WhipperSnapper

My first classic Buick – 1951 Super

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Hello everyone! I found this gem on Craigslist this past weekend and just couldn’t pass it up. I’ve always liked the look of the 50’s Buicks and the asking price seemed reasonable enough. Here are a few photos:

http://s778.photobucket.com/user/josephlong757/slideshow/1951%20Buick%20Super

So, I’m guessing that you’d all enjoy a little background! She was purchased new by a local funeral home here in Georgia and was used in funeral processions and driven by the family up until the mid 1970’s. The car then passed to an amateur collector who drove her on occasion and frequented car shows up until he passed away. After that, the car was parked and sat in a shed from 1989 until around 2010. It was then sold to the man who sold it to me.

The interior is in excellent condition and I'm wondering if it may have been redone at some point. The exterior is a bit rough, but appears to be very solid. The car was re-sprayed in the original black somewhere along the line and whoever did the paint did a poor job. I have found a bit of rust up under the driver and passenger floors and some in the trunk. As you can see, the chrome is also in need of work. The car does run but I have not yet driven her because the brakes are not working. I’ve ordered a shop manual and will do some digging when it arrives.

Anyways, the goal here is to do a full frame-off restoration. I want to keep the car original with the possible exception of converting to disk brakes, an FM “look alike” radio, and maybe adding A/C. Did these cars even come with a factory A/C option?

So, here are a few things that I’ve been wondering:

  • Is my car a Super or a Super Riviera? The plate (photographed) says “Model: 51-52.” Is there a place online to decode the VIN? Also, where did GM hide the build sheets on these?

  • How difficult is it to rebuild the I8? It doesn’t seem to be very complicated but I hear that the bearings make it difficult…? Is there a rebuild kit that you guys recommend?

  • What do I need to know about that DynaFlow transmission? I hear that it’s sort of like a CVT? Do shops still rebuild these?

  • Have any of you converted over to disk brakes? If so, what do you think? Is it worth the trouble?

  • What do you guys think about converting the electrical system over to 12v?

  • Have any of you done a frame-off restoration on this model? I’ve had some trouble finding a complete thread on an engine rebuild or a thread discussing a full restoration.

I think that’s it for now. I am really looking forward to getting to know the active members on this board and learning more about my baby. Her name is Grace, by the way. Apparently coined during her funeral home days.

-Joseph

Edited by WhipperSnapper
typos (see edit history)

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A model 52 is a Riviera sedan (longer than the regular sedans in the Super series). When you talk about converting to 12 volts, disc brakes, and adding air conditioning, my eyes just glaze over and I think "there goes another nice original Buick, ruined". You will destroy the value of your very nice car if you do those things, although there are people who like them that way. The way I look at it is, if you wanted a car with 12 volts, air conditioning, and disc brakes, then why didn't you go buy one?

The charm and value in an antique car is keeping it like it was originally, and experiencing it that way. I'm sure some will disagree with me, but I would urge you to sell the car and save it for someone who appreciates it like it is, before you destroy it, and go buy yourself a newer vehicle with the features you want. Sorry, but you really got my dander up.

Pete Phillips, BCA #7338

Leonard, Texas

1948 model 56S

1948 model 76S

1949 model 51

1949 model 59

1950 model 76R

1958 model 49D

1959 Electra 2-dr. hardtop

1963 Wildcat conv. 4-spd

1964 LeSabre 2-dr hardtop (x3)

1970 Wildcat 4-dr. hardtop 3-spd.

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Hello Pete. Thanks for the reply and for the info on the model.

I am interested in discussing the pros and cons of each. My mind is not made up yet, as you should have noted from my post. I am looking for information here, not criticism.

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While you may be looking for "information", you will find that many of us are very passionate about keeping the cars as close to original as possible. Sure some will say that it is yours and you can do as you wish, but if maintained, one of these cars will cruise just fine down the road, with enough stopping power as originally built.

You can talk to any old street rodder or know it all and the first thing they tell you to do is change to 12v and put disc brakes all around. A six volt system will work wonderfully when maintained. If you don't maintain a 12v car, it won't work well either.

Are you wanting to drive this car ever? I am doing a frame off on a convertible. I also work a full time job and have a wife and children. I have well into 4 years and am just getting ready to finish paint and reassemble.

Why not make it start and stop, enjoy it for awhile and work on little things while learning about your car? Then later, you can consider a full frame off. We see too many cars get torn apart for rebuild, only to have the owner lose interest and junk the car.

There are shops that specialize in dynaflow transmissions and various engine rebuilders that can still do the inline 8.

I hope I haven't offended as I know Pete didn't mean to either.

Otherwise. Here to help and look forward to your progress

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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  • Hi Joseph, That is a great car. And most of us would love to have been the one to have found it. Your plans for a restoration are commendable. But you might ask yourself just how you will use this car before you start planning some of those modifications. For example, If Grace will be used for cruise in's and ice cream runs, there seems to be little opportunity to use A/C. Since factory A/C for a Buick started in 1953, you'd be looking at an aftermarket hang under the dash unit to put that in. You'd also be looking at trying to hang a compressor on the side of that I8 and increasing the heat under the hood, and drilling holes through the firewall to get the Freon lines into the cab. That A/C may cost you more in aggravation than you'd get in enjoyment.
    If you take Grace to local car shows , there's still little opportunity to use an A/C. But if you plan to take her across country a lot, then go for broke.
    Also regards the disc brake conversion. It, just like the A/C can be done. Some will tell you that there's nothing like it when it is done. Personally, I totally agree with Pete as to the old car hobby. When I drive my vehicles I find it exhilarating to revel in the spirit of the car's age. However even I put radials on my cars, and like the improvement in ride and handling that provided.
    Also my cars are a bit newer than Grace. I believe your car has standard brakes? So you will find it different to stop that car. It will take longer to stop and you will have to push the pedal harder. But even though my 69 does not have power brakes, it can stop fast. It can lock up the brakes if needed which does not really help one much, or they never would have created antilock brakes. Now my 56 is a different story. It has the same basic system as your car but the power assist. That thing can put you through the windshield if your not careful. Your car however has the master cylinder under the drivers floor board. There may not be a factory power booster available, so disc brakes will mean changing backing plates, and maybe spindles, plus hoses, lines and reengineering a location for the power booster for the MC and introduction of a proportioning valve, in addition to purchase of rotors, calipers and bearings, at a minimum. Once again, it can be done but unless you can integrate an antilock feature, are you really gonna get so much improvement as to make the conversion worthwhile? Personally, I do not think so.
    Again, my 56 is newer than your 51, but I have driven it to Flint MI from NY for several Buick Club meets. Also drove it to Ohio for a meet once. I never think disc brakes are going to improve the car.
    As for a radio, look around for an old radio buff. A fellow in my local chapter installs lines in to the factory radio for use of an Ipod or any thing with a headphone jack. I now play a Pandora app through my cellphone, through my factory 56 and 69 radio. It's not like a new car , but again that's not the way I like to use my cars. Now the radio I just had done for the next car I am planning to purchase not only has a line in, but he installed a line out, so I can run a separate amplifier and subwoofer through the factory radio too. And it was less than converting the radio to a new FM unit.
    Heres something else I believe. Buicks are tough. Buicks are reliable. Yours is 62 years old and it still starts. Do you really need an engine rebuild? The dynaflow is a leaker, but it is also very reliable. The biggest problem is that inexperienced owners do not realize you cannot feel any shift points when starting in Drive, and that is as designed. Here's a true story: Fellow I know bought a 49 Super somewhere in the mid west. He picked the car up and drove it to Georgia to show it to his father. He then drove it to his home in upstate NY. A few months later he said he could not tell but thought the trans was malfunctioning. He took it to an unscrupulous garage who rebuilt the entire trans for $1,800. Honestly, if the trans was broken how did he manage to put nearly 2K on the car just a few weeks before?
    Towards this end, Matt gave you sage advice. Fix the brakes and put a year in just driving the car and learning it's nuances. At a minimum, then you will actually know if you made something better or worse if it is later rebuilt. But you will also get a chance to learn what the car was like in 1951, and make a decision if what Pete said makes sense for you.
    Like the others, we all look forward to your progress with Grace. It is a beautiful car! Good luck!

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Hi Matt. Hello John. Thank you both for your insight.

The convertible project sounds like a very interesting one Matt. Do you have a thread going for it? If so, I'd love to see it. I understand the time (and financial) constraints with a project like that! I owned a 1970 Mercedes 6.3 a few years back and did a good bit of work to her including completely restoring the interior. It was quite a job and cost me a small fortune (I remember being asked to pay $1,500 for a REBUILT PS pump!!!). This Buick is by far the oldest vehicle that I have owned to-date and compared to the Benz, it seems to be pretty simple mechanically and the cost of parts is extremely reasonable. I'm sure that the Buick has her quarks but a full restoration seems very realistic. Again, compared to a 6.3l Mercedes with air suspension!

I'll admit that I'm one of those people who becomes deeply bothered by bad paint, bad seals, rough chrome, etc. on my cars. I just get the urge to pull it into the shop and make it right! I bought Grace because she needs the work and I am very excited about bringing her back to life. That being said, I agree with you guys that I should put some miles on before taking her apart. You're right - how will I know if I truly made her better than she was when I got her?

I've been doing some reading on the disk brake conversion and I agree that it's not necessary for how I intend to use the car. She will be a weekend cruiser. Maybe driven to work on nice sunny days and occasionally driven to Tennessee for family get-togethers. A/C would come in handy for those trips to TN, but I highly doubt that I would use it otherwise. I rarely use the A/C on my DD unless my wife is in the car with me. I prefer the windows down. :-) I have also been researching 12v conversions and it seems to be a lot of trouble for minimal return, so I'll cross that one off too. The radio in my car does not work at the moment and I'm not sure why. Modifying it to allow for streaming audio would be ideal, if I could get her working again. I'd love to keep it original, I just didn't think that was even possible!

I am going to spend some time on the engine and brakes today. She needs new hoses, fluids, filters, etc. I am going to clean the carb too and see if I can get her out of the garage. I forgot to mention earlier, but the tires are dated 1978! They are completely shot and will need to be changed before she leaves the driveway. I want white wall tires! Is there a specific tire that you guys would recommend? Also, Grace has no seat belts (front or back). How do you guys recommend I handle that?

Thanks!

Joseph

Edited by WhipperSnapper
Typos (see edit history)

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Hey Joseph, welcome and glad to see another southerner here. ;) Not much to add to what all has already been stated other than to just reiterate what others have said... take your time, get to know the car and get to know what the old car hobby is all about then start doing. There is a wealth of information here so look forward to seeing you around. You did good finding and purchasing it, CONGRATS!!!!

edit) This car looks familiar. Didn't Shadetree find a car like this in a driveway in north GA but could never run down the owner.

Edited by MrEarl (see edit history)

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The seat belts can be found online. I recommend the black ones with the chrome buckles. In your case you may have to remove the back panel of the front seat to get the belts through. I recommend you get the long ones for the front seat. The shorter ones will work for the back seat.

I have to hold my opinion of the available wide whites so as to avoid the ire of the moderators. I will say a friend has a set of wide white radials from Firestone on his 50 Special. I do think those look very nice.

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This car looks familiar. Didn't Shadetree find a car like this in a driveway in north GA but could never run down the owner.

Lamar, you're thinking about that black '49 that was sitting at the antique shop. I finally caught up with the owner after an extensive search.

But anyway, welcome to the forum Joseph. Beautiful car! I 100% agree with the other guys here. Fix it up a little. Make it drivable. Then put a few 1000+ miles on it as is. See how you like it. I absolutely fell in love with mine and left it as original as possible. And you would be amazed at how well received original (AKA NOT perfectly restored) cars are at car shows. Original/unrestored is apparently "in" nowadays. Let me know if i can help. Quite a bit of info. over on my 1952 Special Deluxe Project thread too.

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Joseph

I have several cars. One is a 56' and it is a driver that I just maintain and enjoy for cruzin' and driving back and forth to work.

I also have the 47' convertible that I am restoring. Just scroll down and you will find the threads with my nickname on.

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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Thanks guys. I'll check those threads out.

I really like the look of the white walls. Did these come on the car originally? This ad from the 50's shows them.

So, I spent about two hours yesterday inspecting the car and making a list of what she needs to get back on the road...

- New tires

- New brake lines

- Replace / rebuild brake booster & master cylinder

- Replace rubber on steering linkage. All shot.

- Inspect drum brakes. Condition unknown.

- Replace window seals. If it rains, she's gonna flood.

- Rebuild carburetor.

- Replace drive belt

- Change trans and engine oil / filters

- Rebuild fuel pump. Squirting fuel everywhere!

- Rubber fuel lines cracked & leaking. Metal lines seem okay.

- Drain / flush radiator. Replace water pump (looks suspect). Replace all rubber hoses.

- Add seat belts

I didn't get around to checking the engine compression or pulling the valve cover. :P

So, I came out of my inspection yesterday wondering if it makes sense to do this work just to tear it all apart again when I start the restoration. It's essentially double work and will be more time consuming with the car together. Why not pull the car apart, send the chrome off, and tackle these issues during the restoration? This seems to be the most time and cost effective route. I did the opposite when I had my 6.3... I drove it mostly as it was and did work as I could spare the time and cash. The result was gremlins raising their ugly heads at the most inconvenient times. An old fuel line began leaking and resulted in premature failure of the pump. The car stalled on a back road and the repair went from a cheap rubber line to a very pricey fuel pump and a flatbed tow. On another sunny day, the water pump went out and left me stranded on the interstate. Again, an expensive repair, a seriously overheated engine, and a flatbed tow home.

My experience is that when you start driving a car that has been sitting, gremlins come to play and ultimately cost you more. By the way, all of this occurred after an inspection and tune-up of the 6.3. It was a much more complicated machine, so perhaps the Buick would be different. Less to fail, I suppose. Still, it makes me wonder if that's the best course of action seeing how much needs to be done.

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Edited by WhipperSnapper
Typos (see edit history)

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Both points of view are valid. I like to get them running and driving before disassembly. This will help reveal problems to focus on, or establish that components are working adequately. For instance, you can have rear gears that look good, but the rear howls at 60 mph...if it is quiet, all you need is axle seals and repack axle bearings. Pressure checks on the dynaflow will tell you where to focus attention during rebuild... a worn front pump with low pressure can look good, but will still be low pressure after rebuild of other components. They are also fun to drive if only on an empty lot with gravity feed gas going to the carb :D.

Willie

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Joseph,

When you've read through some of the other recommended threads on here, here's mine for a '51 Special:

http://forums.aaca.org/f163/rescue-me-51-41d-356199.html

Looks like I've about been through the list you have above, but mine also needed a new fuel tank. So you can skim through that for sources & such.

I haven't done the seat belts, because there isn't enough floor left in my car to be bolting anything into. But I did add seat belts to my '55, which has nice solid floors.

Got them from www.seatbeltstore.com (Juliano's).

Here's the thread for the '55 - shows what these add-on seatbelts look like:

http://forums.aaca.org/f163/55-special-runner-349933.html

I'm taking the approach others have suggested on here - get it running and see where the problems really are. And drive it for a while until more major work gets done.

one more thing -

If it hasn't been said already - get the factory shop manual. They're on ebay ALL the time for $5-50 (depending on condition) and they're also sold as a .pdf file on a disk.

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Thanks Eric. I'm reading through your '51 Special thread now. Very interesting!

I ordered a shop manual and a fuel pump rebuild kit last week. How do you find the quality of re-manufactured parts sold on eBay? I see a lot of them advertised for my car and have been wondering.

Thanks for the seat belt info! Those are definitely a must. :)

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I haven't bought anything re-man via eBay. My guess is, for ads you see such as the starter, water pump, shock re-builds and others, that these are either specialists looking for additional customers, or they're online outreach from the major well-known antique car suppliers (who then feed the parts through to the specialists) looking for more customers. Either way, if they're offering a warranty, the parts have some level of quality behind them. If I needed one of these items, I'd at least consider those advertisers/sellers.

I have bought repro parts via eBay which turned out to be from one of the major suppliers. Not sure if they were selling there to build up their mailing list or just clear out some inventory, but they were offering a part at a discount over the catalog price. So there can be some good deals out there.

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So after much research and debate, I have decided to go ahead and start the restoration on Grace. She will be kept as original as possible, with the only exception (at the moment) being radial white wall tires.

This will be a frame-off restoration. We plan to get started next weekend (the 28th)! :rolleyes:

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Thats a mighty fine car you have there WhipperSnapper!:) I am impressed with your motivation. Wondering if you have developed any sort of budget or time table for the restoration?

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Thank you sir. I am very excited to get started! I just can't stand seeing any car of mine in disrepair or in rough cosmetic condition. It bothers me to the point of not being able to enjoy the car.

As with any DIY project, time tables and budgets seem to be more like guidelines. I would very much like to have the restoration complete in 12 months with a budget of $20k, but I suppose that all depends on what we find when she comes apart. :rolleyes:

She doesn't appear to have much rust and the interior is in near perfect condition. I sincerely hope that the drive train is in as good of shape. We shall see!

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Greetings from a fellow '51 fan. Oddly I find myself in favor of the old school plan. Fix it up, drive it, absorb the vibe, and go from there. My '51 Roadmaster (which my Dad bought new in '51) is all original except for the spotlight, foghorn, steering wheel knob and trailer hitch -- all installed by my Dad in the 50's. The car has 174,000 miles on it, all driven the way it was built from the factory, which include an awful lot of below zero Minnesota winters, and a road trip to the New York Worlds Fair, California, and all over the midwest. If 6 volts got it through all that, it should be enough for cruising! You could convince me of a dual brake conversion for safety. And I could be convinced to add an audio input to the radio so you could plug other audio into it -- the car and it's radio may be fine but entertainment choices on the AM band are not so good all these decades later. Any decent radio guy should be able to add that for you no sweat. I bought a set of wide whites from Coker -- they look fine, they're bias ply, fit great, and for my cruising purposes should be just fine.

I invite you to read the thread on my car -- seems odd to call it my car yet -- it was Dad's car until 2 years ago, and Dad passed away this past week, but I officially became the cars owner two years ago, transferring the original '51 title from Dad to me! Long thread, lots of vintage pictures since Dad had the car when he met, dated, and married Mom and they took it on their honeymoon. Have a look at:

http://forums.aaca.org/f163/bringing-dads-1951-roadmaster-back-332363.html

BTW, you'll find this group of guys here on this forum to be the most well informed, nicest, most helpful guys I've ever met in any forum on the internet ever -- although the Corvair guys come close :)

Tim in Bovey

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Hello Tim! I have read your thread and I must say that it really made my day. I'm so sorry to hear about your father's passing... The photo of him and your mom standing next to the Buick after all those years was just fantastic.

I agree with you 100%. I'll be keeping the car original as much as possible. Not to worry. :)

Getting the car up and running would be great, but she needs a lot of work to get back on the road.

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