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37_Roadmaster_C

37 Roadmaster phaeton wiring question... What would you do?

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Hello All,

I am in the process of restoring my fathers 1937 Roadmaster Phaeton. Just to start this on the right track... This will be a good driving restoration, not a show restoration, so 100% originality is not the goal. We are trying to keep the original flavor of the car correct.

The car will need a complete wiring replacement for reliability and safety. The wiring harness will be supplied by Rhode Island Wiring (RIW), and modified as needed to keep the original look and fitment. The car has had sealed beam headlights installed in the 40's and will be kept. The retrofit included butchering the original wiring and adding a dual (high and low beam) relay on the left fender in the engine bay. The tech people at RIW have suggested that I may want to have the wiring harness modified with larger guage wire to allow sealed beam lights (higher current) without the relay. Now I am good with this and being an electronics tech I understand the pros and cons of this modification. Now for the questions...

1) How would you deal with the city/country light switch and the single left headlight dimmer? For those that don't understand the stock wiring, the 37 had a 4 position headlight pull switch on the dash and a foot dimmer on the floor. The dash switch was off, park/tail, park/tail/city(low beam both headlights) and park/tail/country(High beam on right and hi/low with foot switch on the left).

I am thinking to leave the switch wiring almost stock but move the high beam wire for the right headlight to the floor switch with the left high beam wire. This would keep the flavor of the dash switch but allow the high/low operation to match a current car by having both headlights hi/low available in the country position. What do you think?

2) I am not planning to add turn signals right now, but do you think I should have the wiring harness modified to have the required wires laced into the harness so they would be there if I decide to add turn signals?

3) Any other thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.

Robin

PS: We hope to drive the car to Portland this summer, heck it is only 5 hours away and dad has not driven the car since 1954 when he parked it .:cool:

Edited by 37_Roadmaster_C
spelling (see edit history)

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I have 2 '38 Buicks and they have the same headlight switch as yours. I have always felt that the 4 position switch was a pain in the rear. I have never used the 4th position and I have put a spacer on the pull rod that will only allow the switch to be pulled to the #3 position. That is a typical more modern configuration.

I think I'd add the directional wiring to the new loom. Since the wiring is expensive you might just as well prepare the wiring for what you expect to add. I regret not having done that when I did my Roadmaster and I am going to do it when I buy the wiring for the Special I am now restoring. For one thing, it will look cleaner when done.

Obviously, my opinions.

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Robin,

I suggest you have the wiring set up to operate both headlights via the single foot switch and keep the dash light switch original. Yes, I suggest you wire in turn signals. They work great using the fender marker lights and dual filament bulbs front and back. You didn't mention if you are running 6V or 12V. Has the car been converted?

Feel free to send me a private message if you would like to stop by and take a look at my 38 Special. It has turn signals & foot actuated high/low beams and original 6v system.

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Don and Mark,

Don, thanks for the idea for the spacer on the dash switch. That is an interesting idea.

Mark, Thanks, the car is still 6 volt and will remain that way. I will be in the Portland area in a couple of months and I think I will take you up on the offer to look at your car.

As of right now I am of the same opinion as both of you about the turn signal wiring.

More opinions welcome.

Thanks,

Edited by 37_Roadmaster_C (see edit history)

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Hi Robin,

Same company made my new wires - we had them do it as original - except that the car has a SIGNAL-STAT period-correct turn signal. the fender and tail lights are set up with a dual filament socket and bulb - still 6-volt, and works fine.

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Hello Robin,

I would recommend that you order the replacement wiring harness as original, then expanded with additional circuits for turn signals, fog lights (if you have them), and any other electrical items you intend to permanently install on your Roadmaster. The vendor should embed the new circuits into the loom before the final wrap, and the final product will be an elegant solution which looks right, works right and doesn't have any "garbage" appended to it.

I had Y&Z do my harness, with several additional circuits for turn signals, fog lights, road sander and a rather complex system I designed for the vacuum start override. The cost for each additional circuit was minimal - something like $10 per circuit a few years ago. It is great to have all of the wires you want, built into the harness, and have them come out exactly where you want them with connectors already installed.

You didn't specify is you are upgrading to 12V: The reason I mention this is that 6V requires twice the amperage to support the same electrical load as 12V, therefore the wires for a 6V harness are larger. If you purchase a 6V replacement harness, and are running 12V, you will have excelling electrical performance out of the entire system as the wires are capable of carrying much more current than you will be running through them.

I would hypothesize that your wiring harness was butchered and relays added when the car was converted to sealed beams (6V sealed beams are 45W, the original tungsten bulb-type headlights are 35W) and the sealed beams did not perform as well as expected. Typically, the real reason that any electrical item is not performing well is caused by bad grounds, corroded screw-type contacts or a combination thereof. Of course, when someone has spliced into the harness, there are even more opportunities to introduce problems into the vehicle wiring. Never underestimate the importance of good ground - when I completed my restoration, I had to go to great efforts to make sure that the mounting points for all of the electrical devices were very clean, then I coated each with di-electric grease to make the points of contact as air and water tight as possible. Even then, there were a few ground issues to overcome.

The contacts in the original headlight switch are very robust, but are exposed so may need to be cleaned to ensure no voltage loss. Clean the contact in the switch and the screw connectors where the wires attach and you should have no further issues. The additional "country" mode is one of the novelties of the 1937/8 Buicks, and I'd be inclined to keep it and have it working properly for the novelty alone (along with the throttle start).

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A few friends have had to search for various new switches for their older cars and they have been hard to find. I have also noticed that some older cars will have a warm ignition key after running.

I have never had a opportunity to try this; On a rewiring job I would recommend using relays with any of the hard to find switches, headlight, ignition, or wiper. Any of the switches that originally carry full load could have their life extended with relays. I have also found some higher cost cars used condensers at switches and point closures (horn and wiper) to reduce spark jumping.

My next old car rewire would probably include both features to prolong switch and device life.

As I remember, a couple of the wiring companies would wrap wiring in a loom as a service. That would give a person a chance to build the exact harness they wanted and have an original style loom fabricated for the custom harness.

Bernie

Edited by 60FlatTop (see edit history)

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In addition to adding the turn signal wires I would also upgrade the gauge of the wires to the headlights.

In addition to the many suggestions for additional wires I also added a wire for an electric fuel pump and fan. Th fuel pump is used to address vapor lock and is only used for priming; I still drive on the mechanical pump. The electric fan is just insurance.

One of the big issues with headlight switches is that they create a significant voltage drop which can lead to dim headlights. With so much current going through the switches it can also lead to switch failure. For these reasons I elected to build a relay board that I mounted up near the vent (and hopefully away from any water). I was able to reroute wires from the standard harness to the relay board and add jumpers from the board to the headlight switch. This allowed me to reduce the current on the switch and reduce voltage drop through the relays and those fatter wires to give me much brighter headlights :)

I struggled with the high beam wiring but never did figure out a way to use a standard wiring harness in such a way that I could separate the the driver side high beam so that it would only go on with the dimmer switch. At least not without cutting into the harness and after spending big bucks for a harness I didn't want to do that.

Here are a few words of caution regarding what I learned when I did my harness.

  • Definitely talk to and get advice from the guys building your harness. Use RI, Naragganset, Y&Z, or perhaps some other manufacture I don't know about but avoid the resellers like Cars, etc. You want to go to the source on this one if for no reason other than to make sure that any mods you want are addressed correctly; adding the middleman is just asking for confusion.

  • Be prepared to wait. More than likely it will take at least twice as long as you want; in reality it will probably be three to four times as long as you want. If they tell you it will take 6 weeks, be prepared for at least 12 weeks. Also be prepared to nicely check on the status on a regular basis so that your build doesn't get put behind some other guy.

  • My harness came with incorrect sockets for all the instrument lights. The "schematics" said that the manufacture of the harness didn't supply the correct ones but this wasn't known to me until the harness showed up. I ended up scavenging the sockets from the old harness and having to use shrink wrap instead of the period correct insulators. Definitely ask your manufacture about this so that you aren't surprised like I was and if they expect you to solder in your own sockets make them send the insulator material.

  • When you get your harness be prepared to study the "schematics" for a long time. Also have a continuity checker available to sort things out when they aren't obvious. The "schematic" from my manufacture were likely for building the harness and only had a slim resemblance to the schematic from the manual. With a bit of patience it wasn't hard to figure out but I guarantee you will be scratching your head a few times.

Jeff

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My experience with a new wiring harness...

Some of the solutions outlined above are what I requested the shop that did the work on my 1937-41 to preform. I requested that the wiring harness be modified to include turn signals. I checked with Rode Island wiring first to make sure they could do it. This was the shops suggested supplier. No problem. The car was to be ready to drive to the 2012 National. I really wanted to participate because of the 75 anniversary push. They started on the work in January to do the evaluation. They guaranteed (verbal) that it would be able to be driven to the meet. No internal engine work, no chrome, glass, or upholstery was going to be done. My "To-be-done" list included the wiring harness.

Well, in April they then said I would need one. I reminded them that it was already on the list. They then said they couldn't get the car done when promised because the harness would need at least a months lead time.

When May arrived and they still had not started on the wiring. I checked with RI wiring and they said they had it in stock and the shop had not ordered it at that time. By this time we know we made a mistake but they had the car and thousands of my dollars. Also the car was not going to be delivered when promised. Each time we stopped to check(only once a month) it looked like they just pulled it out to look busy on it.

Along with the harness work they were to weld up and body finish /paint the (4) 1 1/2" holes in the front and rear fenders that was where the late 1940s style turn signals were mounted. Fast forward to July. They were finally getting to the harness and rust patch on the bottom of the drivers door. The door was on a stand near their paint booth.

I was visiting to check on progress with the former Director of the Mason-Dixon club in August. I had hoped another experienced member of the hobby could help get them off of dead center. The door was still off and sitting in the same place when I was there in July. They said that they were having a problem getting it started because the rebuilt fuel pumps were not working. Other long story... But the owners son was very proud of the fact that all the lights were now working. I asked where the turn signal switch went to since the one that was on the steering column was gone. He gave me a blank stare with an expression that told me that he didn't know what I was talking about. I was just about in a rage when my friend and the owner came over to reassure me that it would be all taken care of. Meaning that they did not get the turn signal included harness. Taking care of it was that I have now have 2 extra wire looms going along side the correct type + an extra $103 in extra parts. My advice is to check and double check!

They trailered it back to my home.(They did not have enough confidence in there work that I could drive it 45 miles home).When the car finally arrived and we test drove it around town it quit a mile from my house.

When I checked the rebuilt generator and other electrical connections I found some wrong connections and almost all were loose.

With a year of ("tweaking") we were able to drive it to the 2013 Nationals in South Bend. 1,553 mile round trip!

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Hi,

I had no idea about the one-up, one-down headlight switching on the Roadmaster! My car had been re-wired in the early 80's--not by me--and it has always been clear that the do-er had guessed at some connections. Odd things happen when you go for low-beam or high-beam on my Monster! Now at least I know what it is SUPPOSED to do.

Well, what it is supposed to do with the headlights, anyway. What about the big Trippe driving lights? How are they wired into the scheme of things? One of the spring agenda items on my list has been to separate the driving lights from the dash and foot switches, enable them through a relay energized from the headlight switch, and turn them on or off manually with an under-dash switch. Has anyone else separated the Trippe lights from the rest of the lighting circuit?

Another item on my agenda is to install a relay to handle the headlights rather than have all that current go through the dash switch. My car, btw, has a sealed beam conversion, so amperage is higher than was originally intended by the designers.

A third agenda item is to install turn signals and more-clearly-visible brake lights. For both I have bought an aftermarket 6-volt turn signal add-on kit. I'll have to run wires to the appropriate places, and my new bigger brake lights will be removable and trunk-storable for when the car is on display. Were I getting a new wiring harness I would DEFINITELY have the signals and my revised brake wiring pre-wired!

--Tom

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Tom,

Yes, our '37 Roadmaster has the wiring for the Tripp Lights run through a toggle switch under the dash (right next to my switch for the electric fuel pump). I think this is a good idea, but then ours is a tour/driver, otherwise essentially original with her HPOF and AACA ORIGINAL. Still the original top, too!

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I'll add my 2 cents on this issue. Why not build your own harness?? John Brillman can supply you with Modern wire with the correct cloth material woven on the outside. He can sell you all the connectors needed as well as asphalt coated loom. It's not difficult to cut wires, and solder connectors on the wires. You can add additonal wires and increase wire sizes as desired. Cost wil be way under the purchased harnesses. You will get the harness done a lot faster and enjoy the project.

I like saving a $1,000 and and have the satisfaction of doing my own work.

Bob Engle

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I'll add my 2 cents on this issue. Why not build your own harness?? John Brillman can supply you with Modern wire with the correct cloth material woven on the outside. He can sell you all the connectors needed as well as asphalt coated loom. It's not difficult to cut wires, and solder connectors on the wires. You can add additonal wires and increase wire sizes as desired. Cost wil be way under the purchased harnesses. You will get the harness done a lot faster and enjoy the project.

I like saving a $1,000 and and have the satisfaction of doing my own work.

Bob Engle

When I did my harness I considered making my own but after getting a professionally built one I'm really glad I used their services instead of trying to learn yet another craft.

When I priced out the cost differential it wasn't $1000 but more likely a few $100 difference.

The big issue with cost is that I wanted to have true color markings for every wire. Doing so meant spending a lot for lots of different colored wires and gauges. Adding period correct terminations also added greatly to the cost.

If you have a lot of time and you like to learn new crafts go for it. For me, I factored in that this would have been my first harness from scratch and the realization that many of my "firsts" often took longer to accomplish than I wanted and often resulted in a lot of learning experiences that showed in the end product. Of course, you can fix those learning mistakes by spending more money and time :(

Time was a huge factor in my case and for some reason I believed the time estimates my harness maker gave me. I didn't think I could order, figure out, learn, and accomplish building a harness in the 3 month time frame I was working in. Of course, my harness maker lied and although I didn't have nearly as much pain as Larry DiBarry I did end up missing an entire summer of driving because of this. Had I known how long it was going to take my harness maker my decision might have leaned more toward making it myself but in the end, I'm still glad I went with a professional.

If you can get the original harness out to use as a pattern that would probably make the attempt a lot easier. If your harness is as decrepit and oil/grease stained as mine then the tracers will be worthless and wires will break as you take them out. That means a lot of labeling as you take it apart and hopefully remembering how to put it back together when you get done. Watch out for the oil/grease to make sure you don't get your new harness filthy before you get it back in.

Jeff

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Thanks to everyone for your thoughts, experiences and advice. At this time I am leaning heavily toward adding turn signal wiring, adding a wire for an electric fuel pump, adding wiring for fog/driving lights and rethinking the starting circuits as right now the car has had the vacuum/throttle starting system removed and finding all the right parts might be a problem. The car is going to stay 6 volt as there is no reason to convert it to 12 volt. All the 6 volt stuff works fine including the heater fan, clock and soon the radio. The wire size for the headlights, charging circuit and ammeter will be increased to reduce voltage drop. I would like to redo the harness myself, but the time required and the factory look mean more than the savings for this car.

Another thought for anyone with a 37/38 with the strange light switching sequence...

This is what I think I am going to do. If possible I am going to rewire the light switch so it works like a more modern pull switch with position 0 (in) being off, position 1 being park/tail/dash, position 2 adding headilghts with hi/low on the foot switch and use position 4 to add the fog lights. This way there will be no need for a seperate fog light switch. Now I just need to find the fog lights..... Dave Tacheny here I come, again :).

Thanks everyone for the thoughts and advice, more always welcome. Hope to see you at Portland....

PS: The 60 Electra is getting jealous, she has been parked since 92 and wants out of the garage for a run also......

Edited by 37_Roadmaster_C
add info (see edit history)

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