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1938 Buick business coupe semi automatic


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Welcome to the AACA Discussion Forum. The Self Shifting transmission in 1938 Buicks was a fairly rare accessory. I don't remember off the top of my head if there is any documentation as to the exact numbers in each body style. I will see if I can find some additional information in the near future, but my deadline for the next issue of the Torque Tube II newsletter of the 36-38 Buick Club is coming up soon so that is my current priority. I would suggest you consider membership in the 36-38 Buick Club. You can learn more about the club at: http://www.3638buickclub.org/ 

 

@Pete Phillips May have some additional information on the number of Self Shifting transmission equipped 1938 Buick Specials were produced. 

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1 hour ago, 1938 buick said:

Can someone tell me how rear is a 38 business coupe with the semi automatic in it. Purchased from a member who passed away . Was told by family it could be 1 of 22 made

Welcome to the forum and pre War Buick's.  How does the car drive?

Are rare. Were a technical failure and some/many were converted to a standard transmission

The late Dave Corbin (a great contributor to this forum) had a sedan version. He knew a lot about them, as below.

https://forums.aaca.org/topic/92257-1938-buick-self-shifter/

https://forums.aaca.org/topic/97645-1938-buick-special-self-shifter/

 

Quote

 

Dear Bruce:

It happens that I have a file on your car, including all the frame and engine numbers. Trim code 400 is for a tan bedford cord interior, and paint code 519 is for Bottecelli Blue.

My file indicates that the car was built at Southgate, as it's frame number is 23244557. The first 2 tells you that it was built there. A Flint car would have a 1 in the first position.

I own a Model 48 2 door sedan, an original Flint car with 92,000 miles.

I have driven your car, when it was here in Texas. There were 3,880 Self-shifter Buicks built, but the number of survivors is probably less than 15, possibly as low as 10, so they are very rare.

Among the survivors that I know of, yours is the ONLY Southgate car. Terry Dunham and I had wondered if all self-shifters were built at Flint, where the transmission was built. Since Buick built all convertibles, all Roadmastes, and all Limiteds there, it was open to the same question. My finding your car answered that question in a definitive way.

Just remember, the only dumb question is the one you didn't ask. With these cars, there aren't any dumb questions, but maye some dumb answers.

Regards, Dave Corbin

https://forums.aaca.org/topic/138723-1938-buick-automatic-self-shifter-maryland-on-ebay-craigslist/

https://forums.aaca.org/topic/140073-how-rare-is-a-38-buick-with-semiautomatic-transmission/

 

Quote

 

Dear Don:

Since I own one of those strange critters (as we say here in Texas), permit me to share about them.

They were only used in Buicks for 1 year and Buick built about 3880 of them. Oldsmobile, however, used about 30000 of them in 1938 and another 30000 in 1939. All of these were built at Buick, as Buick's shops at Flint had 2 very important things in their favor: Available floor space for the machining equipment and the close tolerance tooling capability necessary.

For 1940, Buick and other GM divisions had developed a hydraulic clutching mechanism and married these two together. It was felt that a new name was important and so the name "Hydramatic" came into existence.

The technical problem is that this type of automatic transmission is too harsh to be used with a closed driveshaft car, which is true for Buick and Chevrolet. This lead to "Dynaflow" and about 3 years later to "Powerglide".

The situation was a PR disaster for Buick, who issued a kit for the dealers to change to a manual transmission. I have reason to believe that about 2500 of the cars were changed, leaving about 1400 survivors. If you apply a survival rate of about 1.5 percent to that, you would get around 20 cars. I have driven 3, seen about 6 more and have about 3-4 others that I'm aware of. That's 9 years after I bought mine.

They run well and are reliable, but kick like old Texas mules when they shift. I do know of a man in Colorado who repairs them and installs a shift kit that helps, but they are still a bit harsh.

I hope this helps your understanding of what these critters are like.

Regards, Dave Corbin

 

 

Edited by 1939_Buick (see edit history)
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I was in charge of getting D. Corbin's '38 Self-Shifter Special 2-dr. sedan running and sold it for his widow about 10 years ago. I let a lot of his data and material go to the buyer at that time, but I kept a little bit of it. Unfortunately, the guy in PA. to whom I sold the car has died and I tried to track the car down earlier this year but was informed that his family sold the car. Who knows what happened to the data on it? I will look this weekend when I get some time to see what I have left on this.

Pete Phillips

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 12/14/2021 at 12:58 PM, Pete Phillips said:

I was in charge of getting D. Corbin's '38 Self-Shifter Special 2-dr. sedan running and sold it for his widow about 10 years ago. I let a lot of his data and material go to the buyer at that time, but I kept a little bit of it. Unfortunately, the guy in PA. to whom I sold the car has died and I tried to track the car down earlier this year but was informed that his family sold the car. Who knows what happened to the data on it? I will look this weekend when I get some time to see what I have left on this.

Pete Phillips

One of Pete's post on getting that car running (2012)---->
https://forums.aaca.org/topic/206751-38-self-shifter-gives-itself-and-me-a-little-christmas-gift/

 

Other info

https://www.hemmings.com/stories/2018/09/11/last-of-the-first-american-automatic-transmission-equipped-cars-comes-up-for-auction

Edited by 1939_Buick (see edit history)
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  • Well, I'm sorry to disappoint, but the only 1938 Self-Shifter information from David Corbin that I have or can find are the shop manuals, operating manual, and salesman's training manual for that transmission. Series 40 Buicks with the Self-Shifter came with a 3.6 to 1 rear axle ratio, instead of 4.4 to 1, which greatly improves the car's top speed and fuel economy. Corbin had documented about 12 existing 1938 Buick Specials still in existence with the Self-Shifter. Not all of them were in running condition. This was in the early 2000s. As has already been stated above, most of them were converted back to 3-speed manual transmissions not long after they were put into service. 

After he died in 2012, I had quite a time getting his '38 Self-Shifter two-door sedan back up and running (he almost never drove it). Like a Chrysler Fluid Drive, the transmission runs in 10-weight oil, which is nearly impossible to get, so I used 30-weight oil. Since the transmission has no filter, the only solution was to drain the oil, pour in clean oil, drive the car (It refused to shift out of first gear for the first couple of test drives) a few miles, drain the dirty oil from the transmission, fill it with clean oil, and drive it again for a few miles. Drain that out, and repeat. After doing this for 2 or 3 times, the transmission acted properly and up-shifted as designed. The change from Low to High is a manual shift, then it automatically shifts from 3rd to 4th as speed increases. It's basically a 4-speed Hydra-Matic but with a clutch in front of it, instead of a fluid coupling or torque converter. 

Pete Phillips

Edited by Pete Phillips
date correction (see edit history)
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On 12/22/2021 at 7:48 PM, Pete Phillips said:
  • Well, I'm sorry to disappoint, but the only 1938 Self-Shifter information from David Corbin that I have or can find are the shop manuals, operating manual, and salesman's training manual for that transmission. Series 40 Buicks with the Self-Shifter came with a 3.6 to 1 rear axle ratio, instead of 4.4 to 1, which greatly improves the car's top speed and fuel economy. Corbin had documented about 12 existing 1938 Buick Specials still in existence with the Self-Shifter. Not all of them were in running condition. This was in the early 2000s. As has already been stated above, most of them were converted back to 3-speed manual transmissions not long after they were put into service. 

After he died in 2012, I had quite a time getting his '38 Self-Shifter two-door sedan back up and running (he almost never drove it). Like a Chrysler Fluid Drive, the transmission runs in 10-weight oil, which is nearly impossible to get, so I used 30-weight oil. Since the transmission has no filter, the only solution was to drain the oil, pour in clean oil, drive the car (It refused to shift out of first gear for the first couple of test drives) a few miles, drain the dirty oil from the transmission, fill it with clean oil, and drive it again for a few miles. Drain that out, and repeat. After doing this for 2 or 3 times, the transmission acted properly and up-shifted as designed. The change from Low to High is a manual shift, then it automatically shifts from 3rd to 4th as speed increases. It's basically a 4-speed Hydra-Matic but with a clutch in front of it, instead of a fluid coupling or torque converter. 

Pete Phillips

Since when is 10 wt oil nearly impossible to find ??? Automatic transmission fluid ATF is 10 Wt oil and formulated specifically for automatics. I have to think putting 30 Wt motor oil in an automatic is not recommended and wonder why you didnt use ATF? 

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  • 5 weeks later...

I've got the Oldsmobile "version" of this transmission. I am trying to track down any of the special shop tools, or anyone who could make me a copy of the servo band gauge. Barring finding the tool, any advise on how to recalibrate the servo band without the tool would be very helpful. 

Car.jpg

Edited by Fox39olds (see edit history)
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36 minutes ago, Fox39olds said:

I've got the Oldsmobile "version" of this transmission. I am try to track down any of the special shop tools, or anyone who could make me a copy of the servo band gauge. barring finding the tool, any advise on how to recalibrate the servo band with out the tool would be very helpful. 

 

The late Dave Corbin had specific tools and documentation for the Buick version.  May have gone with his car.

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15 minutes ago, 1939_Buick said:

The late Dave Corbin had specific tools and documentation for the Buick version.  May have gone with his car.

I saw his threads and posts, hopefully I can track someone down. I reached out to the Oldsmobile Museum in Lansing too. Hoping i can find something. I would like to preserve the car and transmission.

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