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1937 Buick Model 48: RESTORATION HAS BEGUN! (Photo)

Gary W

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1937 Buick Model "48"  (Two-Door "trunkback" Sedan)


A  Step - By - Step   "Frame - Off"  Restoration  Thread


Wednesday January 11, 2017:


Today is the day the restoration starts.  The Holidays are over, the tree cleaned up and my buddy Mike has graciously offered his vacant garage to store my Model "A" Fords for three months.  This allows the Buick to take most of the garage, and puts me on an aggressive timeline so I'm not paying for monthly storage.  So, with the Fords out of the garage, I parked the Buick perpendicular and began the assessment and started work.  


The Assessment:



Here she sits all ready for restoration.  Although the photo looks like the car is in great shape, I will post some photos of the issues I face:





All four fenders have chipping, cracking and "alligator" paint.



Cowl paint is down to metal



Trunk lid and rear deck is also worn down to the bare metal and flaking off.



The roof paint is badly worn, and there is rust under the window rubber trim.


2. Mechanical Issues:



All the body mounts, transmission mount and all four motor mounts are hopelessly dry-rotted and petrified.



Every inch of wiring from the headlamps right on through the dash to the tail lamps is brittle, crumbling and exposed.



Left rear leaf spring is cracked and the main leaf is protruding through the tin spring covers.


3. Interior / Upholstery Issues:



Steering wheel rim is cracked all around, the plating is worn off.  There is a distinct "clunk" and a heavy spot in the steering gearbox that needs to be addressed.  The rug is worn out and rotted from water leaking in through the cowl gutter.  The wood grain is sprouting rust blossoms.



The upholstery is torn, stained and completely inhabited by mice.  The smell is overwhelming.  The headliner is also stained from mice living inside it.




So today, Wednesday January 11, 2017 the restoration begins:




  After the car was situated, I started the restoration by removing the license plates and the Trippe Lamps.  (They were strictly ornamental...never wired)





Then the bumpers were removed by removing the medallions and the outer bumper bolts





I had to use tons of PB Blaster to loosen all the rust and a breaker bar to get the nut to give up!





Front bumpers off, then under the fenders to remove the bumper support irons from the chassis.





Once the irons are removed, you can see some more of the chassis.  I photograph everything as I go to make the build go easier.





End of the day.  Front and rear bumpers removed.

 I keep a notebook running with every part removed, bag and tag all fasteners and mark parts for location for easier reassembly.




January 13, 2017:



It took four of us to lift the hood off the car after removing the nut under the dash and the forward nut above the radiator.



Then removed all the radiator and hood support irons



Then off came the headlamps



Next I removed the running boards entirely by removing the bolts that affix the support irons to the frame and the boards dropped right off into my head.



Saturday January 14, 2017:



I got a few hours in the garage today and got the front disassembled.  I removed the fender lamps, the Front fenders, the lower radiator shield (or wind deflector), the grille halves, the front clip and the horns.  I'm taking stock of parts that need rebuilding or replacing.  I carefully labelled and photographed every step of the way.  All nuts, bolts, washers are tagged and bagged in ziplock bags.  I think I may have to replace some of the 80-year old bolts, as they are quite rusty and brittle.


Here's the end result of today's work:




Edited by Gary W
I wanted to make the beginning complete. (see edit history)
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1 hour ago, Barney Eaton said:

I cannot imagine working on a car in a carpeted garage



I worked on cold cement today.  My feet are still frozen.   I did have a movable piece of carpet that really was nice to stand on in winter, but my son threw it away.



the garage above, it is so clean, I'd take a nice nap under the car.  A woodstove would be heaven.



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Friday January 20, 2017:



Last night I prepped the running boards for re-vulcanization by removing all the brackets, hardware and trim.     



Here's the dry-rotted running board.  I am going to send these out for re-vulcanization instead of just recovering them.



The underside is very rusty and needed a good soaking of PB Blaster to loosen up those mounting bolts and related parts.



Everything soaking in PB Blaster.



Once all the chassis support irons and the smaller support parts were removed, I removed the mud shields under there.



Then off came the running board trim.



The trim is rusty on the underside so what I'm going to do is use a small wire wheel with a dremel tool, try to remove as much rust as possible, and then paint the underside with a rust-proofing paint like POR-15.  I think that will prevent further rust under there.



I measured the vulcanized lip that rises above the edge of the running board.  This actually fits under the doors when installed.  The vulcanized rubber should replicate this when they return complete.



Once the running boards were completely disassembled, I had the underside of the boards sand blasted clean before shipping them out to the re-vulcanizer.  All other parts under there, all the supporting irons, the metal risers, mud flaps are all getting blasted and powder coated "mirror black".  I have to replace all the carriage bolts under there, as there is not one that is re-usable.  All are rusted beyond repair.



Then I removed all the trim from the front clip, and continued removing "stuff" from the engine (Water pump, fuel pump, distributor.....)  All coming along nicely!



Here is the latest photo.  Coming along!

Edited by Gary W
Updating photos with the text. (see edit history)
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UPDATE:  Motor is ready to be pulled, dash is out, trunk is stripped, rear fenders off, Front and rear glass and all garnish moldings out.  Getting close to media blasting!







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Gary, that's good progress.  Your workspace is bright, clean and looks very comfortable.  What kind of restoration are you planning?  Frame off? Rechrome everything?  Also, what do you mean by media blasting?  Will you use sand or plastic or soda?  What are your plans for the engine?


I've often struggled with what restoration level makes the best sense.  While I know it's a personal choice, for me I have to face the economic reality of getting these cars back on the road.  So, I will live with removing some rod shims and re-ringing instead of spending $4-5K as long as it brings things back or close to spec.


I'd like to hear about your thoughts and plans.  I look forward to following your work and thank you for sharing it with us.



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Hello Joel:


It's always a struggle to find the level of restoration that you are comfortable with.  It seems one thing always leads to another and the the old "....while I'm here I may as well go ahead and..........(fill in the blank!)"  I am pulling the body off for two reasons: 1. All the rubber mounts are hopelessly dry rotted and need to be replaced and 2. I want to have the underside of the body blasted free of rust so I can paint a good coat of POR-15 under before mounting it back to the frame.  While the body is out getting blasted, I'll treat the chassis to a degreasing, power wash and paint with the same POR-15.  I Brush this on all the interior surfaces of the body as well, before any interior panels get installed to help preserve the car.  


Being the motor runs, the plan is to drop the pan, clean the oil pump and sludge.   Remove the head to give the block a through cleaning, as the water channels are muddy.  Then, a new set of rings and valves hoping the pistons, rods, babbit...are good.  A basic go-through just to check specs on the mains, rods, wrist pins.


I have to change the clutch throw-out bearing and the flywheel ring gear, and I may as well change the clutch plate while I'm in it, so the decision to pull the motor was kinda made for me.  


I constantly keep in mind the cost of the restoration, which is why I like to use local blasters, powdercoaters...  But the woodgraining I will send out.  The bumpers look fine, and I polished them up nice.  The front grille is going out to be re-chromed, as that is a centerpiece of the car, but the door handles...will be chromed locally.  Much, much cheaper.  I've chosen Le Barron Bonney for the interior kit, but I'll do the install myself.  Money, money, money....but I'm having a BLAST!!  This is a great experience, and to work with my two boys  (12 & 16), just busting' knuckles and getting greasy makes it all worth it.


You want to have a car that you are proud of, but not bankrupt over.  I understand your dilemma and I really try to keep the cost in mind with every decision.  I'll keep posting as the restoration continues.   Great bunch of guys here.


PS.......HOW DO YOU GET THE INTERIOR DOOR HANDLES OFF??  I want to strip the remainder of the interior today, cannot figure it out!

Edited by Gary W (see edit history)
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Gary, your intentions were very well stated and thanks for taking the time to explain.  The 37 grill indeed is the main attraction, but it does need those mile long headlights as well.


interior door handles are held in place with a wire "horseshoe" shape clip.  Although there is a tool made to help remove it, I've had good success with a very thin flat screwdriver.  You push the handle bezel into the door panel to get as much clearance as possible to see what you are doing.  Then push the wire ends of that little spring loaded clip and it should come off easily.  The tool is a flat thin metal that has a notch in it that pushes the clip ends off.


Good luck with it and keep us posted.



Edited by JoelsBuicks (see edit history)
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Saturday January 28, 2017:  Pulling the Engine:




This weekend I got the steering box, engine and transmission out of the car.  

The steering box had a noticeable "clunking" inside, so I think I'll give the folks at LARES a shot at a rebuild.  

The transmission seems perfectly fine, except the dry-rotted rubber mount.  I knew the flywheel ring gear was destroyed and the pilot bearing was noisy, so I figured a good going through the motor while it was out was a good idea.  Tore it down today to find a broken oil ring on #2 piston, but the motor really looks good inside. Crankshaft is really nice, all inserts look good.  Going to take it to the machine shop this week to have the crankshaft measured and the bores measured to find out if it is standard.  Any hints on installing the new flywheel ring gear would be appreciated.  Also, how does this clutch disc look?  Should I replace while I have the engine apart?


Thanks Guys!





My son Matthew loosening the rocker assembly.




John Torchia.  86 years old and still pulling engines.  My mentor, my teacher, my friend.




Clutch disc removed.  How do the inserts look?




Pistons and rods all out.




Engine out.




Disassembly coming along quickly!

Edited by Gary W (see edit history)
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2 hours ago, Gary W said:

Any hints on installing the new flywheel ring gear would be appreciated.  Also, how does this clutch disc look?


Disc looks to be recent replacement as it has a magic marker number, and shows very little wear.   Some people prefer a known good part, to replacing with a possible poorly made new part. 


Ring gear will come right off if you go around several times with a flat punch/hammer.  Lay the flywheel flat on wood, keep going around, moving the gear downward a tiny bit in each spot.


New gear goes on with heating up the ring gear.  Takes a while with propane if the gear is beefy, or I've set them in a wood-fire.   It will drop right onto the flywheel step if hot enough.  It can take a couple minutes before it no longer seems loose.  It does not need red heat, nor dull orange.... just enough heat to expand it.  You need no tools if it is hot.




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January 29, 2017:   Condition of the Flywheel Ring Gear




Here's what my flywheel ring gear looks like.  Obviously the vacuum start switch on the intake manifold failed and the starter solenoid was trying to "start" the car everytime the accelerator pedal was depressed.  

I found a 1937 ring gear at Bob's Automobilia so I'll tackle that project soon.  Going to put the new ring gear on the grill out back to expand it.  Thanks for the advice on the clutch.  I wasn't sure how thick the inserts are supposed to be.




Here's the ring gear as it presented when the inspection cover was removed.




Close-up of the gear teeth on the bench.  There's  no "fix" for this!

Edited by Gary W (see edit history)
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Usually folks can get away with simply flipping the ring gear. In this case, I think replacement is the right idea. I don't think I have ever seen a photo of a ring gear in worse condition than that one.

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These particular '37 GM 2 door sedans , Buick , LaSalle (recently sold one) , Cadillac , look perfect from all elevations and angles and distance. Rare birds , too. Yours , obviously is well preserved. No significant trunk rust. How are the door bottom edges (most rust prone as you probably know) , under the paint ? And speaking of doors and paint : Now that I have got my foot in the door , I will hazard a suggestion. I would not 2 tone it in any way whatsoever. The highly coherent , beautifully integrated design , is being degraded by breaking up the lines with those black fenders. I believe these cars are masterpieces of industrial design , and no beholders eyes can improve their beauty. And how lucky your sons are to have Dad ! 55 years ago I learned to drive a standard transmission in a '39 Cadillac 4 door 61. Some similarity. Teach the kids the technique of double clutching on that synchro floor shift. It is so easy to learn the rhythm if you don't have to do it on a crashbox. Looks favorable that old car addiction will live on in your family ! Just think of all the fascinating cars to come up as the boys grow older ! Gary , thanks for sharing your detailed , interesting  work. You sure know what you are doing ! Good luck !  - Carl

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January 31, 2017:  Steering Box and Flywheel Ring Gear:




Today I got a few hours in the garage and made a little more headway!  First I prepped the steering box for shipment to LARES for a rebuild.  So I drained the fluid into a can, used a puller to get the pitman arm off, and wrapped and shipped it in a bicycle box out to MN.  


Then, using a heavy brass drift, I was able to knock the old, stripped ring gear off the flywheel.  

I set the flywheel outside for a couple hours in the 35 degree air.  Next, I fired up the grill and set the new ring gear on a piece of foil for 20 minutes on high.  And don't you know it, it slipped right on!  It sat beautifully against the flange and looks great!


Then I had to spend a couple of hours cleaning up the garage and getting ready for the engine work.






Using a puller to remove the pitman arm from the steering box.  The steering box is draining into the can it is sitting on.




Using a brass drift, I slowly tapped the ring gear on all sides around the flywheel.  Here you can see it beginning to break loose.




Here you can see the flywheel ring gear dropping off the flywheel a little more.  One more hit and it dropped free from the flywheel.




With the flywheel sitting outside in the cold, and the grill on high, the ring gear expanded enough to be easily slipped into position.  No hammer, just fell into position.




Back in the kitchen to cool off!  Came out very nice.  My first try at this and it worked perfectly!




Her you can see how nicely the ring gear is seated so evenly around the flywheel and the "ADV" and "UDC" timing marks can be seen.




It took over three hours to clean up the mess from pulling the engine, and then organizing all the parts for the engine overhaul.



Edited by Gary W (see edit history)
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February 1, 2017:  Interior, Instrument Cluster Removal



Tonight I decided to attack the interior.  I finally figured out how to get those clips out from the door handles, and once the handles were removed, I was able to remove the door skin, the vent window (entire mechanism), the glass.  

(Do I just scrape the original sound deadening material out?  I'm afraid there is rust under it.  Or will the blaster be able to get it out?)  

So now the driver's door down to it's bare bones.


Then I got behind the instrument panel and first labeled the wires.  (Don't really know why as I will re-wire the entire car...but in case I need a reference)

Then I carefully removed the wires, the speedo cable, the oil gauge and pulled the five dash lamps.  Not real complicated, but it helps to keep up with your yoga!  Four nuts removed and the instrument cluster came right out.


Being I broke the temperature gauge in the block when I tried to remove it, I searched eBay and found one.  So be careful when you pull that gauge out of the block. 


Look at the condition of the dash lamp wires!  Still can't believe it didn't catch on fire.  All the wires are so dry rotted and exposed.  


Moving right along!





Driver's door skin removed, vent window mechanism removed and the glass.




Behind the instrument cluster.  I labeled all the wires and gauges.  Then by removing those four nuts, the cluster comes straight out.




Cluster out, dash stripped




Dash lamps with old, dry rotted and splitting wires.



Edited by Gary W (see edit history)
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13 hours ago, Gary W said:




I see that you are using the kitchen as a workshop also at times.  I know it works well when it is freezing outside.  Been there doing that. Working on fixing trains currently with my grandson.


Hope that is not the Wife's cutting board.  


If the cutting board hers, you have a more understanding wife than I and my wife is GREAT. !



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February 4, 2017:  Begin Interior disassembly / removal



Today I removed the seats, windows, all the window channels, rugs, dome light, rear shade, electric.....  

I released the headliner from the front, rear and the sides.  So.....how do you remove the headliner?  There are many wire bows that it is attached to from front to rear.  Each bow feels "free" on the ends.  Do I just lift each wire bow out?  They feel like they are attached somewhere in the middle?  

A little help would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks!

Edited by Gary W (see edit history)
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In later years you would pull the whole headliner with the listing wires towards the back of the car.  That takes the tension off the wires and you can lift them off either side.  I would suspect yours is the same.

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February 5, 2017:  Finish removing the interior of the car



Today I finished stripping the interior:  What a job in an 80 year old car.  I think I found some 80-year old mice!  The sequence was like this:

First the handles, door and side panels, glass and outside door handles and outside trim molding.  Next I removed the front seat, peeled up the rug, removed the back seat, scraped that burlap stuff off the floor and got rid of more mice nests.  Then the headliner:  I released it from the front windshield, then around the rear windows, then released it all around the perimeter of the interior.  All the ends of the listing wires were visible, and the sharp pointy clips all face forward.  So I grabbed the rear most wire and pulled it forward off the clips.  Then the next one forward and so on.  The headliner kind of came out like an accordion as one unit.  I left all the wires in the headliner so I can re-use them the proper sequence when I order the new interior kit.  It took over two hours to scrape the burlap, the "particle board" panels under the rug and floor burlap.  Then I disconnected the remainder of the wiring under the dash, and completely removed the wiring harness.  And finally, removed the firewall insulator by removing those 10 large screws. All the screws were peened over the nuts on the firewall, so that took much longer than I thought it would.  Another couple hours of clean up and I'm ready to pull the body bolts next in preparation for the sand blaster.


Thanks to all the guys offering advice on this forum.  It is truly a wealth of information!


So next question:  How do I get the knobs off the window and door handles before I send them out for re-chrome?  (last picture)



Removing the door handles using a tool that my buddy John Torchia bought over.  Actually, a thin, small flat screwdriver was ideal to pick out the wire clip.




Removal of the front seat:  Pretty straightforward getting the cushions out.  Then the slide mechanism and the seat supports were all removed.




Front seat and all it's supporting components are now removed.  




Lifting up that "particle board" and the burlap insulation that was under the rear carpet.




Rear seat completely removed and now starts the fun job of scraping out all that old, stinky burlap.  There were tons of mice droppings and mice nests throughout the car.




After freeing the headliner from the perimeter of the interior, I grabbed the rearmost listing wire and tugged forward.  Then the next and so on...

The mice built nests throughout the headliner as well and all that kept falling on me as I worked.




Here's the headlamp switch under the dash.  Note the condition of all the wires.  Everything is cracked, dry-rotted and breaking.





Removing the screws that affix the firewall insulator to the firewall.  Every one of these were peened over in the engine bay and made removal nearly impossible!







Interior is completely stripped now.  I spent well over two hours cleaning and vacuuming up the mess that was left over.  





How do you remove the plastic knobs at the ends of the window risers before I ship the risers out for chrome?

Look at the condition of the chrome bezel around the dome lamp.



3-weeks into the restoration today.  

Edited by Gary W (see edit history)
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February 8, 2017:  Begin engine overhaul



Today I started on the engine.  First I used a Ridge Reamer to clean up the top of the cylinder wall.  There  was no ridge, so I just used it lightly to remove the carbon ring around the top of the cylinders.  After all eight were done, I made some preliminary measurements.  I used plastigauge on the rod journals and the clearance is .0015"  to  .002".  I then measured piston #1 (3.088) and cylinder #1 (3.096) and those are standard measurements.  This block has never been bored, and has very little wear.  Also, the engine has the original '37 style "flat-top" pistons, each one numbered one through eight.   I just read that I may be able to use the '38 style  "domed-top" pistons on the rebuild.  (The reason I'm ordering new pistons is there are a couple of loose wrist pins that are contributing a little noise, so I'll get new pistons from EGGE)


Then John showed me how to remove the rear freeze plug.  He punches it into the block on one side, causing it to "spin", and then simply grab the side sticking out with a plier and pull.  What a mess we found inside the block!  So I removed the other two freeze plugs and being it was 64 degrees today, I took advantage of the beautiful weather and fired up the power washer and gave the block a good cleaning out.  After that, it was about an hour and a half meticulously blowing out every port, drying the  mains, camshaft, and fogging the block with WD-40 so no rust will set in.  This Saturday I'm having the block mic'd at the machine shop so I can get accurate readings and move forward with the engine components.





Using the ridge reamer to remove the carbon ring at the top of the bore.  Maybe one or two revolutions did the trick.  



Plastigauge used to check the rod journals as a preliminary measurement.  The machinist will double check all my mains, rods and block before ordering new parts.




Measuring the plastigauge.  You can see it's between .0015"  and .002".  I think were good here so if the machinist confirms our measurements, we'll re-use the rod bearings.




Piston #1 measured 3.088"  




Cylinder #1 measures at 3.096".  This is very close to standard 3 3/32"  (3.0938")  248 cubic inches displacement.

Of course, this caliper only measures at the very top of the cylinder, so  I'll have the machinist double check with real instruments!




Removal of the rear freeze plug revealed this cruddy, muddy mess inside the block.  




So, being it was warm enough outside, I wheeled the block onto the driveway and fired up my power washer.




Look at that river of rust and debris coming out from the block!




I hit it from every angle I could to dislodge and remove all the rust and scale.




Here I'm pumping the water INTO the side water outlet and letting it back flush clear out through the freeze plug holes.  Beginning to run a lot clearer now.




The final product.  I'm pleased and pretty confident that 95% of all that crud is gone.  (maybe more?)  She should run nice and cool now.

Edited by Gary W (see edit history)
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We had a nice Nor'easter roll through today so I got a few more parts ready for blast...

I started by taking the headlights down to their guts so can get the shells blasted, the reflectors re-silvered and the rims chromed.  I'll just polish the trim, it looks good.

Then the fender lamps, pretty much the same.  All lamps need to be re-wired.

Out to the garage to remove the windshield wiper motors off the car to be re-chromed.  It's only one bolt and disconnect the center link and they lift right out. (Marked BL & BR)

Next, I removed the cowl ventilator, the rubber gasket and most of the handle.  The rest of the handle is riveted to the frame.

Removed the emergency brake handle so I can have the handle wood grained to match the dash

Took out the high beam floor switch,

Removed the dome light wire from behind the dash all around the door frame to the lamp

And finally removed the cowl lacing.  

My plan is to build a wood frame and HOPEFULLY lift the body off the chassis Saturday if I can get some muscle!  I will be meeting the machinist Saturday also, so maybe too much for one day........  I'll keep you posted!










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Today I got a few hours to work on the engine:

First, I used a 1000 grit paper to polish the crankshaft journals.

Next I used a 100 grit with a heavy block of wood to clean up the head

Then, using a valve spring compressor, I removed all keepers, springs and valves

Then deglazed the cylinders using a hone on the electric drill

Everything was mic'd by the machinist.  All bores are standard, crank journals are 10 thousandths under, all mains are standard.  

All bearings have a .002 clearance so I'm comfortable using the same inserts.

Then the backbreaking job of cleaning all those parts.  and cleaning.  and cleaning....... It took almost an hour to remove the pan gasket!  I don't know what kind of adhesive was used!

I'll place the order for new valves, guides, pistons, rings......Monday morning.  










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  • 2 weeks later...

The past couple weeks I entered that phase of the restoration where you are constantly working, but it doesn't seem like you are making any progress.  But it is work that needs to be done.  So, I've been stripping the seats, removing all the fabric, batting, cotton wadding, burlap and........of course............mice.  The mice created a mouse condo in every spring coil!  Gross work, wear gloves and a mask to protect your lungs.   






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