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6 Volt or 12 Volt for my 1936 Buick Restoration?


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I am quickly coming to a point in the restoration of my 36 Roadmaster where I need to decide if I'll stay with the original 6 volt system or change to 12 volt. And, I don't feel that I know enough about this to base my decision. My goal for this car is to create a reliable and driveable car that is as close to original that I can get. However, I want to be able to drive this daily and if a 12 volt system offers reliability or other advantages without much peril, then I'll do it.

So, what are the advantages and disadvantages? I suppose I'll have to get a 12 volt generator or have my original generator changed to 12 volt (is this even possible?). What about things like the guages, clock, horns, light switch, ignition switch, and radio? Are all the bulbs in this car available in 12 volt? I've read that the starter will be able to handle 12 volt as is. I'm also considering the electronic ignition - wish I knew more about it as well.

All advice and input is welcome. Thank you in advance for your help!

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<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: JoelsBuicks</div><div class="ubbcode-body">...My goal for this car is to create a reliable and driveable car that is as close to original that I can get. </div></div> Joel, I am the BIGGEST fan of 12-volt systems but I have to say, you can't have it both ways. Either your restoration is back to original, or it isn't.

Changing to 12 volts brings you into today's world of modern accessories; things they didn't have or need back in '36. When your car was new, it ran just fine with the factory accessories (they didn't have any).

Read all you can about the conversion before you leap. It can be done, and it can be UN-done. What bothers me is, you didn't give any reason for changing to 12-volts, or to electronic ignition, either.

Appreciate your classic for what it is, or change it into something you really want and need. When you deviate from 'original,' your car will devalue tremendously, but I have to admit, running around in a '36 Buick would rock.

It's your car, and you need to decide what you really want to use it for. If you really want a 12-volt system, I can steer you in the right direction.

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There is a 6-12 system that is availible, It will run the 6 volt stuff in the car and also anything 12 volt that you may like to add. It also starts the car with 12 volts. I belive this system is avalible though... Antique Auto Battery as I have gotten replacement batterys from them for this system in the past.

I had a Packard at one time that had this system and, although not original, it worked quite well. You did have to change the charging system to 12 volt though. Dave!

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my personal opinion, I have run my 1938 Buick as a daily driver for several years ( now it an occassional use car), with no problems. The cars were made to start and run just fine, keep it tuned and serviced and a strong battery.

I am not an expert, but I hear that you get brighter headlights with 12v headlights.

These 6 v cars were on the roads for decades, and 12 volt came along , maybe due to higher loads on batteries due to all the accessories arriving on cars in te 50,s.

In any event, if you want a true restoration I'd leave it 6v. I have a 38 and a 47 on 6 v and they start and run just fine.

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If you want a modern radio, 12V is the way to go. Beyond somewhat brighter headlights, that's really the only reason I can see for the switch on a collector car. The 6V system was reliable when it was new, no reason it shouldn't be now if it's properly restored. You can get 12V alternators that look like original generators for about $800 (www.gener-nator.com). However, I've always found modern alternators under the hood of an old car like this to be a jarring distraction. No matter how beautiful the rest of the engine compartment, it will just not look right to most folks. Why spend the money on a restoration and create a noticable flaw?

Just some thoughts.

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12V conversion is unnecessary if you make sure your battery cables and wiring are the same as original. 6V systems carry double the amps and need heavier wire to deliver full current.

Optima batteries are available with both 6 & 12V from the same battery to run modern accessories as well as original lights and gauges. You can also install a second 6V battery to run both. So, there is really no reason to convert a 6V car or truck.

6V systems and vacuum wipers contribute to the original experience in driving these old cars. Conversion to more modern (and reliable) equipment removes some of sensory experience of driving an old car.

My 2 cents....

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I'm hearing lots of suggestions to stay with 6V. I'm fairly new at all of this and had no idea that a subtle switch to 12V would affect the value of the restored car. In fact, it seems to me that these old cars that get the power steering, fancy suspensions, hot V8, etc., are bringing lots of money. I'm not in this for that. I want this to be as original as possible but reliable and driveable. I too, would find a modern alternator to be out-of-place but on the other hand, I would enjoy having an overdrive in this car.

I really appreciate the input. It is different than what I was expecting because it seems that everyone I talk to says to convert to 12V but don't tell me why.

Thank you,

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Guest imported_JPIndusi

I have two Buicks with 6 volt systems and they work fine. If you do not do much night driving then I would leave the 6 volt system. Switching to 12 volts will not help night driving much unless you replace the generator with an alternator. There are also 6 and 12 volt alternators; the 6 volt if used would allow return to stock much easier.

With 6 volt systems you need to keep the battery connections and lighting wiring clean and tight, use battery cables that are at least O gauge, and maintain the battery properly. This includs maintaining water level with distilled water, using a Battery Tender at the end of each use to bring the battery to full charge, and check the regulator to be sure it is not overcharging.

You can get 6 to 12 volt converters to play a radio or tape player if you like. The Buick electrical system design is excellent and with proper mainenance will give reliable service.

Good luck.

Joe, BCA 33493

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<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: JoelsBuicks</div><div class="ubbcode-body">I'm hearing lots of suggestions to stay with 6V. I'm fairly new at all of this and had no idea that a subtle switch to 12V would affect the value of the restored car. In fact, it seems to me that these old cars that get the power steering, fancy suspensions, hot V8, etc., are bringing lots of money.</div></div>

Don't be fooled by the miniscule handful of rods you see on TV that bring big dollars (the dreamers on eBay aren't selling their cars for their ridiculous asking prices). Those are typically pro-built completely hand-fabricated works of art. A vast majority of rods are done by regular guys in their garages, and while many are quite talented, there's still a wide gulf between them and the pros in terms of value. For a '36 Buick, I'd wager than an original would be worth more than a rod in the same condition (unless you spend six figures having a pro build it).

More often than not, you'll get this:

1948packardsr081103.jpg

Rather than this:

1936-90L-02a.jpg

Would you really pay more for the Packard? laugh.gif

If you want modern features and to keep them hidden, either the GenerNator or perhaps one of the 6/12 batteries would work. But I really like the suggestion of two 6-volt batteries in series. You could run all your 6-volt stuff off of one of them, while you could run your 12 volt stuff off of both (together they make 12V). I think your stock generator would keep them both charged, too (though it would have to work pretty hard). A second battery shouldn't be too hard to hide in a car like this (under the seats would be good).

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Matt, I'm glad to hear your comments on the value issue. The Packard Rod is not my thing at all although I respect the talent it takes to do this. Your picture of the 36 Limited is one I've seen before and is exactly what I want to do with both my Roadmaster and Limited. I don't plan on selling my restored cars but I don't want to do something stupid that destroys their value.

Thanks again,

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I too have a 36 that I contemplated switching to 12 but stayed with 6 V. I wanted some modern ammenities as well a little better starting when the engine is hot. I stayed with a single Optima 6 V system and huge battery cables. So far it seems to be working.

I looked into the 6/12 volt batteries but the version that runs the car on 6 volts and starter on 12 volts is just that. You cannot tap off 12 volts for other things. I only found the one battery at Antique Auto Batteries. I did not locate an Optima that had both 6 and 12 volts. Mark, do these really exist? If so, can you send a URL for it?

I looked into the idea of having two 6V batteries wired in series but I was never able to get any information indicating that this would be a good idea. The first problem is that you need to have the batteries connected in parrallel in order to get them charged by the generator at 6V. However, if you connect them in parrallel you can no longer connect them in series because the two circuits interfere with each other. I didn't get a real answer as to what that interference would be but I suspect it would not be good for the battery or else there might be a potential of bleed into the rest of the car which would result in blown bulbs, clocks, etc that are 6V.

There used to be a switch that would allow you to connect two 6 volt batteries in such a way that 6 and 12 would be available all the time. I unfortunately have not been able to locate any of these switches.

If you just want a little more juice to get the starter to go faster you could go with an 8 Volt battery and up the output from your generator a bit. I looked into this but decided that the battery choices were too few and that the gain wasn't worth the limitations.

As for running 12V appliances off a converter I would be suspicious of the load required. This might work for some accessory with very little power requirements but it will really drain your battery or wreck the accessory if the accessory needs a lot of power. Another issue is that you really need to connect the converter after the ignition so that the battery doesn't drain when the vehicle is off. This unfortunatly rules out hidden power door locks or alarms.

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Radio Shack had 6 -12 volt inverters years ago and I have one in my 40 It runs an AM-FM unit with a tape deck in the glove box. I left everything else alone , and have driven the car 107,000 miles over 36 years and it still works GREAT!!

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Joel, in the early 80's I drove an all original 1936 Dodge 30,000 miles over a 3 year period in upstate NY. Everyone told me horror stories about Chrysler products and 6 volts not starting in winter. That Dodge never saw a set of jumper cables nor starting fluid and never once failed to start and was never garaged. I PROPERLY restored the electrical system back to new standards. Almost every old timers stories are based on high mileage poorly maintained cars. How do you think people back then got around during winter if these cars were so unreliable?

Howard Dennis

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My opinion would be to stick with the 6V. As stated, with maintenance of the battery and electrical connections as well as proper wiring, it should start fine. My '41 is OK once it gets fuel...unfortunately, when it sits, I wind up with fuel issues...I now know to prime the carbs a bit when it's been sitting for more than a couple of days...of course, I could also work on the fuel system, which will come with time.

Beyond starting, what are you looking at? Lights were mentioned...I drove the '41 home after sunset the other night...thank goodness for street lights as I didn't have a pile of illumination. That said, I didn't have far to go and it was all in the city. If you plan your driving that way, lighting shouldn't be a big issue. In terms of radio / stereo, as miniaturization moves forward, the options improve - something like an iPod with a speaker or two could do the trick. If you want more battery life, you could look at 12 V, 4 or 7 Amp-hour batteries (gel cell) that are compact. An elegant case could be built to house everything, while still keeping it relatively small.

Just a few thoughts.

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Joel, I still haven't heard why you want to change.<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: simplyconnected</div><div class="ubbcode-body">What bothers me is, you didn't give any reason for changing to 12-volts, or to electronic ignition, either.</div></div> Most restorers have solid reasons for chnaging. A good case could be argued either way.

Something (or someone) instigated this notion. What are your reasons for changing? (Brighter headlights isn't a reason.)

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Simplyconnected, you're right, it isn't brighter headlights. In my original post I was soliciting for input and advice on whether or not to change to 12V. My initial preference is to stay original, but I have run into many well-meaning folks who tell me the first thing to do with this car is to convert to 12V. They tell me the starter works better but I know that this is not a simple case of putting in a 12V battery.

In the past and again today, you guys have been very helpful to me and I knew that I would get some good input on the pros and cons. I myself have absolutely no compelling reason to change to 12V but polling the experts here could have surfaced valid reasons to consider 12V.

The same holds true for the issue of electronic ignition. I have very little operating experience with these straight eights and if several people recommended using the electronic ignition for reliability purposes, I'd probably give it serious consideration. Someone may have even suggested that I could only use electronic ignition if I convert to 12V. The fact is that I didn't get much input on the electronic ignition issue and that alone is valuable input.

Does this help explain why I'm making the inquiry?

Many many thanks for the dialogue,

Joel

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If your a purest, stick with points. Nothing wrong with them and they have given the car good service for many years. If you have never done it, you can learn how to install them. It is easy. Keep a spare set in the glove box. As far as reliability, I've had a spare set in my 1974 Dodge wrecker/ tow vehicle for about ten years. This is what I pick up my dead tractors and cars with from customers so it does get run from time to time.

The 6/12 system that was in the 41 Packard did run a 12 volt radio that was in the glove box. This car may also have had the switch that Jeff Miller mentions. To tell the truth, I did not think the system was all that great but it was already in the car when I aquired it. I did some repair work on it for the fellow that owned it. The first battery was installed at that time. It sat over the winter and he let the battery run down. It froze and broke. I later puchased the car and installed a second battery and fixed several other small problems. I drove the car up and down the town road next to my mothers place but it did not do anything for me so I sold it. I'm a purest at heart, if it were mine I would stick with the 6 volt system. If the electrical componets are in good and clean condition, the car will prove to be very reliable. smile.gif Dave!

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I'm with Dave on the points. Electronic ignition has benefits in performance applications and eliminates maintenance. Points require periodic adjustment and replacement. For the amount of miles many (most?) of us drive annual is more than enough. Electronic ignition systems do occasionally fail, and when they do it's usually complete, the car won't run. Unless you have spare parts with you, you are probably out of luck. With points you'll generally get a gradual degradation in performance. A screw driver and a nail file will get you out of most binds with bad points. Like Dave says, keep a spare in the glove box and your good to go. If your going to drive it daily, a conversion may be the way to go.

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<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: simplyconnected</div><div class="ubbcode-body">Joel, I am the BIGGEST fan of 12-volt systems... Changing to 12 volts brings you into today's world of modern accessories... It's your car, and you need to decide what you really want to use it for.</div></div> Now that you know why you SHOULDN'T change, here are a few reasons why you might want to convert your driver:

12-volt accessories are very IN-expensive compared to 6-v. You mentioned electronic ignition. How about an electric radiator fan (so you can idle in heavy traffic), electric windshield wipers (they're hidden), air conditioning, decent headlights, or a decent stereo. Did you ever try to find one of those cigarette lighter emergency tire pumps, GPS, cell phone or laptop chargers, or a 300 watt (or larger) inverter in 6-volt? Forget it. Every car manufacturer has switched to 12-v, all over the world. Can they ALL be wrong for the past fifty years? Also notice, none have switched back. '12-volts' is the worldwide industry standard and all electrical systems are designed for it.

I use a 300W power inverter in my driver. It produces 115-VAC. Hey, want a good (and cheap) trouble light? It's hanging on your garage wall, uses standard light bulbs, and has a cord long enough to reach from your trunk to your hood. Throw it in your trunk. When the wife and I go camping, we watch DVD's on the laptop. Yep, it plugs into the inverter too, and movies play for many hours off the standard 12-volt car battery (which is MUCH cheaper and a lot more available than any 6-volt).

<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: JoelsBuicks</div><div class="ubbcode-body">They tell me the starter works better but I know that this is not a simple case of putting in a 12V battery. </div></div> Oh, yes it is. Your current starter works much better on 12-volts without modifying it at all. It cranks faster and starts your car sooner. It also works MUCH better when the engine is hot OR when it's freezing.

I said 'bye-bye' to 6-volts a long time ago, and am very happy I did. The conversion can be done in one Saturday afternoon, but you must have all the parts before you start. Dash gauges are 6-volt, even on modern cars. They use a voltage reducer that may be purchased. Junk yards throw one away with every Ford car dating back to 1956. Here's a site with free advice for a conversion:

http://reviews.ebay.com/ebaymotors/6-to-12-Volt-Conversion-1955-Ford_W0QQugidZ10000000001571127

Look at an RV/Trailer catalog, sometime. You will be amazed with what is available in 12-volt; nothing's in 6. - Dave Dare

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<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: JoelsBuicks</div><div class="ubbcode-body">However, I want to be able to drive this daily and if a 12 volt system offers... </div></div>Would you drive daily without wearing your seatbelt? (Joel's Buick doesn't have that.) Depending on where you are, would you leave your 'baby' without setting the alarm? (Find one designed for 6-volt.) I won't get in to radial tires, etc. We've had 'safety improvement' discussions.

I believe you should make your car into whatever you want (since it is already yours). We've had this discussion, too.

<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: simplyconnected</div><div class="ubbcode-body"> ...I am the BIGGEST fan of 12-volt systems but I have to say, you can't have it both ways. Either your restoration is back to original, or it isn't... Appreciate your classic for what it is, or change it into something you really want and need... </div></div> Joel was looking for pro's and con's, but the final decision is totally up to him. Some guys restore to original, never take the car out, and spend their life polishing it in the garage. Other restorers build to sell their fine craftsmanship, since many owners cannot restore. I restore for my own enjoyment, and I never restore to sell it to someone else. (I could probably buy one cheaper than doing my own work.) My cars are meant to be enjoyed until the end of my days. What anyone does with them after I'm gone, is up to them. Life is a ride. We might as well enjoy it in classic style.

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Well said. I have always maintained that if you wanted to light your cigar with a $100. bill, that was your choice and o.k. with me.

I have over 84,000 miles since 1984 on a 1928 Buick that has been converted to a pick up truck. I use it for a truck and drive it day or night without any real problems with the electrical system.

All my connections are soldered and I have an extra wire into the inside of the headlight bucket that runs through the conduit and is solddered to the frame for a ground. I have bright headlights with a 6 volt bulb.

I did have a converter to run the ham radio but the cell phone made that obsolete. It worked fine while I used it.

You can always try the 6 volt and if you are not happy with it, make the change after you drive the car a bit.

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6 volt or 12volt?

I have driven 11,000 miles on the 1936 Mclaughlin Buick I restored in 2000.It usually starts [6v] instantly.If not I take the breather off and hand choke [palm over carb] and move throttle linkage.Make sure OUT OF GEAR.I use quartz halogen bulbs for distance and a pair of 6 volt accessory lights on front bumper wired to high beam switch.This gives more than enough lights for dark rainy nights.I have a volume chamber [looks like an oil filter] for the vacuum wipers.Eliminates wipers stopping when accelerating.I recently installed a 6 volt alternator as I was having trouble finding a good voltage regulator.I installed alternator in an hour with parts cost of $110.

I see no reason to convert to 12 volts.

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Hey,Joel you have helped me alot with the idea of wood framing in a car, let me see if I can help here. It dosen't matter if you use a 6 volt or 12 volt system, both will work fine if you use proper wiring and pay attention to all of your connections. In the not to distant future you will start seeing 36 volt systems. The voltage is relitive to the systems in the vehicle. The 12 volt system has now reached it's limit and the voltage will go up. I would suggest that since you realy want a correct car, build a correct car. If you use the 6 volt system and decide you need a 12 volt starting system all you need to do is install a 12 volt generater and battery and install a 6 volt converter under the dash to run all your 6 volt systems that way you don't have to worry about changing bulbs or if your gauges will handle 12 volts. Then for originality or resale all you need to do is change out the battery, starter and remove the converter. I would try the 6 volt system first you may be supprised.

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Hey everyone. I just finished converting my '50 to a 6 Volt alternator. I'm an electrical idiot, so I did need some help from the good people here. I bought the alternator from Fifth Avenue Internet Garage. It's a made in America unit and it wasn't cheap. Cost with an adjustable mounting braked was just under $300 delivered. Seems to be very good quality!

Since the idea was to get the charging system working great and not getting into a 12V conversion, adding a/c or anything else, the 6V alternator made a lot of sense. It wasn't a matter of starting though. I've been amazed at how long I can crank that 6V battery. It was the other areas. The dim lights; the discharging at idle; the really dim dash lights, etc. And it seems you really can't charge a 6V correctly making short runs around town, which I do a lot.

Well, all I can say is WOW, what a difference. My lights are as bright as my Corvette. Even at idle with the lights on there isn't a discharge. The car even seems to run better. It was well worth it to me. And, the best part is it can be easily returned to stock for any future reason.

Just my .02 cents.

Gary

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Joel,

I have both, a 37 Coupe converted to 12V and a 37 80c Roadmaster still on 6V. The 12V conversion was done professionally, rewinding the coils of the generator and the solenoid. Everything looks original, the starter turns quite a bit faster and replacement batteries are cheaper.

Other than that, no difference. My Roadmaster starts on 6V as reliably and since I am not driving extensively at night, the dim headlights are not really the issue.

Maybe one little drawback for 6V is that I haven´t found yet auxiliary fans for the radiator that run on 6V. The engine is easily overheating at outside temperatures above 90F, as soon as it gets a bit hilly.

If you haven´t got this problem, stay on 6V and spare yourself quite a bit of headache.

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  • 10 months later...

I agree totally with keeping the car as original as possible but it has been mentioned that the cars did not have many of the new options of today. I have a 1953 Mercury Convertible with a two way power seat, power windows and a power top. Needless to say with all of these electrical options, the 6 volt battery and generator are marginal at best, especially with it comes time to put the top up or down. I am converting the car over to 12 volt but as always retaining all of the original components to allow for a retro refit if I so decide. I will be using a 12 volt generator as I agree that the appearance of an alternator is a bit too obvious. I will admit the dual voltage battery or two 6 volts in series is an interesting option….

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In response to chstickl, there are indeed some 6V fans available out there. Here is one link: http://www.macsradiator.com/6voltelectricfan.aspx

In my first 36 I was all set to convert to 12V but it got pretty involved and the project ultimately stalled. I swapped cars for a Canadian car that I thought was much further along than my project car and I am going to keep this one 6V. It starts and runs on the 6V although it doesn't turn over real fast. I rebuilt the fuel system and that really helped with starting. I am a bit concerned about heat and expect I will add a 6V pusher fan soon.

Jeff

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If you are running some accessories and doing a lot of night driving install a 6 volt alternator. You can install a one wire unit which totally bypasses your original voltae regualtor (which you can leave mounted for appearance sake). I have used one for 15 or 16 years and have never regretted it. After about three minutes driving my battery is fully charged and it dosen't matter high or low beams or at an idle the ammeter is at 0.

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