1937 Buick Special Business Coupe: A Restoration Journal — Part 22
By Chris Ritter
Ah, sweet victory. I love the taste, smell and rush of a being a champion. And a champion is exactly what I felt like when I finished installing the front suspension on my '37 Buick. The rush quickly faded as I looked over my car and realized there are literally hundreds of other things I need to complete before the car is finished so, with little delay, I decided to attach the steering arms on my car.
The steering system on my car is rather simple. The steering wheel shaft ends in the steering gear assembly and connects to a pitman arm which is connected to something called an intermediate steering arm. This intermediate arm mounts to the front of the frame but can swivel side to side. On each side of the intermediate arms, shock links are mounted that extend out to the wheel itself. I'm making it sound like a lot of monkey motion (and it sort of is) and explaining it in a boring way (which I am) but the picture should help out quite a bit.
An illustration of the '37 Buick Special steering linkage.
Reinstalling this steering linkage and making sure it won't fall apart while driving is extremely important. If part of the linkage became disconnected you would be steering one wheel while the other acted on its own. Imagine driving at speed with one wheel pointing right and the other pointing left. Thankfully the safety systems built into the linkage are rather idiot proof. Both the intermediate arm and pitman arm have balls on their ends and a connecting link has a threaded gap. Inside this gap there are cups which are compressed with a threaded cap. After the cap is screwed in far enough a cotter pin is installed making sure it can't back out. Simple. Safe. Effective. The shock links are secured with castellated nuts & cotter pins so, again, it is virtually impossible for a disconnection to occur.
After having had my linkage components hot tanked nearly a year ago, I painted them and ordered new dust seals. After realizing I purchased the wrong seals I tracked down the correct seals and began piecing things back together after a 10 day delay. Thanks to diagrams and disassembly pictures the linkage easily went back together. The front end is now complete and ready for wheel backing plates, brakes and wheels!
Steering linkages installed.
Another look at the steering assembly.
While I was waiting for the proper steering dust seals to arrive I turned my attention to my transmission. I can't reattach the rear end until this critical piece is in place so finally, after years of delay, it was time to tackle this beast.
Like the rest of my undercarriage, the transmission was subjected to untold quantities of dust, grease, undercoating and who knows what else, so it was encased in a thick gooey mess. I scraped off as much as I could with a putty knife and then donned thick rubber gloves and lots of lacquer thinner. After scrubbing and scrubbing, most of the mess was clear. The mess that remained was on the back of the transmission in a piece that conceals the universal joint and speedometer drive. This is where the torque ball mounts and to do the job right I'd have to disassemble this area.
My transmission before I started to scrape.
My transmission after some scrubbing. I couldn't properly clean the rear section and had to disassemble quite a bit to get good cleaning access.
My car's frame number is stamped into the transmission. Proof that I have a "numbers matching" car.
After opening the transmission cover I take a peek inside.
A close look at my transmission's main shaft.
After removing the mounting bolts you must remove the universal joint. This is done by first removing (breaking) off the u-joint bushing circle clips and driving the bushings out. Once the aft portion of the u-joint is removed you will have access to a single bolt that secures the forward half of the u-joint. If your transmission has gathered 78 years of crud you will need a press to apply enough force.
Removing keeper clips from the U-Joint assembly is not a fun job.
Since the entire transmission won't fit well in a press you need to remove the transmission main gear assembly. The housing you were originally trying to clean will not fit in a press and just a little bit of force in the right areas will make things pop right out.
I never intended to fully disassemble my transmission because all of those gears, detent springs, synchronizers, etc. are like smoke and mirrors to me. Honestly, I never even heard of a detent spring until three of them slid out with the main shaft. However, since I broke the rear housing seal I would have to go as far as I did in order to replace the gasket. While things were disassembled I cleaned everything and replaced the bearings.
Putting the transmission back together has proven to be more challenging but with the proper combination of patience, manuals, grease and luck I have everything but the top cover back where it belongs. Directly underneath the top cover rests a plate and slide where the gear shifter rests. When installed just right you are able to shift through the gears. When you don't get things lined up just right the top cover acts as clamp and locks the transmission in place. To add more to the puzzle there is another set of detent springs right under the top cover that make lining things up even trickier.
My restorer friend gave a chuckle when he heard I was tackling this obstacle. He told me to grab a six pack of beer. Another Buick owner recalled his experience tackling the job but couldn't remember how he did it! Perhaps I will block it out of my memory if I ever get the job done.
I've had to walk away from the transmission cover for a while and have decided to install the last of my windows and gaskets into the car body before the weather gets too cold. It isn't a fun or easy task even though the folks at Steele Rubber make it look simple in their instructional videos.
I've talked about the process before, but in a nutshell one person goes inside the car with the window installed into the center gasket channel. Then a rope is pressed into the outer lip and the whole assembly is pressed from the inside against the window opening. A second person on the outside then pulls the rope while pressure is maintained. As the rope slides out it pulls the gasket lip over the window channel. Throw in some bedding compound around the window channel and a whole bunch of soap and water and you have everything you need to do the job.
Having done this task on my Buick once before, my dad and I knew what to expect. We increased our quantity of soapy water and the rear windows popped right in. The quarter windows were even easier than the rear so our attention turned to the windshield.
Soaping up the window gaskets and glass.
My windshield is a two-pane unit with a center divider. One side has to be installed on the car first, then the second pane must be slid into the gasket from the inside of the car. It is tricky but doable. The same rope trick is used on the front windshield as the rear glass and before too long we had both windshield panes in the car.
Our experience has been that the hardest part of installing the front windshield is getting enough of a center gap to install the divider strip of rubber. At the bottom of this central meeting point there was nearly enough room but at the top the two glass panes were touching. The new window gaskets have plenty of flex so if you carefully wedge and pry you can open that center gap.
Both panes are in. If you look close at the center you can see a nice gap in at the bottom and no gap at the top.
In spite of our gentle wedging and prying we just couldn't get enough of a gap to get the full center strip installed.
We continued to work and pry and only had 1/16" to go when we heard a CRACK!!! I backed up and saw that the driver-side pane was shattered and destroyed. Apparently you can pry and wedge glass but you can't twist it. (Duh!) This was the third sheet of glass we destroyed. My confidence in the project was, again, shattered. Rather than let frustrations get the best of me I simply said it was time to walk away.
The old girl sat untouched for 10 days but before too long she started calling my name again. While I resisted at first, I went back in the garage and got back to work. The windshield panes and gasket were removed and I am going to take the good pane to the glass cutter and have them make a slight modification and then use that as a pattern for the other side. I took my radiator to the local radiator shop and had it boiled, flushed and pressure tested. I got lucky there and left the radiator shop only $53 lighter.
A famous quote attributed to Winston Churchill says "Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." I've failed a lot with this car but I've learned more. I still love the car and I still picture myself driving around the countryside with my family. The fight continues!