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driving a 1939 eight special


thadri
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Hello all,

Looking to learn to adequately drive (just up and down the road) a 1939 Buick Eight Special.  Any information would be helpful.  Including links to any videos that would be exact or something very similar.

Thanks!

Thad from RI

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The strangest part for me is the steering and trying to figure out where the front of the car is.  The seat is naturally very relaxed, making judging anything up front even more challenging.

 

It has a rather simple clutch to feel/learn due to the decent torque and high gearing.

Edited by 39BuickEight (see edit history)
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I don't recall the name of them but there are vertical stick thingy's with a little do-dad on the top that mount on the outer edge of your front fenders. They stick up above the hood height to let you know where the fender is located.  I used them when I was learning to drive with a 1950 Buick. Once you become familiar with gauging your car's position, you can remove them.

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That knob on the left end of your dash is a throttle, not a choke. It's like a fixed position gas pedal on the dash. It is used mostly when the car is stopped on an upward hill; pulling it out to increase engine speed will allow you to take your foot off of the gas pedal while still operating the clutch and brake. Of course the trottle control also helps to keep the engine running on a cold winter warm-up.

 

Read up on proper clutch operation! Don't get into bad habits when learning. In my sixty years of driving stick, I've never burned up a clutch; you shouldn't either.

 

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41 minutes ago, Morgan Wright said:

Have somebody who knows how to drive a stick take you to a big parking lot. Streets and roads is not the place to learn how to use a clutch. Safety first.

 

Listen to this song first: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSTPdpt0Gt0

 

On a '39 Buick (first year for three on the tree), you need to pause for a second or two in neutral when shifting from first to second or second to third.  Also, I recommed you push the lever downward in neutral before pushing it up into second gear when shifting from first to second.  I'm 80 and I've been driving '39 Buicks since I was 16.....regularly.

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11 minutes ago, Dynaflash8 said:

On a '39 Buick (first year for three on the tree), you need to pause for a second or two in neutral when shifting from first to second or second to third.  Also, I recommed you push the lever downward in neutral before pushing it up into second gear when shifting from first to second.  I'm 80 and I've been driving '39 Buicks since I was 16.....regularly.

 

The big one to watch out for is going from 3rd to 2nd. Take it out of 3rd and gently push a little a couple of times, in the direction of 2nd, to get the gear to stop, and then push into 2nd. If you try to push into 2nd too fast, it's usually gonna grind. And the '39 is geared low enough that you rarely will need 2nd gear anyway, even up hills. Buicks are torque monsters, just stay in 3rd.

 

Going from 2nd to 1st, you can't do it. You have to come to a full stop to put it into first. Or maybe 1 or 2 MPH anyway.

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2 hours ago, BuicksBuicks said:

I don't recall the name of them but there are vertical stick thingy's with a little do-dad on the top that mount on the outer edge of your front fenders. They stick up above the hood height to let you know where the fender is located.  I used them when I was learning to drive with a 1950 Buick. Once you become familiar with gauging your car's position, you can remove them.

 

Hey BuicksBuicks, like these???

 

https://www.mooneyesusa.com/product-p/upc5011.htm

 

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Here's me taking my '41 Buick for a drive. Not much to see on the shifting, but you can see me moving the lever now and then. You can also get an idea of how much car is out there--you're probably not as close as you think to the cars in front of you. At one point, it looks like I'm going to bump the car in front of me, but I assure you there is plenty of room. It's mostly just familiarization with the car. Three-on-the-tree is no more difficult to learn than any other manual transmission and if you already know how to drive a car with a clutch, this will present no additional difficulties. My wife, who already knew how to drive stick shift, got into a three-on-the-tree car and with a single phone call to me, she was able to drive it 30 miles home without incident even though she'd never done it before. Really no big deal once you understand that it's the same pattern as a floor shift, just rotated 90 degrees and bolted to the steering column.


Don't over-think it, it's really not at all difficult. After 10 minutes, it will be second-nature, I promise!

 

 

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The owners manual for my "53 Special said low (1st) was for starting on a grade or when fully loaded.  It said to start in 2nd (the OP who willed me the car always called it "medium"  and always started there.  It was sold new in Moose Jaw (speed limit 25mph) and had only been out of town a couple of  years before I got it in 1959.

I hope you enjoy many happy miles in your Buick.

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Congratulations on being a new owner of a late 1930s/1940s Buick.  The advice of other owners here should help you to master the three-speed column shift on your 1939 Special.

 

I've owned a 1949 Super four-door since 1978. I purchased it from the original owner.  She was a surrogate grandmother.  I helped her with the car as a teenager.  She quit driving and then took me out for driving lessons in her car.  It was my first experience with a manual transmission.  Four years ago I acquired a 1939 Roadmaster.

 

A few observations: first and reverse in both cars are not synchronized. To avoid grinding gears when engaging first gear, you need to be aware of the light sequence at intersections. Shortly before it is your time for a green light, hold your foot on the clutch.  Then, when it is time to go, you can drop the shifter into first gear without grinding.  (I don't like to hold down the clutch through the whole light sequence.) If I have a memory lapse when driving the 49, I've found success by monentarily shifting up to second gear to catch a synchro and then into first.  It hasn't worked as well with the 39 Roadmaster, but they do have different transmissions.

 

Otherwise, Dynaflash echoes my thoughts about having to push the shifter away from you when going from first to second.  My shifter on the 39 is sloppy and doesn't have much spring in it to push the shifter on its own through neutral.  (It may be the cable arrangement.) Conversely, my 49 has a tight shift pattern with much more spring to it.

 

I've also found that many mechanics tend to set the slow idle speed up too high. The shop manual for my 49 suggests 450 rpm. That works better for grind-free shifts into first and reverse.

 

I rarely do a third-to-second shift.  If I do, I try to match the engine revs to the transmission.  Brake pads are a lot easier and less expensive to replace than clutch discs.

 

Finally, my 49 has a full-width cabin.  My driving position is much like what I have in my 2001 SAAB wagon. My 39 has wide running boards and a narrower cabin.  I need to pay extra attention to the skip lines between lanes and centerline stripes to avoid crowding them.  Just be aware and adjust.

 

Enjoy your Buick!

 

 

IMG_20170331_130008463_HDR.jpg

Edited by BuickBob49 (see edit history)
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18 hours ago, Morgan Wright said:

 

The big one to watch out for is going from 3rd to 2nd. Take it out of 3rd and gently push a little a couple of times, in the direction of 2nd, to get the gear to stop, and then push into 2nd. If you try to push into 2nd too fast, it's usually gonna grind. And the '39 is geared low enough that you rarely will need 2nd gear anyway, even up hills. Buicks are torque monsters, just stay in 3rd.

 

Going from 2nd to 1st, you can't do it. You have to come to a full stop to put it into first. Or maybe 1 or 2 MPH anyway. 

When you get down to 5 mph or so, push it into 2nd and when you stop, pull it down to 1st.  I do that frequently for red lights and stop signs.

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My '39 has one of those lighted fender guides, but it is not required to be able to drive the car.   Not sure what your issue is but one problem I had with mine was the steering box had not been adjusted and there was lots of slop.

By adjusting the screw on the steering box (and adding grease) it became a different car to drive.

39 side mount.jpg

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Thanks so much for the info!  I greatly appreciate everyone taking the time to so thoughtfully respond.  I enjoy reading all of them.

 

The road we live on is a country road and has little traffic most of the time.   A half mile away is a very large restaurant parking lot.  I plan to drive it towards the parking lot and then learn more of the nuances there.  

 

I look forward to any other replies that can help me get going.  I understand that driving it a few times a year is a good idea.  

 

 

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You'll be fine - there's so much torque that even if you've never driven a manual before you'll get the feel very quickly.

 

Also - I see that you are planning your first drive to be merely "towards the parking lot" 

May I recommend putting a finer point on that and make your goal to actually arrive at and into said parking lot?

 

Oh, and if you have yet to actually leave the driveway - be prepared to giggle like a schoolgirl. 

We all have on that first real drive- and half of us still do!!

 

I might just do it again this afternoon.

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Good to hear of your country roads.  The pre war Buick gives a soft, undulating ride which is comfortable but a handful to contain.  The car will go 65 MPH but will take over 20 seconds to get there and the brakes are effective but try to have extra space in front and out back to compensate for modern traffic.

 

Barney: Love the side mount mirrors.  Where did they come from and could I buy a pair?

 

Matt: Watched the video, good of you to post it.  Though the video showed a few rolling stops and driving across painted islands, is that how they roll in Cleveland?

 

Regards, Gary

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1. Brake ahead of time and slow down for green lights in case they turn yellow. That's how truckers drive.

 

2. Don't scream around corners, it's not a MIni Cooper.

 

3. Don't go below 20 in 3rd gear, it might lug the motor.

 

4. Bring jumper cables, and it's OK to get a jump from 12 V no problem at all.

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