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41 Special - no start problem!


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I have a 41 Special that sat for almost 30 years that I got running (but not fully roadable) last fall. After trying to restart it this spring I got it catch briefly and then when I tried to restart it - NOTHING! I had a fully charged battery, and checked all connections. I did notice that when I tried to accelerate, the starter tried to engage sometimes. Anyway, I concluded that the starter must have went out, so I sent it out to be rebuilt. After receiving the rebuilt starter, I reinstalled it recently and the car turned right over! after a few attempts, I had it running for about 5 seconds. Then I went to crank it again, and AGAIN NOTHING! No click from the solenoid, power to everything else.

In hindsight, I think I reversed the 2 wires going to the solenoid - should this matter? It seemed to work fine and the symptoms are the same as prior. Does anyone know how the mechanism that prevents the starter from engaging after the engine is running works? Could this problem be related and what is the cause? Did I ruin the starter or solenoid again?

Help is appreciated, thanks!!

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Concensus in an earlier thread in Pre-War Buicks was that reversing the two wires to the relay coil will not adversely affect the starter. One lead energizes the starter relay coil. The other lead talks to the generator via the voltage regulator and counter-energizes the relay coil to prevent the relay from operating when the engine is running.

First thing I did with my similarly misbehaving LaSalle was to test the lead coming from the starting switch to the starter relay coil to be sure it showed 6 volts. This is one of the wires that you spoke of connecting. Disconnect it from the starter before testing. If you're not getting 6 volts at this lead (make sure ignition is on, car is in neutral, and an assistant is operating the starter switch in the normal manner), then you have a problem upstream of the starter.

Does the '41 have the vacuum starter switch that is connected to the accelerator linkage? If so, verify that it is working properly or temporarily by-pass it. No luck? Next step is to remove the small cover over the relay coil on the starter and clean the two contact points at the end of the armature (the lever with the contact points). Now try your regular switch again. If it doesn't work, then while the cover is off the relay AND THE CAR IS IN NEUTRAL you can reach down and close the relay armature manually with your fingertip. (Just push on it--I started my LaSalle for two years this way. Stay clear of the fan and belts.) If the starter engages then the problem lies in the relay coil.

Do not assume that your starter-rebuilder-guy did anything to inspect or repair the relay coil.

If you can get access to a Motor's or Chilton's shop manual of the era you can look up the circuitry and adjustments on the starter. If the manuals are unavailable to you, send me a private message email and I'll scan and send the pages to you.

BTW--I have traded the entire starter on my LaSalle (including the defective relay coil) and a favor-to-be-redeemed for a working starter, and it starts like a champ. It took two of us three hours, half a Notrte Dame football game, and a couple of six-packs to install it, but what do you expect when our combined age is 144 years? But what a joy to start the engine from INSIDE the car!


Edited by trp3141592 (see edit history)
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Hey thanks for all the info - when I get another weekend to mess with it I'll report back! I'll have to check out the starter switch that you referred to - not sure how it works but if it is vacuum I assume that the vacuum from the engine running should keep the starter circuit open?

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Guest captbrian38

Lance, Tom is right about the relay coil, I had sent my starter to Cars Inc. for their rebuild service to the tune of about $250 and they not only didn't change it, they didn't insulate the cap over the wires and coil properly so that in shipping it grounded out to the terminals and when I went to start after installation I got nothing for starting either. Couldn't figure it out at all since I would take it back out and bench test it and it would run. Put it back in the car and it wouldnt even click. Brought it back personally on a trip to NY because they said they would look at it on the spot. When I got there it was you'll have to wait for them to send it to their rebuilder again and it was another five weeks. Go figure. Incidently I shop at Bob's now and have had great service with them. Bought all my engine rebuilding stuff from them and anything that is wrong they right and send it next day.

by the way Tom I'm running great and registered and driving my '38 after the rebuild and the problem with the starting, I had posted that back on the 38 no go on the start thread 3 days ago.

good luck, captbrian38

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Hi Brian,

GLAD to hear that you're up and running with the '38! I'm getting new tires for the '37 Roadmonster, and the LaSalle is 1/2 way through getting new shoes, so for the moment I am driving modern.

Lance--good luck with that starter! I'll bet coffee and a donut that the trouble lies in that relay coil.


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  • 3 weeks later...

Well, good news, but of course more work to be done! After sitting a few weeks, I tried starting the care again and it fired! Then, I bypassed the switch on the carb as suggested and it continued to crank until I got it started and ran! Given this continued success (I had to crank it many more times that it failed within before) and the fact that I did not have the starter engaging while pushing accelerator, I am sure that the problem was the ignition switch on the carb!

So, the good news is that I found that problem. Thanks to all for your help! The bad news is that I couldn't keep the car running well; when accelerating it wanted to die out, and then it got flooded and wouldn't restart. At one point, I wanted to verify that it was flooded, so I stuck my finger in the carb to see how much fuel was in there - lots. However, the valve at the top of the carb would not close up as much as it was prior to me sticking my finger in it.

So, my questions now are:

1) How do I fix the ignition switch on the carb?

2) Is the choke sticking likely causing the carb not to close properly?

It seems that The entire carb and starter switch could use a good cleaning and rebuilding. I am not familiar with carbs, as most cars were fuel injection by the time I starte working on cars. I did work on older cars a lot, but not on carbs.

I am thinking that since this seems to be a pretty simple one, rebuilding this carb would be a good place to start. Any thoughts?

I'd really like to get this car on the road in the spring. My dad had it since the 70's and it hasn't been on the road since the early 80's. It looks like it's all orginal - it even looks like the paint is original, and not in bad shape except for a couple of spots on the hood. The interior is also apparantly all original and in decent shape. My goal is to get it on the road and get the paint buffed out this spring and drive it this summer!

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Hi Lance,

Well, I guess I owe you coffee and a donut.

The vacuum switch is available--look on EBay, or Kantor, or save some hassle and call Bob's Automobilia. Bob's is great--no arguments, and they have nearly everything a Buick could ask for.

The carburetor can be rebuilt by any number of service vendors. Bob's may have the kit if you decide to do it for yourself. The symptoms suggest that the float is stuck open. This occurs from old gasoline turning into glue and sticking the float fuel valve in place. A sometimes-works hint is to tap (I said TAP, not clobber) the fuel bowl with a light hammer or a wrench to jar the float loose. If it works, you've saved a rebuild. If not, no loss. I got the LaSalle running one spring with this little trick.

Be sure to treat your gasoline in the tank with Sta-Bil or equal, and run the car to get the treated gas into the carburetor before putting your car up for a long period of time.

No bets this time--!


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