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1936 Buick High Way Speed Question

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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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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.

I'm not saying that my Pontiac can't do the speed, I just hate the sound of the high RPMs. I was looking over the service manual for my car last night, and I noticed that for my car (6 cyl) the peak HP is at 3600 RPMs, and at those RPMs, the car should be traveling at approx. 65 MPH. With the lower gear ration, I believe that running this car at these RPMs would NOT be good for the car, especially if I intend on keeping it to drive for a while.

It's funny, there was nothing in the book about the different gear ratios with these cars. How would I be able to find out about this? I would like to a better gear ratio to keep the RPMs down during higher speeds.

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You'll have to check with various experienced members in the Pontiac-Oakland Club to see what later, taller rear pumpkins you can use, perhaps something out of an early '50 Hydramatic Pontiac, if it'll fit, bolt right in. You'll lose some of your low end snap, but cruise with less drama. That, or an aftermarket overdrive.

Or just enjoy it as is, and be content to stay in the right lane or backroads. Be glad you don't have an MG-TC, wide open and buzzing at 78 mph razor-tuned with a tail wind.

All these old cars are survivors, and nice, yours among them.

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I should add a caveat to the 1933 Graham 64 Cannonball Baker run. The Model 64 Graham had the preproduction 1934 Supercharged 140HP straight eight, not bad for a 245 cid engine. Graham did not publicize the new engine during the run. Cannonball did say he would have been faster if he had not taken a 20 min nap. As far as I know the record stands for a single driver.

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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!

There is a world of difference between a 248 cid Special and a 320 cid Century. For 1939 the factory rear was 4.44-1, and the alternate was 3.9-1 in a Special. The Century came with 3.9-1 with an optional 3.6-1. I suspect the '36 was similar, but I haven't looked. In 1939 a Century couple, driven by Mark Light, won the first stock car race at Langhorne Speedway in PA. The Century was a very fast car. The 1936 Century was so named, because Buick said it could do an honest 100 mph.

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As posted earlier, I like to cruise my 36 Chevy with 4:11 differential at 50. I will cruise it at 55 for awhile, and would be willing to do 60 or so for several miles. We live in the Appalachian mountains with a lot of scenic, twisting roads, so it is my intent to drive on those, not interstates. The high torque engine is excellent at pulling around on these type roads.

So my intent in having an old car is to take it easy and not push it too hard. Yes, it could probably maintain 60, but the long-term pounding with the long stroke rods and heavy pistons couldn't be too good long term at that speed. The engine was recently rebuilt with NOS GM rods, NOS main modern type insert bearings, and NOS GM crankshaft, and I hope to keep the car running a long time.

I would be willing to bet that Cannonball Baker and other record setters didn't care about the long-term durability of the vehicle they were driving--they were simply trying to set speed records. So if they needed to have the engine screaming away at maximum rpms for long periods of time, so be it.

Edited by 36chev (see edit history)

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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

I think you'll find that was a 4.54-1. They were still higher after the War; why? I have no clue except maybe the car was heavier.

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As posted earlier, I like to cruise my 36 Chevy with 4:11 differential at 50. I will cruise it at 55 for awhile, and would be willing to do 60 or so for several miles. We live in the Appalachian mountains with a lot of scenic, twisting roads, so it is my intent to drive on those, not interstates. The high torque engine is excellent at pulling around on these type roads.

So my intent in having an old car is to take it easy and not push it too hard. Yes, it could probably maintain 60, but the long-term pounding with the long stroke rods and heavy pistons couldn't be too good long term at that speed. The engine was recently rebuilt with NOS GM rods, NOS main modern type insert bearings, and NOS GM crankshaft, and I hope to keep the car running a long time.

I would be willing to bet that Cannonball Baker and other record setters didn't care about the long-term durability of the vehicle they were driving--they were simply trying to set speed records. So if they needed to have the engine screaming away at maximum rpms for long periods of time, so be it.

With insert bearings you should be able to run the car as hard and as long as you want or need to do, or not to do. Insert bearings are also the answer for all 1937-49.5 Buick 248 engines. It's the only way to go. 1950 Series 40 rods are the same, and 1950 factory insert bearings work wonderful. You have to use only 1950 Series 40 rods, because the 1950 Super and all 1951-53 Special and Super used the 263 cid engine and the rods are shorter. If you tear apart a second series '49 Series 40-50 engine and find inserts, those rods will work too. The 320 Buick, I think, switched over at the beginning of 1949, unlike the Special and Super which switched mid-year.

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Regarding Dynaflash 8's comment in post #44 above, Buick never "said" the '36 Century would do 100. See my post #40 above, second paragraph. Buick's Harlow Curtice and Buick's new ad agency (Art) Kudner, knew how to market, promote.

Century was chosen for the new model with its debut engine both to suggest 100 and the high-speed luxe of the then most famous express train in the nation, the New York Central's 20th Century Limited, just as Buick's top model on the long wheelbase was christened Limited.

Edited by Water Jacket (see edit history)

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I'll have to go back and research my notes for my 1971 Buick Straight 8 article, and/or the article itself. It's been a long time since I wrote it, but I still think I found where Buick did say that.....but, after almost 40 years, I could be mistaken. Earl Beauchamp Jr.

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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.

The 1936 Buick Century sedan was credited with a top speed of 95.6 MPH and in all likelyhood the lighter bodied coupes and convertible coupe could manage 100MPH.

I recommend an article written by Michael Lamm titled PAST MASTERS : MUSCLE CARS OF THE THIRTIES AND FORTIES which appeared in the April 2009 edition of Collectible Automobile.

The article includes a comparison chart of road tests conducted by various motoring magazines of the day and interestingly rates the Buick Century amongst some very illustrious company.

The Century as we know was a standard sized vehicle with the largest available motor ( sounds like a muscle car!! ) but there were also other differences. One was the rear end ratio. The 1936 Century had aratio of 3.9-1 while the Special was 4.444-1 and the larger series 80 and 90 were 4.222-1 and 4.555-1 respectivley.

Obviously being a Buick owner I am a little biased so I do suggest anyone with an interest in early high powered cars obtain a copy of this article - I'm sure it will produce plenty of comment!!

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