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My 1954 Buick Special

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I have not spent much time in the Buick Forum since I have traditionally been a Model A Ford Collector. I also own an AACA HPOF Certified 1984 Buick Riviera. After selling my last Model A Ford, an AACA Repeat Senior Grand National winner, I have been searching for a "driver" type car for touring and enjoying. I have read a lot of ads, sent and received a bunch of emails, looked at a lot of cars, and have had a lot of assistance by MrEarl. When I started corresponding with Mr. Earl, I realized that whatever I ended up with was more likely than not to be a 1954 Buick, even though he did say some nice things about some cars that were not 1954 Models.

I am now the owner of a 1954 Buick Special, which came from a referral by MrEarl. The car came from Tennessee, a round trip of 1426.2 miles to bring it home to Wilmington NC.

Here are a few photos. One at a gas stop on the way home, another at a restaurant on the way home, and last, in front of my house after we got home. It is now in the garage and I will soon do a little tinkering, cleaning, and take some more photos.




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Congrats Matt. And I enjoyed our search for just the right one. Man I bet you knew you were towing something besides a Model A when you hit some of the hills between you and Tennessee. That looks like a heavy duty trailer (nice!!) and the Special weighs around 3,800 lbs. Is that a Tahoe or Suburban pulling it? Looks like you were in a small shower or two also. ;)

Again congratulations and I'm working on your registration problem over on the '54 Buick Highway.

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It is a Tahoe. I am used to pulling a Model A Phaeton in an enclosed trailer, so the Special on an open trailer was not too bad. It trailered well. As you know, I did run through some bad weather in the worst spot of the trip, but made it home just fine. Thanks for all your help.

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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

I have not posted much lately but I have been busy with the car.

This is most of a story that I am writing about my 1954 Special for submission to my local AACA Chapter Newsletter.

When I bought the car, known issues included that the Speedometer, Horn and Windshield Wipers were not working, and that there was a noise that sounded like a bad wheel bearing that sounded like it was coming from the right front.

I went to the License Plate agency with the Tennessee Title on Monday July 15th. Knowing that out of state titled antique cars have to be inspected by a NC DMV License and Theft Inspector, I was expecting to have to wait to for the inspection before I could get a license tag. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that DMV procedures now allow you to receive a license plate immediately, but the title is delayed until after the Inspection. Now, you can apply for your new NC title, buy your license plate, and you just have to visit the DMV Inspector’s office before you will receive your title.

Within a few days after I got home with the car, I checked on the Windshield Wipers and found out that the vacuum hose for the wipers had been plugged. I reattached the hose, lubricated the wiper mechanism, adjusted and lubricated the control cable and got the wipers working. One of the headlights had a burned out low beam element. I checked the bulb and discovered that it and the working headlight were both original Guide Brand bulbs, apparently original Buick headlights. I removed both headlights and stored the good original bulb, and installed two new headlight bulbs in the car.

I started reading everything online that I could about 54 Buicks. I bought a factory service manual on Ebay. After I received the service manual, one of the first orders of business was to find the source of the suspected bad bearing noise. I checked the front wheel bearings and they both seemed to be OK. As soon as I jacked up the rear end and spun the wheels, it was clear that the problem was the right rear wheel bearing. I figured it would be best to only have to do this job once, so I ordered a set of complete new seals and bearings for the rear axle.

I decided to get the Speedometer working. The Speedometer cable was broken. I found a cable on Ebay for a reasonable price. I installed the cable and the Speedometer still did not work. I pulled the dash out of the car and pulled the Clock and the Speedometer. I disassembled the Clock, lubricated the mechanism, reassembled it and powered it up and was happy to see it worked. I disassembled the Speedometer and lubricated it and reassembled it. It is not quite accurate, but it works so it will be okay for a while. While I had the dash out, I removed the radio delete plate, as I plan to install a radio. I bought a radio from a 1955 Buick parts car from another AACA Discussion Forum member from Charlotte. Unfortunately the radio does not seem to be in working condition. I also bought another one on Ebay, but got a refund as it was damaged in shipping due to poor packaging. I have an FM Converter ready to install, but I seem to keep running into a dead end on finding a working original Buick Radio. Hopefully I will find one at Hershey this year.

I bought a pair of new Radiator Hoses because I was not sure how old the hoses were, and the bottom hose looked like it really needed to be replaced. I installed the new top hose without any problems. When I crawled under the car to remove the lower radiator hose, I discovered something unusual. The bottom hose looked like it was in much worse condition than the top hose. It was clearly much older than the top hose. The engine end of the bottom hose had an aftermarket hose clamp like the top hose had. The radiator end of the bottom hose had an original tower style hose clamp. The tower style hose clamp also happened to be located directly above the front anti-sway bar, so there was no way to remove the hose clamp without moving the anti-sway bar first. I soaked the hose clamp with solvent and moved the anti-sway bar in an attempt to remove the hose clamp. The bolt sheared off of the hose clamp, so I used a dremel tool to cut the hose clamp to remove the hose. I am convinced that the hose clamp happened to be installed so that it ended up under the anti-sway bar when it was installed at the factory. I am convinced that the bottom hose was the original hose installed by Buick in 1954. This car has had a repaint in the past, the door panels have been replaced, and the seats have been recovered with aftermarket seat covers. In spite of this, the more I examine the car, the more amazed I am at how many original parts are still on this car.

I did a little bit of driving and discovered that the gas tank was providing lots of ugly stuff that was showing up in the inline fuel filter. In the first week or so, I drove the car a bit and paid close attention to the fuel filter. I got pretty good at removing, cleaning, and reinstalling fuel filters. I ended up pulling the gas tank and got quite a bit of rust out of it, but clearly still had a problem with rust in the fuel system. I debated if I wanted to buy a new replacement tank or if I was going to eventually be successful in getting the crud out of the original tank. Between the fact that the car had not been being driven regularly before I bought it, and the rusty stuff being pumped through it, the fuel pump soon decided that it was tired of pumping fuel. I did a bit of research and decided to simply order a rebuilt fuel pump from a supplier. I got the fuel pump in on Friday, July 26th and installed it. This was good, because I had an appointment for Monday July 29th, to take the car to Robinson Alignment to have them install the new rear wheel bearings and seals.

As soon as I got the rear wheel bearing fixed, I called DMV and set up an appointment to take the car to the DMV Office for its inspection. I drove to the DMV Office on Station Road and had a pleasant visit with the DMV Inspector. He was courteous and the only problem he saw was that the VIN tag was affixed with screws instead of Rivets. He called the National Insurance Crime Bureau to check their records on the car’s VIN and to obtain more information on 1954 Buicks. They had no information on how the VIN tag should be affixed, but he suspected that it would have originally been attached with Rivets. He filled out his required paperwork, took some photos and explained that he would send it off to Raleigh and that basically if there was a problem, he would let me know and we would go further in attempting to locate a hidden VIN location on the car. We had a nice conversation and I explained to him that I was not worried as I had faith that DMV had made significant strides in being reasonable with the antique vehicle inspection process because I had actually been appointed as the AACA representative of the NC Vehicle Classification Review Committee about a year previously and the committee had never been called to meet in that year. In any case, I told him that I planned to do some research on finding the hidden VIN just in case he had to do a further inspection to keep the folks in Raleigh happy.

I went home and within 2 hours I got a call from a guy with DMV in Raleigh. He told me that he needed my email address because they had several appeals to the Vehicle Classification Review Committee and he needed to email me information regarding the appeals. That did not seem like a very good omen for my efforts to get an NC Title for my new purchase. I did my best to examine every inch of the frame of the car and could not find a stamped VIN on the frame. While examining the frame, I did find some interesting paint stencil markings on the left rear frame rail. The paint is faded but still legible. The markings read: “PPS 1162003 40 6-17-54” I hope to do some more research to determine exactly what these markings mean. I don’t know what PPS 1161003 refers to, but the car is a 40 series and 6-17-54 is obviously a date. I am guessing that this may be the date that the frame was assembled, as the car was assembled in July of 1954.

On August 1st I discovered a slow leak in the gas tank. While I was not really happy about the expense of replacing it, it made my decision easy. I ordered a new fuel tank.

A few days later, I got a call back from the DMV Inspector. The folks in Raleigh had overruled him and he had to examine the hidden VIN on my car.

I went to my online friends on the AACA Discussion Forum and 1954Buick.com to find out where to look for the hidden VIN on a 1954 Buick. Within a short time, I had a new friend who furnished photos of the frame that he is restoring, showing exactly where the VIN was stamped in his frame. I crawled under my car, took a small brass brush to the frame in the area shown in his photos and found the VIN. I called the DMV Inspector back and told him that I had found it. He came over on August 9th and I showed him the VIN. He confirmed the VIN and took some photos of it. I also took some photos for him. Photographing a VIN with a flashlight and a small mirror in the inch or so of space between the floorboard and the top of the frame rail is not easy. I told the Inspector that I intend to reinstall the VIN plate with rivets so the next owner will not have to worry about this process. On August 16th DMV issued my new Title for the car. It arrived in the mail a few days later.

It took two long weeks for the new fuel tank to arrive. I installed it the afternoon that it arrived. I was back to driving my Buick that evening. It drove fine and the fuel filter now stays clean, but it developed a nasty habit of occasionally stalling on stops, with signs of major carburetor flooding. I suspected that the float was sticking.

On Friday, August 16th, I dropped the carburetor off at Carolina Carburetor Specialists for a full rebuild. The good news is they have an excellent reputation. The bad news is they have a two week backlog, so it looks like I have another two weeks that I can’t drive the car. With two more weeks of the car stuck in the garage, I decided it was time to fix all of the little items that I have discovered wrong with the car.

The original tail light lenses were showing their age, so I purchased a set of four reproduction tail light lenses and installed them. I went over all of the lights on the car and replaced the missing glove box light, one burned out backup light bulb, and fixed the interior dome lamp fixture so now all of the lights on the car are working as they should. I also installed the hood ornament that came loose in the trunk of the car when I bought the car.

The Horn issue turned out to be a fairly well known problem on Buicks of this vintage. It would be very easy to hook up an aftermarket horn button, but I know that I would never be happy with that modification. The horn button is connected to a wire that runs down the center of the steering shaft. The horn button wire exits the side of the steering shaft and is connected to a brass cylindrical contact around the steering shaft inside the steering column jacket near the floorboard. The horn contact on the shaft makes contact with a spring loaded contact mounted on the steering column jacket. The brass contact around the steering shaft is the weak link in this system. It was apparently only engineered to last 50 or so years. It is however, really easy to replace the brass contact with a copper plumbing joint. What is not easy however, is you have to remove the steering gear and column assembly from the car and totally disassemble it to make this simple quick repair. This job also involved a lot of greasy caked on dirt being removed from the steering gear, most of it seems to have fallen off and into my eyes while I was unbolting the steering gear from the frame. I don’t think that anybody has ever attempted to clean up the chassis of this car. The caked on oily greasy dirt does appear to have done a good job of protecting the chassis from rust. About 6 hours of work over a two day period resulted in the horns now working with the original horn button.

As the list of items needing attention is getting shorter, I installed the wheel covers on the car. I touched up the paint on the “Special” Emblems on the rear fenders and trunk of the car. The emblems are not perfect but a fresh coat of paint really improved their appearance. I cleaned up the Windshield gasket and applied some RTV Silicone to replace the deteriorated original production sealer used between the rubber channel and the pinchweld flange" as described in the Fisher Body Manual. I bought a correct sized battery from Tractor Supply in Whiteville and installed it.

The heater, vent and defroster dash controls are connected by “Bowden” cables, which are solid wires inside a coiled wire sheath. Some of the controls were difficult to move and some would not move at all. Crawling under the dash and generously applying lubrication to the length of these cables returned the controls to their original operating condition. Now that the heater controls will move, next on my list was to replace the Heater Hoses. A 1954 Buick has over 30 feet of Heater Hoses. This is because the defroster is mounted in the now traditional cowl location, but the heater is actually mounted under the driver’s seat. The Dynaflow transmission also is cooled by water lines coming from the water pump. The heater hose replacement also involved cutting one more tower style clamp off and the old hoses were hard as a rock. I wonder if they were original to the car. Their removal was not fun, but it was all accomplished in a few hours on Saturday, August 24th.

I also removed the VIN tag screws and replaced them with Rivets that evening.

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Sorry to hear the radio isn't working for you. It did work back the last time I had a battery and ignition in the car. I assume 54' Buicks are 12v neg. ground just like the 55's right? Anyway check your email, I shot you a note. I'll be glad to swap you for my other radio or refund you for that one..

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WOW, you've been busy. Have your parts boxed and should go out tomorrow so you can get busy for another week or two.

Re PPS 1162003 40 6-17-54.... the PPS 1162003 is the parts number for the small series two door and four door frame, 40 is series 40/Special and of course 6-17-54 is the date it was manufactured.

I would suggest just sending your radio off and have it reconditioned and at the same time have a line ran out the back for an iPod or fm converter to fit in the glove compartment.

Edited by MrEarl (see edit history)
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Thanks. Don't worry about the radio. I am going to play with it a bit more like I told you in my email. In the early 80's I worked in a radio shop installing car stereos among other jobs. I should be able to get it working when I have some time to look at the book a little bit more and tinker with it.


Thanks. I suspected that was the frame part number, but did not know. I am just amazed that it is still visible on the exposed frame rail after all of those years. I am really having fun with this car. Eventually I will add a few photos to go with this narrative.

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I got a nice care package from Buick Gardens today. I now have a wonderful looking Windshield Washer unit sitting under the hood. I have to get some new vacuum hose soon and replace all of the hoses for the Windshield Washer. It looks much better than the empty Windshield Washer jar holder that was there. I also installed a set of correct original hardware to attach the hood ornament to the car. I installed a few other small pieces and painted my newly acquired battery hold down hardware. I will let that dry and may install it tonight, or may let that wait for a day or so. The carburetor is still at my local carburetor specialist. He has had it for 2 weeks as of yesterday. He said it would take 2 to 2 1/2 weeks to get it back, so hopefully it will be ready early next week... but Monday is a Holiday, so I guess it will be Tuesday at the earliest.

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I picked up the carburetor on Thursday. I installed the carburetor on Thursday night but did not have time to work any more on the car till today. After a little bit of tweaking of the steering column to get the transmission linkage and the neutral safety switch adjusted correctly (after my horn button repair) it runs. Unfortunately now that I have it running again and with nice new heater hoses, it appears that the defroster valve is leaking. I bypassed the valve this morning and then I pulled the defroster valve out. I found this website and called and left a message.


Hopefully he will be able to help me with the defroster valve.

I ran the engine a bit and got it all warmed up, drained the oil and dropped the oil filter. The oil filter canister has clearly never been repainted. The original markings on it are still mostly readable. I installed a new oil filter and refilled the oil. The service manual says to check after 5 minutes to see if it is leaking. I did not have to wait 5 minutes. I think I know why there was no oil filter gasket on the car before I changed the oil. If that little gasket gets a little bit off center as you are installing the oil filter it is amazing how fast the oil pump will pump oil out onto the ground. I sure am glad I did that outside instead of in the garage. After cleaning up and re-installing the oil filter it runs good.

Here is a link to a short video of it running:


Edited by MCHinson (see edit history)
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Matt, you are not the first to make a mess or will you be the last! Your old gasket is probably still in the filter head groove, hard to tell by looking except it isn't shiny. Place the gasket in the filter head groove, not on the can. It should fit snugly.

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I am going with, "I got a defective gasket." That is my story and I am sticking with it. Hopefully the old gasket is in there, because I know one did not come off when I dropped the filter. I put it back together without the new gasket and it did not leak. There is certainly no doubt that the oil pump works well...

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I don't remember exactly what I had posted yesterday that was lost when the forum went down but I know I posted some photos of the car while I had it out doing some joy riding. I don't think it looks too bad, although I do really need to wash it. Here are the photos:


I had a nice conversation last night with Jim Tucker of Heatercontrolvalve.com. This morning I shipped my defroster valve off to Jim to be rebuilt.




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Even though it is driving fine, I had determined recently that the transmission fluid was a little low in my Special. I went to my local Advance Auto Parts today to order a transmission pan gasket so I can drain and refill it eventually. I decided to buy a little bit of fluid so I could top it off until I get ready to do the Transmission Fluid change. The nice clerk asked if he could help me find what I needed. I told him that I was sure he was going to have to look it up in his computer because I needed "Type A" but nothing seemed to be labeled as "Type A" on the. shelf.

He tried his computer and did not have much luck, so he pulled up a Google search screen and this was his first result:


I said, OK that answers the question. He asked if I wanted him to do any more searching, to be sure if that was the right answer. I told him, I know Mr Earl, and he knows what he is talking about. He was quite impressed that I knew his "web expert".

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