benjaminh

Recommendations for First Pre-1940 Vehicle

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Hi everyone,

I'm looking to purchase my first pre-1940 car, and am looking for recommendations as to manufacturer and model.

These are my requirements:

It really has to have the classic 1920's look: spoked wheels, long front end, semi-square body; I'm looking for something more like the Model A Ford, not anything in the "wind stream" look.

It needs to be driveable: it needs to be able to keep up with today's traffic, including highway traffic.

It needs to be RELATIVELY fuel efficient: I realize your not going to get the efficency of some of today's vehicles, but I want something that, for it's era, is pretty good on fuel.

 

I'm leaning towards the Model A Ford, as it meets these requirements pretty well, and is a pretty common car. What cars do you guys know of that meet at least some of these requirements?

 

Benjamin

 

 

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You're not going to get 1920s/early 30s and "keep up with today's highway traffic" in one car. Late '30s, yes, early '30s, your cruising speed will be 45-50 at best. Beyond that, you have a wealth of choices and I might recommend an entry-level Buick or Chrysler, which have good power, big six-cylinder engines (or a straight-8 if the Buick is 1931 or newer), and decent road manners, plus the look you're going for. Still not 60 MPH cars, but big, affordable, and very road-worthy.

 

You're going to get a lot of suggestions here. Maybe go to some shows and look around and see what you like then narrow down the search a bit. There's a HUGE difference between a 1930 Ford and a 1930 Buick, but the prices aren't all that different.

 

Have fun in the search!

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Thanks for the reply Matt; I guess I hadn't mentioned the possibility of adding overdrive; apparently the model A can handle 60+ MPH with a transmission conversion...

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Well, yes and no. I have an overdrive in my 1929 Cadillac and while it's technically capable of going faster, it's still happiest at 50-55. It's still ancient, the brakes are still ancient, the tires are still skinny, the suspension is still based on a conestoga wagon's, and, well, more speed isn't necessarily a good thing. I'm a big proponent of overdrives, but they aren't a cure-all and aren't just for making more speed. I wanted to simply cut down on the wear and tear on the engine as those big rods flail around in there, not necessarily go faster. With the overdrive, my Cadillac probably has the horsepower to go 80 or 85 MPH, but there's no way I'm trying it. Even 60 MPH is harrowing. Plenty of guys running around at 65 MPH in their Model As, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea.

 

It's not that easy. Wish it were, but it's not. The cars simply weren't designed to run in today's traffic, so you have to take that into consideration. It's more than just pushing the box through the air, it's keeping it safe and getting it stopped that are the real issues.

 

When I want to go fast in an old car, I take one of my '41s. They're fast. When I want to drive an old car that feels old, I take the Cadillac. It's slow. I like the looks of both, but the '29 will never be able to keep up with the '41s, overdrive or no overdrive. Sorry.

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Hi Benjamin,

 

I certainly agree with Matt, your big hurdle will be keeping up with highway traffic and stopping, slowing down safely or taking evasive action at 70 miles an hour in an 80 year old car designed to top out at 50 and slow down over a long distance.

My 1931 Buick tops out at 70 without overdrive according to period literature but I worry going 55. It is much happier at 45-50, and then I am constantly on the lookout for someone stopping suddenly or cutting in front of me. Your awareness level needs to be like a motorcycle rider since most of the general public has no idea of your limitations.

I like having something different versus the Model A crowd so there again Matt is right on since my 90 series Buick coupe wasn't much more than a Model A but the parts availability for the other brands is nowhere near the great support the Fords have. It took a two year search to find an exhaust manifold for my car and the other bits I found were much more expensive than they would have been for a model A. 

So if you don't mind a more common car the A will differently be easier to keep on the road.

Good luck and let us know what you find.

 

Chuck

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I hate to say it, but what you want is a hot rodded 20's, early 30's car.

 

I did about 70kph (45mph) in my 28 Chrysler once and it wasn't the best feeling but it has tired engine. I am happy to putt around at 30 -35mph on city streets.

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Thanks guys for the reminder that these are, no matter what upgrades you give, still old cars. That definetely poses safety concerns about highway driving. Thanks for popping me back into reality.

 

Chuck: you have a good point about the parts availability; that's something that's a definete benefit about the Fords.

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1937-38 Buicks are one of the nicest driving cars of the times, good power, easy steering and shifting, wonderful cars.

Earlier cars have good handling abilities IF they are either excellent original mechanically, or if they've REALLY been restored correctly.  Worn out or poor restoration cars will have bad brakes, stiff steering, and so forth.  If you drive a properly set up earlier car, you'll usually find they're very nice to drive.

 

If you want freeways speeds, you're pretty much locked in to the late 1930's.  Some of the big Classics with correct rear end gears or overdrive will go freeway speeds, but as Matt says, it's really not what they were made for.  My '31 Pierce has an overdrive, and it's set up with excellent (original) brakes (about 16 feet of 2 inch lining and tool steel drums), and I can drive it 70 or 75 without any real issue with overdrive engaged,  but it's much saner to stay around 55....

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Maybe you should look for a Shay Model A Ford roadster. That will look a LOT like a 1929 Ford roadster and will do freeway speeds. They have Pinto or Mustang II engines and are modern underneath. There are a few on Ebay and here is one....

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Ford-Model-A-standard-/182219537465?forcerrptr=true&hash=item2a6d217c39:g:-yYAAOSwARZXllj~&item=182219537465

Edited by keiser31 (see edit history)

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41 minutes ago, benjaminh said:

How are the Buicks and Chryslers in terms of general handling abilities?

I have two 1931 Dodges and they are comfortable (legroom wise), well driving and great running cars. You would still have the same problems such as poor handling at higher speeds. Of course, braking hard will not stop you. It may lock up the brakes as they are hydraulic on the Chrysler products, but the skinny tires will allow skidding. 

Edited by keiser31 (see edit history)

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I currently have a 38 Studebaker Stste Commander. It's big heavy handles well, has decent brakes and doesn't get pushed around by the big trucks on the highway. I took it up to the  Indy track for the Haggerty show and we were able to drive the track. It ran at 70 for 4 or 5 laps just fine.  I didn't have to worry about someone cutting in front of me or any panic stops. The drive back home was on the interstate at 55 - 60 lots of cars and trucks passed me and I don't think I passed anyone but it was a comfortable drive. Lots of people gave me the thumbs up or waved with big smiles on their faces. 

I had a 49 Ford F3 pickup with a 5.0 fuel  injected 5 speed with 4 wheel disk brakes and modern wide radial tires ( I know it was a hot rod) and it could do 80-85 or more with no problem but that doesn't mean I would do it. It was still not as steady on the road as a modern car/truck or the 38. It had a Jaguare rack & pinion front end but was still a little unstable at 70 or above. A model A would just be crazy to try to do highway speeds and be safe for you, your family and others on the road. 

Go to some cars and coffee meets in your area and talk to owners maybe even get a ride or two.  Check to see if a local chapter of the AACA is having a meet and talk to owners I would bet you could get rides to see how a variety of cars drive. 

Speed is great but every time I have a fast trip to make it always takes longer than expected just because of people asking questions about the car. So speed can be very elusive thing.  Have fun 

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I'd add this: the older vehicles were not designed to consider the impact to the occupants in the event of an accident.  Motor Vehicle Collison ( including rear-ending, debris, road departure) in those old vehicles was usually a bad outcome.  I recall reading somewhere that injuries and fatalities increased 2X for every 10mph increase.  One should consider overdrives, increase engine output and increased speed in light of the braking system - increased speed can result in one getting 'way ahead' of the braking capability.  Anti-locks, dual hydraulic cylinders were things of the future.  Collison design is WAY into the future - seat belts, padded dashes, designed steering wheels, air bags.....

Does that mean those cars are not thoroughly enjoyable to drive? Not at all.  They really, really are.  I LOVE my Chrysler - three years older than my Chevrolet - and I love THAT car but they are astoundingly different cars - ride, braking, driving experience.  So you might want two. or three or more.

I've never driven a 29-30 Cadillac but I hear they are awesome. Have driven 41 Cadillacs and they are just so nice.   Chryslers are awesome - and have bigger engines and 'wet' brakes. The 31 Dodge would be very nice ride, the As are plain fun - and parts everywhere. Chevys aren't common but great cars. Some of the big Buicks are just so elegant.  Packards will really go.  Shays are nice - not my cup of tea but nice.  And they are antiques and originals.

 

MOST cars didn't have synchronized transmissions until 31-32. And remember, those designs didn't really consider what was happening behind you - some models had surprising amount of blind spots.  Mirrors are not the best.

 

But for feeling 'good', creating good will and good feelings in others, being looked at - and envied - at 30-40mph - you can LOOK around ( somewhat - remember safety) - you might not go fast - but you GO. And your best girl riding with you, wind and coolness of the open windows - cannot be described.

 

My cars are happy - and I am happy - 45ish max. 

 

Welcome - hope to see you on a tour.

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While your first post would sound like you want 20s styling rather than 30s styling. I will have to add to what Trimacar already said. If I was looking for a pre-war car, I would look for a 1937 or so Buick Century. The first car listed on the 36-38 Buick Club website appears to be a really good deal. If I did not already have a 1937 Buick Century, I would be seriously interested in that one... Here is the link: http://www.3638buickclub.org/advertisements.html

 

 

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Really you have 2 choices. Buy a nice car that has the looks you want and don't take it on the Interstates and don't go over 50MPH except for short periods.

 

Or buy a hot rod or replicar with modern underpinnings that can handle 70 - 80 MPH for long periods.

 

There are quite a few hot rodded cars of the type you mention and some of them are well done.

 

Buying a car from the early 30s and expecting it to handle modern highways unmodified just isn't realistic unless you get something like a Duesenberg.

 

There are quite a few postwar cars that will do what you are asking especially the more expensive models. From 1957 up pretty much any car  except for the very cheapest.

Edited by Rusty_OToole (see edit history)

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I think you answered your own question-buy a Model A Ford- hit the Ford Barn for advise and if you find it to slow down the road, can always sell it and try a different model.

 

Parts and repair are easy peasy!

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Consider a 1934 - 1936 six cylinder Auburn.  Being a six cylinder, it is not a CCCA classic, meaning it does not command the higher price of the eights.  They came from the factory with a fully counterbalanced crankshaft, a synchronized three speed transmission, four  wheel hydraulic Bendix brakes which will lock the wheels up if needed.  And best of all a two speed Dual-Ratio rear differential which allows you to drive at freeway speeds all day long. They look like my avatar, but the hood is two inches shorter.  Parts are available.

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21 minutes ago, Curti said:

Consider a 1934 - 1936 six cylinder Auburn.  Being a six cylinder, it is not a CCCA classic, meaning it does not command the higher price of the eights.  They came from the factory with a fully counterbalanced crankshaft, a synchronized three speed transmission, four  wheel hydraulic Bendix brakes which will lock the wheels up if needed.  And best of all a two speed Dual-Ratio rear differential which allows you to drive at freeway speeds all day long. They look like my avatar, but the hood is two inches shorter.  Parts are available.

 

That's a pretty nice car; the 1934 models are close the the stylings that I'm looking for, too. They don't seem to be that "available" though, at least not at a reasonable price...

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This is a 34 sedan I owned and restored.   Go to the ACD reunion over the Labor Day. You may well find what you are looking for.

1934 6 cyl.JPG

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A 1928 newspaper clipping I came across

gives a picture of speed at that time.  The Jordan

car company did a study of people's desire for

speed.  Of those surveyed, 90% never traveled

more than 45 m.p.h.  They liked their cars to have

some reserve capacity, however, for passing, for

quick acceleration, and for ample power on hills.

 

Do you live in an area where there are plenty of

small, sparsely used country roads?  Pennsylvania

is great for that;  people who live near big cities

have a harder time.  If you really want a late 1920's car,

consider driving it the way it originally was, enjoying

the trip and the scenery.

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Benjamin, do you realize that up until around 1931,

the gears in the manual transmissions weren't 

synchronized?  Those cars will take a little learning,

but that shouldn't dissuade you.

 

Other people can tell you more about when

synchronized gears were adopted.

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Let's come at this from another angle. Suppose the OP is willing to accept that an 80 year old car is not going to perform to modern speeds and is willing to accept its limitations. Now what would be the most practical choice from the standpoint of  service, availability of parts and  ease of repairs?

 

Ford I think would come first. Packard should be in there. I am thinking of the 110 and 120 line starting in 1936 which is a little newer than he wants, the earlier ones being rather expensive.

 

What would you suggest for a beginner not to get in over his head?

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Thanks all of you, and thanks Rusty for your points. What are your suggestions for a pretty cheap beginners car, with the 1920/early 30's look?

 

Benjamin

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