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first start in 40 years///

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  •   Welcome to the forum.  Below is my new Buick owners guide.   40 years is a long time to sit and that car does not look pampered.  My first order of business would be to drop the oil pan.  I have seen a lot that needs to be addressed when an oil pan is removed.       


New Buick Owners Guide & Prewar Starting guide.          Hugh Leidlein                  12-18-20   C

Welcome to Buick ownership.  Here are some tips to get you started.

The following books are necessary for Pre war Buick Ownership.   They come based on 4 cylinder or 6 cylinder models prior to 1925, or for Standard or Master 1925 and up.  Basically around 115” wheelbase is the smaller Buick series and 120 to 128” wheelbase is the larger Buick series. 

The Buick Heritage Alliance sells the following books.  The quality of the copies is only “fair” in many cases.  This may work for some people, depending on how many pieces your car is missing or needing.  I suggest buying an original book of parts if you can find it due to the better print quality.   

1)      The “Book of Parts” for your year.  

2)      The “Shop Manual” for your year

3)      The “reference book” for your year (of lesser importance if you can find a shop manual).

It is helpful in many cases to obtain copies of the parts books for 1 or 2 years before and after your model year.  Many times there is additional information or photos that will help with your understanding.

Note: Only a handful of parts used on a 4 cylinder model fit a 6 cylinder model.  Same with so few Standard parts will fit a Master.  The 4 cylinder line became the Standard, and the 6 cylinder line became the Master so there is interchangeability in that order.  Parts interchange is closest based on wheelbase of the models      

There is also available a big book of parts “Buick Master Parts List 1916-1932”.  This 3” thick book provides a listing of the yea

rs and models for each part.  You will have better luck finding a part knowing it’s year and model range rather than just looking for a single year.   This book does not have a lot of pictures and will not be a good substitute for the book of parts for your year, but I refer to this book frequently.   Some find it of little use - based on how many parts they are missing.

There are almost zero “exploded views” of parts, so take a lot of photos and notes during disassembly. 

------------ Precautions------ THESE ARE NOT MODERN ENGINES------Damage can occur.

The first order is usually to see if the engine will turn over.  Do the following first.

1)      Pull the Water pump hoses

 The water pump is on the side of the motor.  The issue is that the camshaft gear is fiber on 1924-1928 Buick 6 cylinders, and it drives the waterpump.  If the water pump is frozen or drags, it will destroy the timing gear teeth.  Parts will fall in the engine.  The camshaft gears are expensive and new gears are not of the same quality as the originals.  The first order of business should be to remove the water pump hoses to ensure the pump rotates on the shaft.   Without the hoses, it should rotate 180 degrees. Note that some earlier models have a water pump housing bolt that also needs to be removed.       

Water pump shafts are steel unless a recent replacement to stainless.  The water pump bearings are bronze.  If the antifreeze was not cared for, rust on the WP shaft could wear the bronze bearings out quickly.  The WP seal is graphite packing.  The wear surface should be smooth and the packing should only be tight enough to prevent major leaks of the waterpump.  It should drip a little bit here and there.  If it does not, the packing is too tight.  Most people replace the shaft with a stainless steel shaft.

2)      Change the oil (and filter if it has one).  Strongly consider dropping the oil pan as well. 

An oil change is probably long overdue.   Don’t cut corners and skip dropping the pan.  Pre 1926 cars had no oil filter.  Non detergent oil was used for years, and there is likely a lot of sludge in the oil pan.  I have seen the oil pick up screens clogged from sludge, and this will starve the engine and could suck the screen in.  Bob’s Automobilia or Olsons Gaskets has an oil pan gasket set.  This is not a hard job.

3)      Oil the Cylinders

Pull the spark plugs, put some oil in the cylinders.  If penetrating oil or Marvel mystery oil was used in the cylinders, you must follow it with regular oil once the engine begins to turn. 

4)      Pull the valve cover. 

Squirt oil on the rocker assembly.  Bump the rockers with a rubber mallet over the valve springs to ensure that all the valves move.  Drip oil on the valve stems if you can.

5)      Pull the engine side covers.

Squirt oil on the cam shaft rollers (and cam bearings if you can get to them). 

After doing the above 5 items, you could rotate the motor, even crank it with the starter.  If the engine is or was frozen, let the cylinders soak for at least a week in penetrating lube.  It is best to try to unstick a frozen engine from the flywheel end and not the hand crank end.  The handcrank is not that strong.  Put the transmission in 1st gear.  Use 4 people (2 in front and 2 at the back) to rock the car back and forth in an effort to free the pistons.  Parts frozen by rust come apart easier if you work the frozen part back and forth rather than continually forcing the rotation thru the rust.  Reversing rotation allows some rust to move out of compression between the parts.

Note that the pistons are removed only from the bottom of the engine on early Buick motors.  If you do get the engine to rotate, strongly consider pulling the pistons out the bottom and cleaning the cylinder walls and the ring grooves and doing an inspection - prior to reinstalling and firing the engine.     

It would be great to get a compression tester.  Around 60 lbs pressure in each cylinder is a good motor.  There should be less than 10% deviation in each cylinder.  Spark plug adapters are available from Ford Model A parts suppliers.    

Cranking the motor is a good thing to check off the list.  A compression test gives a good check on the health of the motor. 

Preparing for starting – knowing that the motor turns over:

1)      Pull the carburetor. 

a)      Clean out the fuel bowl. 

b)      Use carburetor cleaner to ensure all internal passages blow thru. 

c)       Consider installing a Nitrolphyl float – available from Bob’s Automobilia or Gregg Lange. 

d)      Check that the air valve lays smooth against the carburetor inside diameter and that there is a narrow gap at the base of the air valve.  You may need to file the pot metal venturi block.  There are AACA forum posts on this – search using the quote “Marvel Carburetor Rebuilding”.

2)      Check that the exhaust manifold valve (on the front end of the exhaust manifold) is open.  There are AACA forum posts on this – search using the quote “Buick Exhaust valve removal”.

3)      Rebuild the distributor.  The distributor should rotate by the advance levers on the steering column.  Several years of distributors were pot metal and the distributor housing will grow and freeze into the generator housing.   Replace with a steel Buick distributor from other years.  Do not force the movement as there are potmetal gears at the base of the steering column that are not that strong.  There are AACA forum posts on this – search using the quote “Distributor Replacement”.  Also search for “Distributor rebuilding”.

4)      Rebuild the Water pump. (see the forum for upgrades to the seals and shaft). There are AACA forum posts on this – search using the quote “Water Pump Rebuilding”.

5)      The fan hub is an old design that requires frequent oiling and will leak oil all over the motor.  Replace it with a sealed bearing hub – Several suppliers for this.  Search the AACA Forum “fan hub replacement”.

6)      Rebuild the vacuum tank and gas tank * I prefer to do the “fuel supply” system later as there is a lot to this.  For a first start, I hang a 1 quart used lawnmower tank and feed the carburetor with this from a reinforced rubber fuel hose, or just pour gas in the vacuum tank.  It will hold about a quart. Search the AACA Forum “vacuum tank rebuilding”.


Other notes:

Oil and grease is usually long overdue for removing the old and installing new (and not just installing new.)  Clean out as much of the old as you can first.


Engines that have laid dormant for decades may have significant rust in the engine block.  You do not want this in your honeycomb radiator as they cannot be rodded out.  Consider installing a Gano filter into the top radiator hose to catch sediment and keep rust out of the radiator.  Also consider removing the engine freeze plugs and cleaning any rust out of the block, or at least reverse flushing out the engine water jacket with water and without radiator hoses just prior to start up.

The firing order is 142635.  (Reverse of a modern engine)

Pot metal failures cause problems.  The following areas will likely need attention

1.       Distributors – housing growth prevents spark advance.  discussed above

2.       Carburetor – venture growth – prevents easy starting and idling – discussed above

3.       Ignition switch – switch shaft grows, housing hole grows smaller-  Bob’s Automobilia has parts-replace both housing and switches.

4.       Speedometers – internals freeze up.  Disconnect the cable to prevent cable damage. 


Inspect the oil pick up screen.  Most are weak or have failed.  Use 50/50 solder to replace the screen.  Screen size is .005 brass 32 x 38 wires per inch.


New Buick Owners order of work 2.  More notes and items to think about.


1) Pull the water pump off first.   The 2 hoses are old and need replacement anyways.  The pump can now be rebuilt .  

2) squirt some oil in the cylinders.  About a tablespoons worth in each.  Consider even using engine fogging spray to lubricate the cylinder walls

3) Are you willing to drain the oil and drop the pan.  I have not found a person who has ever said dropping the pan was a waste of time.  If nothing else, you have peace of mind that any old engine sludge is not lurking.  Most people are glad that they dropped to pan and cleaned the pan out.  Inspect the oil pump and the oil pump screen.  Consider pulling the oil pump and having it checked.    Egge can rebuild it if necessary and install a new pressure relief valve spring.  I have seen several broken springs.  The oil suction screens are also weak and typically torn.  These need to be inspected. 

4) Pull the valve cover and side covers.  Oil the valve train.  Check that each rocker arm and cam roller  moves.  

5) Put 6 volts on the starter and see if it operates on the floor.  You can use 12 volts if you keep the time short.  Say 15 seconds, then rest time for any heat to be removed.  Consider having it rebuilt while it is out.       

6) Install new gaskets on the Oil pan.  Add Fresh oil and a new filter.    

With the water pump off, and the valve train checked and oiled, you should be able to turn the engine without damaging anything.  If you have the hand crank, a couple rotations should tell if everything is moving.  Do the initial cranking with the spark plugs out.  If it hand cranks well, put the starter motor in and give it a few more rotations.  

Install the valve cover and side covers and gaskets after you have witnessed that all the valve train parts are operating properly.  

After this, we work on ignition and carburation, so lets start with the above first to keep the work manageable.  The goal is pumping fresh oil thru the motor and that it turns over.     

7)     Early engines (around 1918) use cotter pins on the wrist pins.  This is not a robust design.  If the age of the rebuild is unknown, consider going in and replacing the cotter pins.  These can be changed with the engine in place if the pan is removed.   

😎Fiber timing gears used on all the sixes after 24, and Into the eights. I don't know when they quit.  1954?


Edited by Hubert_25-25 (see edit history)
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Hugh,  When I was a kid about 1960, my dad’s 53 Chevy with 80,000 miles on it, coasted over to the side of the road on the Ohio turnpike, when the fiber timing gear let go.  They were still using them in’53.  That was a long day needless to say, half way to Chicago.

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It says "Add oil before use" on the tag which I guess means it's dry, but I wouldn't just add oil and start it. I'd still drop the oil pan and spray all around with fogging oil. Those babbitt bearings are fragile and if they've been sitting 40 years they will rip to shreds if they aren't lubricated right from the get-go. Get on your back and spray all the bearings with penetrating lube. Plus you can inspect everything as well.

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1 hour ago, Century Eight said:

Hugh,  When I was a kid about 1960, my dad’s 53 Chevy with 80,000 miles on it, coasted over to the side of the road on the Ohio turnpike, when the fiber timing gear let go.  They were still using them in’53.  That was a long day needless to say, half way to Chicago.

I lost a (fiber/plastic?) cam gear on my 72 Capri by accelerating through a puddle of rain water. 

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What Hubert_25-25 says seems like a lot of work, and it is. But he is right on with everything. Doing the work up front will save you a lot of grief.

Cutting corners can be very expensive very quickly.

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Your spark plug wires are priceless, there are people who would give their last tooth for them, but the rubber is corroded. If you can save the terminals on both the spark plug end and the distributor end, and run new Packard 440 wire between them, you'll be sparking pretty. Packard 440 has heavy gauge copper core and black rubber just like the original. If you don't like the "packard" and "440" you can take a rag soaked in acetone and wipe the letters off. Do it outdoors because acetone fumes are explosive.


Get new Champion spark plugs, don't bother with the Autolite, they foul up.

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well hello thanks for all the help on doing things before i start this found 1923   the motor was free, water pump free, dist free etc  was going along good,,, i added water to red and seen the crack on the drivers sid mid way on the block looks what i fugure it was from leaving the non anti freeze water in some time and it froze causing a elongated crack  oh well,,,

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