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41 SSE Starting Problems


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Hello all!

With summer here I was hoping to start taking my 41 SSE fastback out to some local cruises and shows here in the Fairfax VA area, but as misfortune would have it, nothing ever quite goes by plan.

For the past year or so I've noticed that after driving my 41 for a few miles and shut it off, when I get back in and turn the key to the on position and try to engage the gas pedal starter I get....nothing, not a click not a whirr, zilch.

The gas gauge comes on and all the electronics function normally so I don't think the battery is at fault here. After I let it sit for an hour or two and hop back in everything is fine and it starts. The interesting thing is that it does not do this when I start it and let it idle. I can start it, back it into the driveway, shut it off, hop back it and it fires right up.

After doing some research on here and in the shop manual I have a theory that it might have to do with the vacuum starter switch and when driving, it gets enough pressure from the manifold to close the switch, but after prolonged driving it gets stuck and thinks that the car is still "running" cutting out the starter even after I shut it off. I've noticed some light seepage around the carburetor gaskets for the past couple of years and wonder if that is somehow screwing with the vacuum that goes into the carbs.

I'm interested to see what other theories are out there and what the possible solution may be. Carb rebuilds? Rebuilding the starter switch? :confused:(Although I haven't really seen too many parts out there for the switch and from the shop manual diagram it looks, ummm, intimidating.)

I would be most grateful for any help and advice you all can provide. Hope to see some of you out on the roads this summer!

Tim Romans

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I would start by cleaning the battery terminals, both the wires and the terminals. As part of this process I would try to wiggle the terminals slightly before removing them, to see if they are loose. Sometimes when terminals on top post batteries are cleaned too much, the battery cable terminals become too large and a thin layer of corrosion can form. Don't roughouse em, You don't want to rip a terminal out of the battery, just check to see if you can rock the battery cable on the top post.

Then, I would do the same on the solenoid. Solenoids can deteriorate and not make connection when hot from engine operation. But I can't recall anyone with a straight eight reporting that problem. Mostly this occurs in the V8's where the starter is nestled against the engine abd next to the exhaust manifold.

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Sounds like the vacuum starter switch.

Next time it happens, touch a short piece of wire to the two terminals on the vacuum switch and see if it starts. If it does, then that's your problem! The vacuum switch can be taken apart and cleaned, but the diaphrams get brittle with age. We cleaned ours for the 39, and it improved considerably, but will play up every now and then. Keep the wire in your glove compartment for emmergencies!

Cheers

Grant

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Just an override, or bypass. The power, with few if any exceptions, is from the battery circuit, to the ignition switch to the carb switch, to the starter relay. It is energizing the starter relay[or solonoid][sp?] which connects the battery to the starter. Hope I did not muddy the waters.

Ben

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I used that wire trick several times when I first got my '41 Century (before I disassembled the whole thing). The vacuum starter switch tended to act up when the engine was hot. When I order a new wiring harness, I'm going to add a circuit with a hidden button under the dash, just in case. The pedal switch will operate as normal, but if I ever get in a jam, I'll have the bypass ready to go. Nothing more embarrassing than trying to leave a show and having to jury-rig your newly restored car to get it running...

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My 40 Roadmaster starts fine with the gas pedal 99% of the time. Once in a while after it has started and been shut off a few minutes, the gas pedal start method does not work. No click or anything just like you are experiencing. The car had a back-up push button already installed when I got the car, and this will start it up just fine when the gas pedal start does not work. I installed a new wiring harness and kept the push button for the few times it won't start the normal way.

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  • 3 weeks later...

First, I want to thank all of you who replied. My apologies for being incommunicado as I was waiting on parts/time. I ran a wire from one terminal to the other on the vacuum switch a couple of weeks ago, hopped in and flipped on the on switch. The starter immediately started turning but quickly ran out of juice. Battery was dead as a doornail and been having problems with it keeping charge for the past few months. So, I decided I'd get a new battery and new cables and terminals, 0 gauge, nice, clean, and shiny. Hooked everything up yesterday and man, it started right up from a cold start. Took it around the block on my usual test route for an evening drive, parked it in the garage (lesson learned from having to push it from the driveway to the garage before) and shut it off. I crossed my fingers, flipped the switch back on, so far so good, gas gauge came on so starter circuit complete. I pressed on the pedal and.....nothing...as the crickets chirped :mad:

I'm pretty convinced by now, especially after reading some of the replies to this thread that the vacuum switch is the culprit after all.

Now, I have to confess that I'm pretty inexperienced when it comes to messing with the wiring. I really like the idea of wiring up a button as a permanent back up. I have a button lying around here from one of my dad's 40 Fords that I can use, but can any of you diagram/walk me through what I need to do to set up a backup push button starter switch? Thank you in advance.

Well, I was going hook up a 6V electric fuel pump this summer as I had vapor lock issues when I lived in CO a few years ago, but at this point, I just want to get back on the road before summer's over...

Cheers!

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Nice looking car Tim! And happy 4th to you as well!

Have you taken the switch apart and cleaned it out? There's a vacuum passage that can block up, perventing the diaphram from releasing. If the diaphram's gone hard, then there's not much you can do with that, other than get a new one off eBay or somewhere. I'm surprised no-one makes them! Maybe another job for Magrath's Automobilia?!!

As far as rigging a switch up, all you want to do is run a wire from each terminal to a button mounted under your dash. Press the button, and it's the same as jumping the terminals with wire, only less embarassing at shows as Matt says!

Cheers

Grant

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Interestingly there is one of those 41 SSEs here in NZ, with right hand drive. Probably quite a rare variant I guess. I remember seeing it in junkyard nearly 40 years ago before it was restored. I knew the guy who restored it and its subsequent owner. Not sure who owns it now, I haven't seen it for a couple years. Last time I saw it, it had had new taller rear end gears fitted, out of something GM from the 1950s I believe.

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hello i am having the same problem with my 39 buick special with a straight 8.my battery is full y charged and when i hit the starter pedal nothing.so from what i have been reading as far as using a switch to by pass,are you talking about the wires that are on the back of the carburator?

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Yes, they are talking about the wires on the carburetor. On my '49 Super, sometimes the steel ball in the starter switch gets stuck and car will not crank. A simple whack on the side of the carburetor usually gets it going--until I can find time to take it all apart and clean it out. Just don't whack the bakelite portion of the starter switch because it is brittle and will break.

Pete Phillips, BCA #7338

Leonard, TX

1949 model 56S

1949 model 59

1950 model 76R

1954 model 48D

1959 Electra 2-dr ht.

1962 Electra 225 4-dr. ht.

1963 Wildcat conv.

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Interestingly there is one of those 41 SSEs here in NZ, with right hand drive. Probably quite a rare variant I guess. I remember seeing it in junkyard nearly 40 years ago before it was restored. I knew the guy who restored it and its subsequent owner. Not sure who owns it now, I haven't seen it for a couple years. Last time I saw it, it had had new taller rear end gears fitted, out of something GM from the 1950s I believe.

Is that the maroon one with the number plate "SLOPER"? If it is, it's around the corner from my parents in Burwood, right in the middle of the red zone!!

Cheers

Grant

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That sounds like it. As far as I know it is the only one around here and maybe in NZ. I guess it was probably imported post WW2. If you were to look at its registration card on the windscreen it will probably only show a first registration date from the 1970s when it was restored.

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maybe i misunderstood but i put a jumper on the two terminals on the carburator and hit the pedal and nothing not even a click.i disconnected the wires that were on the carburator to run the jumper.was i suppose to leave those two wires on also?thanks

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Yeah, those wires have to stay on.

What you do is switch your ignition switch on, get a 4-5" piece of wire, and touch each end to the terminals on the carb starter switch. It should turn over. No need to use the accelerator. A bit of throttle would help as well if it's cold.

Cheers

Grant

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i jumped the wires as described and it did the same slow moan with out starting.fully charged battery.clean and new thick cables.i took the starter to two rebuilders and they said it was ok.i think i will send it out to be rebuilt.any places in the new england area that works on these old starters?when i turn it over it clicks then trys to spin then clicks and so on. thanks

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Many thanks Grant, Pete, and the rest of you guys! I'm going to try and get the switch off in order to gently clean it. I've been looking at it for the past day or so. Any tips on how to remove the switch (I have the Carter setup?) I see three screws, one for each pole and the other I assume is for the coil and plunger at the end of the switch. Once I have it clean, I'm going to go ahead with rigging up the secondary button starter. I like having that extra bit of insurance, especially since I plan on taking the kids with me to a few shows. Cheers!

Tim

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No worries Tim! We have the Stromberg, so I can't offer any tips, but I can rcommend putting a towel over the engine and under where you're working to catch any stray screws and washers, etc. I would be vey gentle with the brittle diaphram, and use carb cleaner or similar with a tube on the nozzle to clear any blocked vacuum passages.

Buick39, are your battery cables tight, and battery water all good? Sorry if these things seem a bit obvious, but I've been caught before. Unless your starter bushings and brushes are really worn, sometimes you can get away with a good cleaning of the commutator and brushes. I had a battery that wasn't showing any charge on the ammeter, and a good clean of the generator commutator had it running like new. I use CRC CO Contact cleaner here in NZ.

Cheers

Grant

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No problem Buicks 39. You may be having the same problem I'm having with the vacuum starter switch. If two shops gave the starter a clean bill of health, I'd say there's a good chance the problem may not be with the starter. When you try to jump it again (with the wires on the carb and the jumper) you should hear the starter whirr into action when you flip the switch on. I did this a few weeks ago and success, but discovered that my battery was bad at the same time. If not, the problem lies elsewhere. Even though the starter itself may be good, the solenoid may be dirty/wore out which could interrupt current from getting to the starter. Check all your wires for breaks and abrasions, I know on the 41' if you turn the switch on and the gas gauge registers you have a complete circuit. You can probably get a replacement solenoid with a core swap pretty easily and if you want to go through with rebuilding your starter, there's an ad in the Buick section of Hemmings for a place that rebuilds starters (maybe they even have vacuum switches?) I can look up the info if you like, my current issue of Hemmings is around here somewhere, I think my son grabbed it...Hope you get your 39 started up soon.

Cheers!

Tim

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hi tim all my gauges register also.all the motor wiring is new and everything is tight.i think i will remove the starter and clean and check what ever i can. i have a hemmings book so thanks for the offer.i have a feeling it is the battery,it is 4 years old so maybe its time for a new one.thanks joe

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well put a new battery in and started right up,took for a 5 mile ride shut it off and guess what.had to wait about an hour and it started up.i have the original generator on this car.has anyone used a one wire alternator and if so is it a simple change? thanks

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That doesn't sound like a generator problem to me--if it weren't charging, an hour cool off wouldn't make a difference and the battery would still be flat. Did it flat-out refuse to crank after the drive (electrical problem), or did it simply refuse to start (possibly fuel or electrical problem)?

I suspect you have a bad ground, which is often exacerbated by high temperatures (resistance goes up with temperature), and combined with your starter switch problem it is making it appear that your electrical system is weak. What does the ammeter on the dash say while you're driving? If it shows a charge, the generator is working--these are very reliable gauges and don't "mis-read". They either work or they don't, so if yours is working and showing a charge, the generator and regulator are probably good. It should drop to near 0 when you apply the brakes or turn on the headlights, and show a positive charge while you're driving with everything off.

Also, how big are your battery cables? On a 6 volt car, you can't use the puny ones you get from the auto parts store, you need to use at least 0-gauge cable, the bigger the better. That starter draws A LOT of amperage and a small cable won't feed it enough. Your car is acting like a classic case of bad ground/wires too small.

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So let me get this straight. The car started ok with the new battery, but when you shut it down, you had to wait an hour before you could start it again? Is that because when you used the starter (accelerator pedal), you got nothing? Or was the car turning over, but wouldn't fire? Or did the battery go flat on you while driving? Is the ammeter showing a charge when the car is being driven? Battery cables tight? Sorry for so many questions, but I really want to help if I can!

Cheers

Grant

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the gauge was reading in the + when running.after i tryed to start it after the run it was barely cranking so i let it sit so i wouldn't kill the battery,but i bet if i put a jump on the battery she would have fired right up.the cables are tight and are heavy duty. i did notice however that the gauges were going side to side and not steady.again from looking at the generator tag it looks to be original.this car sat in a garage for twenty five years before i bought it 5 years ago and in that 5 years i put about 50 miles on it.i have two 70s pontiacs that i take out alot and im just getting around to getting the buick running right.i guess im using the process of elimination method with now blaming thr generator.thanks

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I have the same problem with the 38. Starts great cold, drives well, but shut it down to get gas, and it barely cranks. After cooling down for a while it'll fire right up. Earth problem.

I think we can rule out your generator. As Matt says, if the ammeter is working, it should be charging. You may want to check where the earth cable attaches to the car, and give it a bit of a clean up. Sometimes they can get a bit frayed as well which won't help.

Cheers

Grant

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