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FEATURE ARTICLES

1937 Buick Special Business Coupe:
A Restoration Journal - Part 1 - Page 2

Purchasing a complete pre-made wire harness would cost me close to $1000. That was a huge amount of cash for me. I started flipping through the Buick Service Manual and Owner's Manual when I saw that there was a complete wiring diagram that detailed the wire colors and even the wire gauge for each run! How hard could it be, I wondered, and started looking for vendors that sold the wire I needed. After a recommendation from a friend who restores antique airplanes, I placed an order from The Brillman Company. They had everything from the wire itself to terminals and asphaltic loom originally used on the 1937 Buick. I was able to order everything I needed for less than $200. Also, the fact that Brillman is located in Virginia meant I received my shipment in just a few days.

The order from Brillman arrives.
The order from Brillman arrives.

While I was lucky to find a lot of detail in the shop manual regarding gauge and color, I had to rely on the old harness to determine length and routing for each wire. That began something similar to an archeological dig. I began by labeling each wire at its connection point. I could have relied on the wire color but I wanted some backup information that would make my assembly job easier. Labeling was easy everywhere except under the dash. There I had to lie on a pillow with the shifter under my arm pit and my feet over the seat. Sure, I could have removed those items but there would be no sport in that!

Harness removal was straightforward. I just had to unclip the loom and disconnect each terminal. While the wires were brittle they held up just fine while pulling them out. The biggest removal challenges came when pulling the dome light wire and rear half of the harness. On the '37 Buick Business Coupe the wires for the rear lights travel from a connector under the dash, up the driver's windshield pillar, along the roof line and then through the plywood between the trunk and main cabin. The dome light wire connects at the light switch (center of dash), travels to the passenger windshield pillar up to the center of the roof and then on to the dome light switch and the dome light itself. Unfortunately the only way to get at these sets of wire is to remove the headliner.

After fully removing the complete wire harness, the creation of the new unit came somewhat easily. I simply had to match new wire to the old, take a measurement and solder on a new fitting. I had the floor space to lay out each wire on the floor but I recently learned of a back-saving alternative which was to have a sheet of plywood on the wall with the exact layout of a car.

The new wiring harness is starting to take shape.
The new wiring harness is starting to take shape.

Holding the new harness with pride. The cat is doing the final inspection to make sure everything is just right.
Holding the new harness with pride. The cat is doing the final inspection to make sure everything is just right.

The new wires are labeled to correspond with the originals.
The new wires are labeled to correspond with the originals.

The toughest part of the new harness was stuffing the wire through the loom. I taped the loose wire to make it more rigid and in some spots pulled the wires through by taping them to copper welding rods.

Installing the complete harness was simple since the removal was fresh in my head. While I was in a wiring mood I replaced the spark plug wires and thought it was time to start the engine. With the help of my father dripping some fuel down the throat of the carburetor the engine caught immediately. It was a beautiful sound and I was incredibly proud that I had crafted my own custom wire harness. My pride was short-lived when I realized that my mechanical fuel pump was not working. I will address that overhaul in my next installment.

The new wires are attached to their proper terminals. The labels will stay on, just in case we need to remove the wires later in our restoration.
The new wires are attached to their proper terminals. You can see that there's a lot of cleaning up to do, so we'll leave the labels on, just in case we need to remove the wires later in our restoration.

I spread the work of fabricating a new wire harness over two weeks. Looking back I could have done it in a weekend of continuous work. I believe just about anyone could do exactly what I did and save hundreds of dollars in the process. While the money savings, for me, was probably the best reason for tackling the project, another tremendous benefit is the fact that now I have a very intimate understanding of every wire and every connection in my car. If I ever have an electrical issue I should be able to quickly diagnose it and get back on the road.

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