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1936 Buick High Way Speed Question


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Hello all,

Hello All, Spring and Summer is on it's way!!:o

This is a quick question regarding the 1936 Buick Special series 40. I usually drive the car about 10 miles round trip (location where I live) to car shows and weekend drives. I usually keep the speed of the car around 45 to 50mph, does that “hurt” the Buick since they are geared so low 50mph seems to really have high rpms where as my 1949 Buick Super Series 50 seems to curse fine at 50 to 60mph (Dynaflow).

Thanks

Robert

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Not a Buick guy, but I can not imagine that cruising at 60 mph should represent a problem beyond eating more gasoline. By the time 1936 rolled around many if not most highways paved with concrete or asphalt in this country had a posted speed limit of 60 mph. If that old girl could take 60 mph in 1936, she'll still take it today if maintained and in good working order.

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I had a chart with the rpm vs road speed for the 1934 Series 40 which has a 4.33:1 rear end. This model develops peak power at 3200rpm and that is around 60mph. The 1936 Series 40 has a 4.44:1 rear end - which was used right through the rest of the 1930s I think - and would consequently rev a little harder again - which is why straight eights sound so busy at highway speeds. It all depends on what revs you feel comfortable running your engine at. None of these old cars have the lazy overdrive ratios found in moderns.

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Thanks for the replys! I know that back in the 80s I had a 1987 nissan which no over drive and at highway speeds it too was very busy sounding. My 1994 sentra had OD and was a lot quieter.

I just keep the old girl between 45 and 50mph. But Even that SOUNDS busy! AS Long as I'm not doing it any harm. Oil pressure is around 30 hot and temp is around 160 - 180. It,s Just so noisy, I'm working on Redoing the floor and installing some sound deadener.

Thanks again, I probably should ride in more cars from that era!

Robert

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Hi Robert,

If it makes you feel any better I bought my 1937 Special in Maine back in the 70's and drove it on the interstates home to Ohio at the speed limits only stopping for gas and food. Heat riser stuck and blew the exhaust off on the New York Thruway, other than that no harm was done. I should add I do take it a little easier on it now, we're both a little older.

Carl

Edited by 1937-44 (see edit history)
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Hello Carl,

Wow:eek:, really, I wouldn’t think those old drive trains could handle interstate speeds. Mind you that this is a Series 40 93bhp engine. Not the Century or the Road master which is claimed to go about 100mph. This engine also has about 92k miles on it which I believe is a lot for them.

I wonder how many miles these engines could go with the old oil back in the day if maintained correctly. This engine never had an oil filter, but I cleaned out and took apart the engine and put new rings in. Never touched the rod bearings or valve guides. Does burn oil on startup but clears up after it's warmed up. No smoke when driving.

Robert

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Robert,

I was much younger then, perhaps young and dumb. Back in the day we would make the run between Cleveland, Ohio and Alfred, Maine in one day and at the time didn't really see why the 1937 couldn't do it.

Mine is a 1937 Special, Buick did change the engines some between 1936 and 1937, but not all that much just a few "improvements" I think. Mine still has the same 248 I think 100 hp engine in it now that it had then. Not sure how many miles it actually has on it but I still drive it 50-55 on occasion, but for shorter distances. Engine is untouched with the exception of a valve job I did on it a couple years ago. Mine never had an oil filter on it either, and as the bottom end hasn't been touched I still run non detergent.

Back in the day 100,000 was probably a lot of miles without some maintenance, but oils are better and we don't abuse them as much as they did anymore.

You have a great car, enjoy it.

Carl

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Hey Carl, the only thing that concerns me with this car is that in the summer I tend to have lower oil pressure than what the book calls for. Book says 45lbs, but I get 30lbs hot in the summer. But the engine never runs hot, so I don’t know if the gauge is not as accurate because of age. Also, it starts easy too leading me to believe that the oil is getting where it needs to. My Idle oil pressure is around 20 to 25lbs hot. Cold, it jumps right up to about 40 45lbs. Is this normal for these old engines.

My ’49 runs high oil pressure cold and as it too warms up the needle stays more to Normal or under normal at idle. My dad and other people tell me not to worry about it. I run 30weight and use a little of the oil stabilizer about a quart to boost oil pressure.

Thanks for your replies I really enjoy driving the car almost more than the '49. It is a fun car! Small too compaired to the Super. :D

Robert

P.S. Check out the videos on youtube of both cars... enjoy.

oldcarnut1980's Channel - YouTube

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Hi Robert,

You have some nice looking cars. Haven't had a chance to check out all the videos yet, but looking forward to seeing the rest.

To be honest my car has been somewhat incapacitated the last two years (long story) and I don't really remember where the pressure is on the gauge. I do remember my pressure is not as good as yours at idle when hot. Wish mine was that high and I've been told by a number of people not to worry about mine and basically I don't. Long as I don't hear any clattering going on.

Carl

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Seems to me what we are missing here is that these ol straight eights by no means lacked the power to run cars at 60 -- or well over 120 mph, heck, it would scarcely be a load on em. The problem is the gear ratios. Even with superior oils, one has the problem of pounding the babbitt out of the bearings in trying to achieve freeway speeds. If you look at the bore and stroke ratios as part of the all-around gear ratio computation, it becomes clear why it is so hard on these old torque-monsters to make road speed with higher rpms, even straight through in high gear. I hope this makes sense. For that matter, I hope it is sensible.

Perry in Idaho

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The problem, as I see it, is the differential gear ratios. My 48 Special came with a 4.45 to 1 rear and it was very busy at 45 MPH. The 49 Buick with Dynaflow mentioned above probably has a 3.60 to 1 ratio and that is why it can do 60 MPH comfortably.

I had the pumpkin in my 48 changed to a 3.41 to 1 ratio and now I can comfortably cruise at 55-60 MPH. Of course, I am always mindful of the need to leave enough room to stop safely.

I have thought about why Buick kept using these 4.45 rear ends and I come up with only two reasons that seem plausible:

1. Buick was, of course, in the business of making money and by keeping the 4.45 rear ends they could save on fabrication costs over producing new ones. Possibly the same reason why they kept the straight eight so long after others had gone to V-8's.

2. Buick did not offer an automatic transmission until 1948 and then only on the Roadmaster. With the 4.45 to 1 ratio I found I could drive nearly everywhere around locally without having to shift unless I had to stop at a light.

I would be interested in hearing any other thoughts on this.

Joe, BCA 33493

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2. Buick did not offer an automatic transmission until 1948 and then only on the Roadmaster. With the 4.45 to 1 ratio I found I could drive nearly everywhere around locally without having to shift unless I had to stop at a light.

I think you hit the nail on the head there, Joe. When these cars were new, there were no highways, at least not as we know them today. There may have been some brief stretches where 60 MPH was the speed limit, but most cars were used for around-town driving, and as you say, the ease of use with minimal shifting was a virtue. Even long road trips, as I'm sure a few members will confirm, were generally done on side roads and rural routes where speeds of 45-50 were comfortable. Interstate travel was much, much different before the 1950s. Heck, if you were going to another state, you were more likely to take a train than your car.

I'm a big fan of listening to the engine and giving it what it wants. The '36 Special will run at 60 MPH, but is probably happier at 50-55, why not run at that speed? Keep right, be courteous, try to avoid rush hour and you'll find that most folks will give you plenty of leeway. The extra 10 MPH really won't save any substantial time from a trip, and you'll be able to relax and enjoy it instead of worrying about pounding those bearings to mush at high RPM. Although my '29 Cadillac will run at 60, it's really happiest at, say, 52 MPH, so I try to keep it there and let everyone else do their thing.

Enjoy!

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Yea, that’s sounds about right. I don’t do anymore that 50mph with both my Buicks. As you said, I like to sit back and enjoy the ride, heck it’s half the fun getting to where you’re going in my opinion. Sometimes if I have a little extra gas $$ I try to find a reason to go somewhere and if not drive in a 10 mile circle.

Robert

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In response to: JFranklin:

If your knock goes away when it warms than I would suggest it is piston slap. If it is ticking then it would be valve adjustment.<!-- google_ad_section_end -->

Thanks for the info,

Piston slap, that could be the case, because when it’s cold out 30 degrees or so, it’s loud enough to notice and once it warms up, the sounds seems to die down and then go way. In the summer, you can hear a little slap on acceleration. But it does not sound harmful and really l am told I should not be too concerned since it’s not a daily driver. Any advice. Engine runs smooth and starts on two cranks.

Some videos I have on hear may have the audible sounds during shifting you can hear it.

Robert

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My '38 is strictly around town. I don't have anywhere I really wanna go on the highway with it. But occassionally I might be, or on a high-speed secondary road, and sometimes I'll get all "courageous" (Ha!) and take 'er up to 60, or just a little over. It really smooths out and honestly rides so nice at that speed, and engine RPM too. Through the firewall things sound much more like a high pressure rush of air, not moving parts. Buuuuut then I get to thinking of those long rods flying around at that speed, and listening close it sounds "busy" as others have said. Then I slow the hell down.

I can't believe peak HP is at 3200. I don't think I've ever spun mine that fast once. So what's the redline, 4 grand? Ha! See ya later connecting rods!...

I'd love to build up a hot-rod straight 8 with a stout bottom end JUST so I could rev it to 4-5 grand like an engine 30-40 years newer. That alone would help with acceleration, and top end cruising speed, provided you don't mind listening to it. It's not funky noises that bother me....it's knowing they are symptoms of something BAD that bothers me!

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Shoot you can run a properly restored Model A at 60 to 65 MPH - if you properly restored it to factory. That is how I drive em.

So you are worried about running your modern iron at 50??????

Dude if it is not comfy running that fast then I would question how good it was restored. So many do not really restore their cars to factory specs in the drive line. I have even seen $150,000 cars that looked pretty anywhere you looked on top- the bottom still had 70 years of dirt hanging off- with paint on it!!!

Our 1939 Ford with a little 60 HP was happy all day long wound out at 60+ MPH. It hated parades.

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Yep, have to agree with prs519. The only way a Model A would cruise at 60-65 mph is with a modern overdrive (my Dad has one in an A and it will cruise comfortably at 55). With stock ratio top speed at the very best was 65. That was the top speed stated by Ford.

My 36 Chevrolet with 4:11 ratio cruises comfortably at 50 (there is even a red indicator on the speedmeter at the 50 mph mark). 45 is even better. I will occassionally cruise it at 55, but don't like to do so for long. I've had it close to 70 mph in the past. Supposedly, they would do 80, but at that speed I would expect a rod to appear out of the side of the block at most anytime:eek:.

As others have mentioned, roads in the 30's normally wouldn't allow sustained high cruising speeds, and in America, most folks liked to get in high gear and stay there. The 36 Chevy will idle down to 5 mph in high gear on level ground, and with its torquey engine, pull on out without any problem.

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...I can't believe peak HP is at 3200. I don't think I've ever spun mine that fast once. So what's the redline, 4 grand? Ha! See ya later connecting rods!

It is my understanding that exceeding the RPM for peak HP is considered "over speeding" and will generally result in reduced life. Actually, you probably want to keep the RPM a couple hundred below that, say 3000 RPM. I would figure out the road speed that 3000 RPM works out to on your car and use it as a "not to exceed" value for long life.

And long life in the old days was considerably shorter than what is expected today. Some of that is due to better lubricants and the fact that few cars are driven long distances on dirt roads nowadays. But some of that is just they've gotten better at building engines than way back then. So don't expect to get 200,000 miles out of it.

The fog is getting a little thick, here. I dare say finding a machinist who recommends driving a Model A for long at 65 miles an hour would be difficult! They were NOT meant to be run that fast!

Perry

I guess if you retrofitted it with a counterbalanced crank, aluminium pistons and pressurised lubrication.... :)

Yep, have to agree with prs519. The only way a Model A would cruise at 60-65 mph is with a modern overdrive (my Dad has one in an A and it will cruise comfortably at 55). With stock ratio top speed at the very best was 65. That was the top speed stated by Ford.

My 36 Chevrolet with 4:11 ratio cruises comfortably at 50 (there is even a red indicator on the speedometer at the 50 mph mark). 45 is even better. I will occasionally cruise it at 55, but don't like to do so for long. I've had it close to 70 mph in the past. Supposedly, they would do 80, but at that speed I would expect a rod to appear out of the side of the block at most anytime. :eek:

As others have mentioned, roads in the 30's normally wouldn't allow sustained high cruising speeds, and in America, most folks liked to get in high gear and stay there. The 36 Chevy will idle down to 5 mph in high gear on level ground, and with its torquey engine, pull on out without any problem.

Lots of good points.

Another one is that there was enough difference in engine designs between manufacturers in that era that you shouldn't assume that just because one '36 vintage car can comfortably run hours on end at 65 MPH that all of them could.

At that time on the low end of the market there were cars with full pressure feed lubrication, fully balanced crankshafts with thin shell bearing inserts, aluminium pistons, etc. in designs that were used into the post-war freeway era. Cars with those engines can cruise all day at 60 to 65 MPH. There were other manufacturers who had unbalanced cranks with fewer main bearings, poured babbit rods with heavy pistons all lubricated by splash systems. Those cars, perfectly serviceable for the general highways of that era, will be very unhappy trying to maintain anything close to 60 MPH.

Basically you should know enough about your car's design and current condition to decide how fast you can push it. For myself, the suspension and braking systems on my '33 are more of a limit than the engine. And it is a heck of a lot more fun to be driving 35 to 45 MPH on back roads than 60 on a main highway.

Edited by ply33 (see edit history)
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[quote name=ZondaC12;995034

I can't believe peak HP is at 3200. I don't think I've ever spun mine that fast once. So what's the redline' date=' 4 grand? Ha! See ya later connecting rods!...

I'd love to build up a hot-rod straight 8 with a stout bottom end JUST so I could rev it to 4-5 grand like an engine 30-40 years newer. That alone would help with acceleration, and top end cruising speed, provided you don't mind listening to it. It's not funky noises that bother me....it's knowing they are symptoms of something BAD that bothers me!

According to all of the published information, the early 233 straight eights (1934-36) develop peak hp at 3200 rpm, the later 248s do it at 3600rpm and the last 320 Roadmasters with the four barrel carb in 1952 develop peak hp at 3800 rpm. As I noted earlier they all sound busy when the revs get up. Remember too that the engine is not as isolated from the driver as it is in a modern. NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) is something that has inproved in leaps and bounds over the last 50 years.

Most older cars are easy to drive by 'the seat of your pants' because you can 'feel' the revs. In contrast, the 1918 Twin Six Packard I drove once had so much going on under the hood that it was very difficult to judge gear changes etc.

The main reason a straight eight would struggle to survive at 4000 plus rpm is its combination of long stroke and long whippy crankshaft. Most early big T-head 6 cylinder engines are not safe over about 1500 rpm because the crank gets to be like a dog shaking its tail - the front half gets out of phase with the back.

Edited by nzcarnerd (see edit history)
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I have a 37 Pontiac, and I doubt I will ver take it out on the interstate like it is today. From what I understand, these Pontiacs came with 3 different gear ratios. One was for driving in basically flat land, one was for hilly and flat, while the third one was for mountain driving. Unfortunately, since my car came from Montana, I believe that the ratio on mine is for mountain driving. At 35 MPH, I keep wanting to switch it into 4th gear! Like others have said, in 3rd gear, I can drive just about any speed (if not too fast) as long as the car is still moving. I took it up to 55 one time, but the engine was God-awful busy. Since mine has the original 6 cylinder 85 HP engine, I fear pushing it too much.

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My '47 Super had the original 444 rear end when I first bought it and it I could feel the engine working pretty hard above 55 mph. I switched to a 390 and it's a different car. I can easily maintain freeway speeds here in So CA without worrying about the effect on the engine. Back in the 30's and 40's cruising speed was 45-50 mph. The original gearing on these cars was never designed to cruise all day at freeway speeds. I find the car to be very comfortable at 60-65 mph. At only 50 mph you become a road hazard on the So CA freeways. Switch to a 390 or even a 360; driving will be much easier.

Sid Munger

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I have a friend that has a "39 Buick Special with the same problem,slow,slow,slow! It maxes out at about 45 mph. I can't understand why they geared these cars so low. Maybe the engine doesn't have enough power. Someone mentioned about replacing the stock ring and pinion with one from a Century. Does anyone know if a Century gear set will bolt into a Special diff. or are the carriers different size? Any Info?

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I have a friend that has a "39 Buick Special with the same problem,slow,slow,slow! It maxes out at about 45 mph. I can't understand why they geared these cars so low. Maybe the engine doesn't have enough power. Someone mentioned about replacing the stock ring and pinion with one from a Century. Does anyone know if a Century gear set will bolt into a Special diff. or are the carriers different size? Any Info?

I am surprised that a car as late as '39 would max out at 45 MPH unless it is in bad mechanical condition.

That said, speeds were lower back then. The maximum speed limit in Ohio in 1939 was 35 MPH. And in 1941 there were a number of states that had a maximum speed limit of 40 MPH. On the other had there were some back then with 60 MPH maximum speed limits or "reasonable and proper" as the official maximum speed.

Plymouth First Decade: How Fast Should I Drive?

As I wrote, I am surprised that an upscale car like a Buick built as late as '39 would not be fast enough to kept up with the maximum posted speed limits in a number of states when it was only two years old.

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I know that the manufactures would put different gear ratios in cars depending on where they would be sold. Our area is rather mountainous as even a straight 8 would not pull the hills with hi-way gears. I'm told that the Century got it's name because it was touted to be able to hit 100MPH. Don't know if that is true.

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The fog is getting a little thick, here. I dare say finding a machinist who recommends driving a Model A for long at 65 miles an hour would be difficult! They were NOT meant to be run that fast!

Perry

Mr. A by the Sea is right, Ford Co. says in it's Sales literature, about 60 M.P.H. speeds. But what most people don't know about the Model A Ford, is all its parts were Factory Balanced, and balance is the best thing you can do for longevity, and High R.P M. These days some engine builders, you either don't get balanced anything, or a kick in the A#$ Job.

We rebuilt the babbitt rods, and Mains in a 1932 Plymouth Coupe that was in the China, to France race, this last time. They had a low rear end ratio, that would only get them 50 M.P.H. top speed, and that is where they run it, for a little under 10,000 miles total, race, and break in. They had no trouble with anything.

They checked all bearings when they got back to the U.S., and all was OK, so they will run another race this year in Ca. some place.

Boys, you can't blame babbitt bearing failure on wore out bearings, Poorly redone bearings, or poor engine rebuilding work.

By the way, So called Piston Slap, is caused by Connecting Rods out of alignment, or the crank shaft not centered in the block properly.

Also if a crank is reground, many shops center the crank on the front, and Rear main, Guys, the mains are wore, you can't center on anything that is wore, and hit the center line of the crank, and that has to be done that way. If the center line is off .005 thousandths on the rear flange, the flywheel hanges off .005 more, and thats makes everything out of balance.

You have to center on the od of the flywheel flange in the rear, and where the gear goes in the front of the crank, and you have to pull the gear for that, or the gears won't match, or the front seals will be off center, Ect.

If an engine holds back on R.P.M's, and you know everything was done right in the engine rebuild, you know your problem is Balance, because an unbalanced engine at high R.P.M, doesn't have a chance!

thanks Herm.

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We bought a 1933 Pierce-Arrow back in 1960 and drove it back to Rochester, NY from Boston at around 60 mph most of the way. A couple years later we attended the Pierce meet at Mt Washington. Coming home we opened it up to 65 to 70 until it blew a head gasket. Fortunately had a spare under the rear seat but there are a lot of head bolts on that straight 8 !!

They were made to run right along, and if the bearings and other engine components are in good shape there is no harm in driving them the way they were meant to be driven.

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Back before automatic transmissions cars were made to do EVERYTHING in high gear including idle down to 5 mph and pull away without a buck. This was the test of a quality motor. No wonder they geared them so low. Today we don't mind gearing down for a hill or in traffic. The higher speed rear axle gear is a good idea if you can get one for your car.

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The higher speed rear axle gear is a good idea if you can get one for your car.

I'd like to do just that someday on my car. The way my Pontiac is right now, I'd be afraid to push it too much. The RPMs are just too high, and now days, it is not safe to impede traffic by going much slower than the flow of traffic is going.

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I have asked myself this speed question more than once, so I picked up an original 1933 Minnesota highway map. In 1933 there were three paved highways in the state, the rest were gravel or dirt. The paved roads were Lacrosse (WI) to Rochester, LaCrosse (WI) to Minneapolis, and Rochester to Minneapolis. I would guess 50 mph was plenty fast. Anyone who has driven on gravel roads in the spring would say 35 mph is fast enough. I would love to see today’s cars try to survive those roads.

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Watch High Sierra (1941) with Ida Lupino and Bogie as Mad Dog Earl, racing steadily up the titular mountains in a well used Plymouth coupe, flathead six with modern insert bearings, pursued by a flock of late-model but hardly new CHP Buick Model 40 sedans.

Any six- or eight-cylinder engine of the era, even a GMobile, in sound mechanical shape, can cruise 50, 60 with no problem. Obviously, cars of the day were geared for flexibility in high gear, so sustained 65-70 is a workout. But if your engine develops problems after a couple miles of 65-70, you had problems to begin with.

I drove a 1940 Packard 120 cross country in 1976 at highway speed with the factory non-overdrive 4.09:1 rear axle. I then installed an overdrive and the car loafed at 70, got 22 mpg with 32 lbs. psi in the Denman bias plies i ran back then.

But even without overdrive, the car spun along just fine at 60.

So even with slightly truckier gearing in your above junior Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, et al, if you can't hold 50-55 mph, something's seriously amiss.

If your engine's never had a complete, professional rebuild since it left Detroit or Flint, what do you expect?

Edited by Water Jacket (see edit history)
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Water Jacket,

We may have had a misunderstanding. I drive my 1933 Blue Streak Sedan at 60 mph all the time, runs great. My 1929 827 hits 70 mph without hesitation. My 610 with a 188 cid 6 likes 50 mph much better.

What I was trying to say is driving 60 or 70 mph in 1933 was taking your life in your hands. Most roads were glorified field roads complete with horses and tractors with lugs all moving at about 5 mph. I am guessing a pile of Model T's backing up hills, we were still in the middle of the Great Depression so no jobs and even less new cars driving fast.

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Well, it was a 1933 Graham that Cannonball Baker drove from NYC to LA in a record time of 53 1/2 hours. That record stood for almost 4 decades. Average speed close to 60 mph which means he must have been on the far side of 80 a good percentage of the time.

And remember, his first cross country record was set in 1914. So in spite of the roads being lousy, normal traffic at a crawl, etc. there were people who pushed the limits back then.

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Well, it was a 1933 Graham that Cannonball Baker drove from NYC to LA in a record time of 53 1/2 hours. That record stood for almost 4 decades. Average speed close to 60 mph which means he must have been on the far side of 80 a good percentage of the time.

And remember, his first cross country record was set in 1914. So in spite of the roads being lousy, normal traffic at a crawl, etc. there were people who pushed the limits back then.

That was a way to make a splash and sell cars. Here are a couple of links, I am sure that there were about as many coast-to-coast runs as there were factories willing to go along with aggressive salesmen.

From L. B. Miller - King of the Lincoln Highway we find a Mr. Miller who apparently held a number of coast-to-coast records. For San Francisco to New York and back in 1927 he averaged 40 MPH in a Chrysler, in 1931 he averaged 47 MPH in a Plymouth.

In a Plymouth centric theme, in 1935 a Bob McKenzie averaged 56 MPH from NYC to LA and back. 1935 Plymouth PJ Trivia

Clearly there were some people that had the endurance to drive cars of that era long distances on what we would consider wretched roads, day and night, at high speeds. I suspect the cars were pretty well mechanically trashed after their record runs, but apparently they were tough enough to make the distance at least once.

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I was referring to the earlier posters lamenting their cars unwillingness to drive above 50 mph today, not commenting on the roads of the '30s, which were not all bad. VermontBoy, Herm111 and Ply33 are right as rain. Ford V-8s, Hudson Terraplanes, Packard 120s and other cars of the era would and will dance along at highway speeds, then and now. Pierce-Arrows, Marmon 16s, Auburn 12s, senior Packards and the like had no problem, tho' the latter, like most old cars, can benefit from higher speed axles or aftermarket overdrives today.

BTW, in response to JPage's question about '36 Buick Century. GM knew how to market automobiles. No way would a stock '36-37 Century do an honest, observed 100mph. A '38 Century did manage 100 briefly with a phalanx of anxious Buick engineers looking on with bated breath at the GM Proving Grounds. Buicks sorely needed the rare, no-cost option 3.6:1 "economy axle" available 1939-42, but only on the senior Buicks, and still far from an overdrive, something no GMobile offered 'til the '55 Chevy.

One of the wonderful things about a good-looking old car is knowing it's in strong mechanical shape and can still shake a leg now and then, even if you're content to cruise respectfully and baby it.

Edited by Water Jacket (see edit history)
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