was so recently purchased that it still had the temporary 30 day license tag on it and a trailer that he had owned for only a few months, for a 1,700 mile round trip.

 

I arranged for some friends and neighbors to look after my disabled wife’s meals during my absence and planned the trip so that I could complete it quickly during a less traveled weekend to avoid traffic congestion, primarily in the Washington, DC and NYC areas. I picked up my friend’s truck and trailer on Saturday, August 12 and left Wilmington at 6 pm. I drove until about 2 am Sunday morning, stopped at a motel for a few hours of sleep. After that stop, I continued my trip making only necessary stops for quick meals and bathroom breaks as needed. I arrived in Abington, Massachusetts, at 3 pm on Sunday, August 13th.

 

My friend’s trailer is equipped with E-track rails. He had a set of brand new E-clip straps that were still in the packaging. The trailer did not have any D rings so I decided to go ahead and use the E-track hardware and his new straps instead of my own straps.  By 4:15 pm, we had the car loaded and strapped down, and I started south. At my first stop on the trip for fuel, a couple of hours into the trip, I checked the trailer straps and everything was OK. The station’s bathrooms were out of order, so about half an hour later, I made another stop for some fast food and a bathroom break. Being rather tired, I almost neglected to check the straps before driving away from that stop. Luckily, I checked the straps. The front two straps were OK but I quickly discovered that they were the only thing holding the car to the trailer. The back two straps had both snapped! I hesitate to think what would have happened if I had not checked those straps! I pulled out my good heavy tow straps and spent about an hour re-strapping the car to the trailer.

 

I continued the trip south until 3 am, to get south of Washington DC, to avoid a lengthy delay on Monday morning with DC’s terrible weekday morning traffic congestion. As soon as I passed DC, I found a motel and got a much needed 4 hours of sleep. Monday morning, I completed the trip home, arriving at 1 pm, just in time to take my wife to lunch.

 

After lunch, I unloaded the car. Being all alone and having a car with no battery, and no fuel supply made this an interesting task. Still being really tired, I might have not chosen the most logical way to do this but it worked. First, I removed all of the straps from the car. I then took one of the long tie down straps and secured it to the front bumper and to the trailer so that it would serve as a safety strap to stop the car from rolling much further than the end of the trailer. I simply pushed the car a little and it rolled off of the trailer, fairly straight. It stopped when it reached the end of the strap but the rear end was sitting a little bit out in the street, so I then simply pulled the truck and trailer forward a little bit to straighten the car up and get the rear end out of the street. I then unhooked the strap from the front bumper and tied a rope to the rear bumper. I then started using an old garden tiller to pull the car where I wanted it. That worked well until I attempted to pull it over the curb and into the driveway. The garden tiller simply did not have enough power for that task. I moved the tiller and pulled my 1937 Century out of the garage. I used bungee cords to secure an old tire to the back bumper of the project car to protect my 1937 Century in case of a collision. This proved to be an unnecessary precaution. With a few trips in and out of the project car to turn the steering wheel as needed, I was able to pull the project car into the place in front of the garage where I wanted it. This task was complicated by to the fact that the driver’s door can’t be used due to the top hinge being rusted away. My plan is to clean it up as much as possible outside and air it out for a few days before putting it in the garage.

 

I have removed the remains of the trunk shelf from the car and removed the mouse nest from the glove compartment and taken a lot of photos to document the car’s condition. My plan is to use a pressure washer to wash the car inside and out. I think that most of the spiders got blown away on the trip home, but I will feel better going over every square inch of the car with some high pressure water anyway.

 

The body is a mess. The good thing about this car is the mechanical condition. It was in good mechanical condition before the previous owner died and it got left outside for a couple of decades. Al actually had the car running and I have seen and heard video of it driving in his yard. I have to add a temporary fuel supply and a battery and the car should run. I have either taken on an ambitious project, or else I might be a little bit misguided or maybe a little bit crazy. Time will tell. I am going to let the photos tell the rest of this story for this issue. I have already called Dave Tacheny and given him a heads up on what I am going to need. As soon as it get it cleaned up and some disassembly completed, I will be able to give him a complete list of what I need to try to complete this project.

 

After I got it unloaded, I started searching for the source of the mousy odor. When I opened the glove compartment, I found at least one source of the odor. After removing all of the mouse nest, I found the remains of a box of 4 headlight bulbs and the missing radio knob. I thought the tire pressure label still being intact beside that mouse nest quite interesting. I know that I am going to need some good photos of someone else’s 1938 Century Model 61 trunk. Lots of stuff should be quite similar to my 1937 Century, but that area is not. The trunk is what I think is going to be one of the most challenging thing for me to repair. Wish me luck, I am going to need it!

 

The first few photos show the car at Al Proctor's house, including one with Al. The rest show the condition upon arrival at my home, up to the point that I was pulling it into its temporary parking position in the driveway of my house. 

 

For anybody who owns a Straight 8 Buick, I would invite you to join ther 36-38 Buick Club. Members of the 36-38 Buick Club will get a detailed view of the restoration of this car in the club newsletter. I will attempt to share a good portion of it here but probably won't have time to go into as much detail here as I do in the newsletter. I am also posting photos as things progress in a facebook photo album so that Al Proctor's son Chris can see them and share them with Al easily. 

 

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These photos cover the past week or so. Each paragraph below includes a recap of each day's work that I have copied and pasted from my facebook album commentary.

 

I have gotten all of the doors open, removed the seats and used a shop vac to clean out about 4 or 5 gallons of rust, dust, dirt, additional mouse nests. I hosed down the interior with a garden hose and sprayed solvent on a lot of bolts that will hopefully be coming out in the near future. I installed a battery and a temporary gas tank and it ran well until I ran out of gas. It has good oil pressure and the temperature gauge shows it holding a steady 180 degrees. It runs and drives good in the driveway.  

 

I removed all of the door and window handles. I also removed the two passenger side interior door panels. These two doors will probably be restored and used on the car. The two driver's side doors are in much worse shape and will hopefully be replaced. I am not going to bother removing the door panels from those doors unless, I decide to reuse those doors.

 

 I only had time to spray down a lot of bolts that will soon have to be removed with some solvent. I can see I am going to need some more solvent soon. Today, I finished removing the back seat. The bottom two bolts that secured the seat back would not give up, several days of soaking with solvent did not break them free. I broke one of the bolts off and broke the caged nut off of the body on the other. I then decided to go ahead and strip the rest of the interior out of the body shell. I now have all of the upholstery and insulation removed. The mouse smell is now about gone from the car. I will soon have the car clean enough that I might be able to actually put the car inside the garage to work on it in the air conditioning. I have been soaking the body bolts with solvent for a few days now. Hopefully I will be able to start some major disassembly soon.

 

Today, I took the hood side panels off. I also took the grill halves out of the front end. All of the hardware holding the grill halves in came out easily until I got to the bottom two nuts. Those had obviously been sitting in a pile of wet leaves and other debris for years. There was no way to get a socket or wrench on what was left of those. When vice grips failed, I got out an angle grinder - problem solved. The carburetor is not the original carburetor model. It appears to be a 1939 or later carburetor. It is not too unusual to see a later carburetor on these cars. I am intrigued by the modification made to allow the later choke to work with the 1938 Exhaust Manifold. I look forward to getting a better look at that adaptive work soon.

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"DeJa Vu all over again"

Love it!  Congratulations Matt!  Good Luck!

If I can help you at all, please don't hesitate

Gary

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This morning, I removed the accessory lights, front bumper guard, front bumper, headlights, and the right front fender. I was disappointed to find that the headlight buckets were both filled with mouse nests. The damage caused by the mouse infestation will probably require replacement headlights. All of the bumper and fender hardware came off relatively easy. The condition of the hardware was relatively good with a few exceptions. It was amazing how much of some of the hardware was rusted away and yet still easy to disassemble. I did have to use an angle grinder to grind one nut off of the bolt on one of the accessory lights to remove it. I don't expect to reuse the accessory light since they are not the correct accessory lights. I was intrigued to see that the passenger side light is a Driving Light and the driver side light is a Passing Light.

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This morning, I removed the left front fender. I started working on removing the right rear fender but after a small section of the body around two of the bolts broke away when I turned the bolts, one bolt broke, and two came out without problems, I decided to call it a day and give the remaining fender bolts another good soaking of solvent and let them sit until Monday morning and try again. 

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Today I removed the back two fenders, the running boards and the rear bumper. I then removed 6 body bolts. The body manual indicates that there are supposed to be 8 body bolts, but the two rear body bolts that are shown in the Fisher Body Manual don't seem to be there. As soon as I can buy some lumber and build a cradle to hold the body, I will be almost ready to remove the body and roll the chassis into the garage to start the chassis restoration. It looks like we are going to have some stormy weather for the next few days, so I might be delayed a bit on my project.  I seem to be amassing a few piles of 1938 Buick parts and a lot of labeled plastic bags full of nuts, bolts, washers, and other small hardware. The left rear fender is a bit rough and the running boards are going to be a challenge.

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You're making fast progress.  I found organized bags of parts, well labeled, and lots of photographs will really help down the road.  Looks like you're in great shape.

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36 minutes ago, Taylormade said:

You're making fast progress.  I found organized bags of parts, well labeled, and lots of photographs will really help down the road.  Looks like you're in great shape.

I use a huge file format on my camera so I can enlarge any photo and see small details that I will need when I start reassembly. I probably should be making more notes, but I have all of the hardware bagged and labeled and take photos that will help me remember the direction that bolts are installed and other such small details. If I was not looking at a stormy week, I would probably have been able to take the body off in the next day or so, but I have to borrow a friend's truck to pick up the lumber and build the body cradle and I don't expect that to work out in the next day or so due to the incoming Tropical Storm.  

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10 minutes ago, keiser31 said:

The amazing part is the fact that these vehicle quadruple in size when you take them all apart....

 

I have noticed that. I think I will have enough space in the garage but I am sure it will be a little bit tight. 

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I'm currently watching my shelves go bare.  It's a very rewarding experience.  Not that I didn't love filling them up, but it's a lot more fun taking restored parts off the shelf and putting them back on the car.  I use my Canon with a very nice lens and always use the extra large format to document the restoration.  You're absolutely correct - you can zoom in and get incredible detail in Photoshop.

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This evening, I was able to pick up the lumber that I need to build a dolly to hold the body when I remove it from the chassis. Hopefully I will be able to get the dolly built in the next day or so and start making plans to remove the body from the chassis so I can begin the chassis restoration soon. 

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How are you planning to lift and suspend the body so you can roll the frame out?  When I took the body off my 32, I was lucky in that the guy working on some rust repair for me had a lift that he used to raise the body off the frame.  Once he was done, he delivered the body on a flatbed trailer and the local high school coach got six big linemen over to our house and they lifted the body off the trailer and on to the wooden dolly I had constructed.  Last month I finally reunited the body and frame using concrete blocks and 4x4s - which I don't recommend as the blocks can shatter - but it worked for me after lots of fiddling around.  I suspect your body is heavier than mine as I have an insert roof and you have a turret top.

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I will probably use an engine hoist to do it like Gary W did on his 1937 Buick. I could manually lift it with the help of three friends and some lumber but I think the engine hoist would be easier on our backs. I don't see a need to reinvent the wheel. I am going to copy all of Gary's ideas that I can.

 

I had a few other things that I had to do today, so I did not have much time to work on the car today.  

 

I have finished the body dolly. My design for it is basically copied from Gary's. I built it based on his photos in his restoration discussion. I did make the uprights a little longer than his, since I think having the body a little higher will make the body work a little easier on my back. Hopefully tomorrow I will finish the rest of the disassembly necessary before I can remove the body from the chassis. 

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Are you going to add some structural "X" bracing to that wooden frame? I can see that wracking under pressure when pushed around since it is quite tall. And on cobblestone.

Edited by keiser31 (see edit history)

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Here's the cart I built to support my Fiat. Although not nearly as heavy as your car, I added a little extra bracing (as Keiser suggests) to be certain it won't go anywhere I don't want it to. Just as an aside, mine is now blasted, repaired, and painted. Cart works great!

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The casters are rated such that they should handle the weight fine. The body after the doors are removed is not that heavy. I modeled mine after the one that Gary used for his very similar 1937 Buick's body. I don't have plans to move it much anyway. It has to roll no more than 30 feet, twice. Once to where it the body will be stored while I restore the chassis, and then into the garage for the body to be restored. If it appears to have any lateral movement at all, I will add some additonal bracing, but for now, I don't think that will be necessary. The 2 x 10s and 4 x 4s are pretty solid and it has a lot of 4 1/2 inch #10 screws in it. Also, the brick driveway is a lot smoother than you might think.

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