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Looking at buying a 39 Century but have questions


B.Liesberg
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Hello,

 

I'm new, the only vehicle I've ever owned is a 50' Willys Cj-3a but I'm looking to upgrading to something a bit more highway worthy and I heard these cars are great for that if you're looking for an older vehicle. It looks to have been partially restored and I was told that the engine was redone at some point (which is unknown). I really like the car but don't know much about them.

 

Anyhow, I took it for a test drive to-day and enjoyed it, but the lack of shock absorbers in the rear end made it float around like a boat at times. I think this was my biggest complaint, although I only got to test it on the rough roads of the LA suburbs, so it's hard to say how it'll handle on better maintained roads. Are there any aftermarket shock absorbers you can put on it to help ease this issue?

 

Also, while the engine seems to run pretty strong and overall mechanically it felt pretty sturdy, there are a lot of little problem details that were bugging me: missing radio, missing plastic trim pieces in the cab, small dent in the driver's side front fender, much of the chrome has a little bit of bubbling on it, glass delamination on passenger side windows. He said some of the parts were difficult to find (mainly the trim pieces), I was just wondering if anyone here maybe had a source for these types of parts (OEM or repro, I don't care too much).

 

Lastly, he's asking $15k for it, is that a reasonable price for a car in this condition?

 

I don't have a lot of experience with this line of cars so any help is appreciated! 

-Brian

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Welcome to the AACA Discussion Forum.

I am personally much more familiar with 1937 and 1938 Buicks than 1939. Why are there no shocks on the rear? Are you saying that the owner has removed the shocks or just that they need to be rebuilt? There are a number of one year only parts in 1939 Buicks. From the photos, and your description, I would think that the car would probably be worth a bit less than that. A good number of parts for Buicks of this era can be found, but there are some limitations on reproduction parts. There are others here who can probably give you more 1939 specific information than I can.    

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If the car was in a solid #3 condition, going by the Old Cars Report Price Guide, it would probably be worth about that amount. The dash photo shows a lot of pitting on the bright trim that is not indicative of a #3 condition car. I really don't have enough photos or information to make a well informed guess, but from the limited photos that I have seen, I think that it is probably worth somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000, but more information would be needed for me to be any more specific. When people advertise cars they typically think about how much they invested in it for items such as paint. A restored car can typically be purchased for less than it would take you to restore it. When people want to sell cars that they restored, they tend to ask prices based on what they spent on the restoration. The market just does not typically support that type of thinking. 

 

I drive my 1937 Century regularly. I have driven it from North Carolina to Indiana for a club tour. While it does not drive like a modern car, it handles well. A properly restored and/or maintained 1939 Century should also handle well. If it does not handle well, you might want to figure out why it does not. 

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Alright I'll keep your estimate in mind.

 

I didn't have any issues with the handling at all, I thought it drove well. Like I said, while driving the only complaint was the "floaty" feeling of the rear end. Did this car come with shock absorbers? If so I think it would be fairly easy to just install some new ones. That was one of the first things I did when I bought my Jeep and it only took about 40 minutes or so, but maybe 30's shocks aren't the same as the newer ones, I've seen a few different styles.

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The shocks, front and back, are lever type hydraulic shocks.  As Matt said , they can be rebuilt. Not at the corner garage, though.  Sometimes one can refill them with shock " hydraulic jack" oil and they will work OK.  Seals are probably shot.

 That is a nice looking car. A century is a desirable car.  

  I am with matt on price. MAYbe $12,000.00.    You could probably enjoy it for a couple years and get almost that much back if you decided to sell it. 

 

  Ben

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That seems like alot of car to me for $15k. Good color (most are black) nice interior and the big engine. Many parts are one year only stuff but that goes for alot of cars of the period so its not usually a big deal. Trim parts, a radio, stuff like that you can get. If it is mechanically sound that is the important thing because I think thats where finding parts can be tough for the 39's. Shocks are easy to fix even if you have to get them rebuilt. Ask yourself this question.......how long will you look for a better car that you like this much for less cash? A few dollars up front wont make a difference in the long run after you start fixing it up and you get a good car that drives good and can start enjoying the hobby right away. I always just get in and go and it has always worked out in the end for me. Plus this is a century not a special or super so its a better car for driving for the same or less money.

 

Just my 2 cents!

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I have a '39 Century and the shocks have a hard time keeping 2 tons and 18 feet of car in check.  It is a soft ride.  The expensive to repair things are running board mats, not available except custom work, and the plastic steering wheel cracks.  Also ask or look if the wiring harness has been changed, it will need to be.  The Century is the best of the prewar sedans, except for maybe the '38 Cadillac Sixty Special.  Make your best deal on it, good looking car in your town which runs and drives.

 

The early 1939 cars had short frames, which Buick fixed with an extension, the later cars had full frames.  You want the full frame.  

 

Regards, Gary

Edited by cxgvd
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The value is a guess at best. The pitted chrome trim on the dash is not a big deal. It can be rechromed or replaced. The problem that I have in giving you an idea of a fair price is that from the limited photos I have seen, I don't know if it is a tired old car with a rusty chassis which got a good paint job and an interior kit, or if it is a nicely maintained or restored car that for some reason did not have the center chrome trim on the dash replaced. The interior kit and a paint job probably cost more than $10,000. The problem is I don't know what else has or has not been done. Do you have any photos of the chassis and engine compartment?

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Most all parts for 1939's are out there.  Maybe not all at once, but even NOS shocks show up on eBay every once in a while.  One of the most difficult parts to find is already on there-the running board stainless.  I see no reason why a person would regret paying $12,000-$15,000 for this car and keep it as is, while replacing items as you find them, and enjoy it.  Appears to be very nice overall.  I wonder what trim pieces he thinks are difficult to find?

 

It would not make sense to repaint it, redo all the chrome, etc with a $15,000 starting price, unless its just a pure hobby of yours and  you just want to learn as you go.

 

Edited by 39BuickEight (see edit history)
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22 minutes ago, 39BuickEight said:

 I wonder what trim pieces he thinks are difficult to find?

 

I tried to upload more pics, but maybe it's 9mb/day?

 

Anyhow, the little plastic inserts for the window cranks & interior door handles (many are missing). And the rubber piece that attaches to the forward part of the rear fender were the 2 he said he couldn't find.

Edited by B.Liesberg (see edit history)
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The interior handle knobs can be hard to find in maroon.  I have a few extras that I will sell once I get mine put together.  Chrome knobs are commonly used in the aftermarket.  All other maroon knobs are reproduced by Boyer in PA and also show up on eBay from time to time.

 

The fender part he is talking about is called fender welt(big).  It’s available all over the place, not just a 1939 part.

Edited by 39BuickEight (see edit history)
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Supplies sell the selling usually in 25 ft rolls for around $25.  If you look closely at the between the rear fender and the body you will see a black strip-it’s that.  It goes all across the rear fender, but only about a foot on the front fender where it bolts to the body.

 

I don’t want to price the door escutcheons yet.  In case I break one putting mine on, I will need 1 or more of them.  I also may have some handles that are nicer than the ones on this car.  

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I'd proceed with caution. If the owner tells you the needed parts are hard to find, he's probably right. A 1939 Century radio may not be easy to obtain, and then the radio could need repairs to be functional and might have to be restored cosmetically. You will need a good qualified body or restoration shop to repair the front fender and match the paint, $$$$$. Then there's the rear shock issue and a few more problems might become obvious when you start driving the car. Also during the discussions with the owner, if he pegs you as a novice at this, he probably won't knock 1/3 off the price down to 10K just like that. I think once the car is yours and all the problems are fixed you'll be in it closer to 17-19K. You will have a late thirties 4-door sedan that may actually be worth much less. If you really like the car and that's exactly the kind of car you want then the money shouldn't be an issue. I'm not trying to rain on your parade, I just want you to be aware of what you're getting into. I wish you all the best whatever you decide to do. Good Luck!

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20 minutes ago, B.Liesberg said:

What is the top speed of the 1935 Buick 57 Sedan?

I think CRUISING speed is more appropriate--45 max as cruise, unless you add an overdrive.  All 1934-35 50 series had 4.88 differentials, and I could never find a faster gearset that would interchange.  I speak as the (now former) owner of a 1934 56S for >40 years.  The 1931-35 50 engines were much earlier technology, and slower-turning engines.  The 1934 40 series (233 cid) was much more modern and became the 248 and then the 263.

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There are alot of guys on this page that have big Buick's like that Century your looking at and they will all vouch for how good they drive. In fact after reading several posters comments about the cars Im kind of looking for a big series 1940-41 Buick for myself now, hopefully a Century or even a Limited if Im really lucky (probably not though their hard to find). By 1937 or so the big Buicks were really good drivers with power and road manners that work on todays roads. Before then they didnt need as much speed because there were no highways and still alot of dirt roads. I think someone posted videos here of them driving there 41 Limited which will give you a look at what their like to drive and raved about how good it is on the road even after driving other cars.

 

If it runs and drives you will like the Century even if it needs some fixing up. Dont worry about spending more than its worth that will be ok because you are having fun in the car. Get in and start having fun!!!!

Edited by billorn (see edit history)
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6 hours ago, B.Liesberg said:

Well I picked it up for $12k to-day and drove it from Long beach back to San Diego. It ran a bit hot a few times, but other than that it drove fine. I'll flush out the radiator and change the oil.

Welcome to the world of '39 Buick's.  They are a lot of 1 year only parts but others are common to many years

From other images of that car form a year ago I think is has/had unmatched grilles (early & later version). If hunt long enough you will get another so you have a matched pair

 

The best source for any 1936-1941 Buick parts is Dave Tachey. He is old school and the best way to reach him is by phone call between 4 and 7 pm Central time here in the US. His phone number is 763-427-3460. You can also write him a letter. His address is 11949 Oregon Ave N., Champlin, MN 55316.

(text by Matt Hinson from other posts)

 

These guys are good to deal with https://bobsautomobilia.com/

 

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Running hot is a common issue and the 39 model especially so with its smaller air restricting grille. A radiator recore is almost mandatory and a modern design core is a big improvement over the original. The rear water jackets do tend to collect crap and a block flush is worthwhile. I recently mounted a Summit six blade fan in my Century and found it to move more air and improve cooling at idle and slow traffic where overheating can occur. Always a good idea to pop the hood open after parking to help release trapped heat during cool down which helps dreaded vapor lock. A 180 stat seems to work best. Apple hydraulics in NY does a nice job of rebuilding shocks if topping off and bleeding out the air does not improve damping. I refilled a dry front unit and it works quite well now without leaking so its worth a try. Also check the fluid in your steering box as these tend to dry up. You will need to get yourself a grease gun if you dont have one as there a quite a few zerks to pump. I always drain and refill all the fluids on any car I buy as they usually need it. Service intervals on vintage cars are frequent compared to the almost zero service of modern vehicles. You should be able to easily cruise at 60/65 in a Century or Roadmaster. I do in mine without a problem. Good luck!

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3 hours ago, Spinneyhill said:

Use semi-fluid grease (NLGI 00) in the steering box. Chassis grease is wiped off on the first turns and won't flow back, so there is then no lubrication.

 

This exact problem pops up with quite a few Jeeps as well (mine has an insane amount of play because of it). I plan on putting in whatever is recommended by the manual (or you guys).

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The engine looks like a small 248 ci.....which means the car might not be a Century.    It could be a Century with a Special engine but I suspect it is a Special.   That makes a difference in the price.

In 1939 the Special had a 120 in wheel base and there were 109,213 4 dr sedans made.

The Century had a 126 in wheelbase and there were 18,462 made

Old car price guide list a #1 Special at $30,500.............the #1 Century 4 dr is listed at $33,500

It probably cost about the same to restore either,  but the Century is considerably rarer.

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It says model 61 on the dataplate, as well as Century 61 on the (I'm assuming) original paperwork. It also says Century on the piece of trim across the bottom of the hood and has a 126" wheelbase.

 

Plus there's really no extra room to make the engine any bit larger, probably not even a couple inches.

 

 

Edited by B.Liesberg (see edit history)
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The engine has all the indications of a 320 (starting with the air intake).  What do you see that indicates otherwise?

1 hour ago, Barney Eaton said:

The engine looks like a small 248 ci.....which means the car might not be a Century.    It could be a Century with a Special engine but I suspect it is a Special.   That makes a difference in the price.

In 1939 the Special had a 120 in wheel base and there were 109,213 4 dr sedans made.

The Century had a 126 in wheelbase and there were 18,462 made

Old car price guide list a #1 Special at $30,500.............the #1 Century 4 dr is listed at $33,500

It probably cost about the same to restore either,  but the Century is considerably rarer.

 

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6 hours ago, Barney Eaton said:

The engine looks like a small 248 ci.....which means the car might not be a Century.    It could be a Century with a Special engine but I suspect it is a Special.   That makes a difference in the price.

In 1939 the Special had a 120 in wheel base and there were 109,213 4 dr sedans made.

The Century had a 126 in wheelbase and there were 18,462 made

Old car price guide list a #1 Special at $30,500.............the #1 Century 4 dr is listed at $33,500

It probably cost about the same to restore either,  but the Century is considerably rarer.

The air cleaner is the 320ci style.  Also the internal door handles show the plastic insert.  Series 40 do not have that (but handles can be swapped)

From images I have of this car from 2017 is shows a good distance from the door pillar to the back edge of the front fender.  Much smaller on specials

Edited by 1939_Buick (see edit history)
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OK I was totally wrong.......had to go out and look at my '39 Century (maybe I should not admit I own a Century after making that mistake)

I would go back and erase my post but so many of you copied it ....I will not post any comments about '39 Centurys for a month.....maybe forever. 

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