THE 34 AFFAIR
Stuart Syme WA Buicks
The interest is kindled.
I’ve played around with Buicks for almost as long as I can remember. First with my Dad’s 1930 Sedan, then a 1928 Roadster, 1936 Aussie sloper, 1939 Sedan and a 1950 Super Jetback coupe.
I sold the 36 sloper and the 39 sedan 30 odd years ago thinking I would never get around to restoring them and was satisfied with my stable of 3 cars, being the 28 roadster, 30 sedan and 50 coupe.
In about 1980 I was at a property in Gidgegannup buying some GPW Jeep parts ( another previous passion ) and in the shed were a number of cars including a huge 1934 Cadillac Sedan. It was another car that caught my eye that I never quiet forgot. It was a 1934 Buick Series 40 Roadster and one of the nicest looking styles I had seen, sort of art deco and not huge, well at least not compared to the Caddy it stood next to. I can still visualise the car, painted blue and I seem to remember it had yellow NSW plates.
My next encounter with a 34 Roadster was 16 or so years later when Murray Bastian attended an early Buick Club run driving one. He had owned it for some years and he believed it had always been a West Australian car. Watching Murray drive this beautiful car down the road rekindled my interest in roadsters of that era.
1934/35 Buick Sedans seem to have survived well and a number of club members have beautifully restored examples.
I was very surprised when attending a Buick Club Committee meeting in 1996 or 97 at Dennis McGavigan’s to see in his garage a 1934 Buick Roadster body. Dennis had been doing some work on it for another club member, Mike Stonehouse. Evidently this is the roadster I had seen in Gidgegannup back in 1980. I asked Dennis to see if Mike could be persuaded to part with the car but the answer was no.
By that stage I had done a little research into 34 Roadsters and discovered them to be a rare beast with only 45 being produced in 1934 and 5 only in 1935. Norm Darwin’s book THE HISTORY OF HOLDEN SINCE 1917 has a nice photographic coverage of the 34 models which were sourced from GMH-A. They include front, interior and side shots ( hood up and hood down ) and they were photos I often found myself flicking through to look at and thinking what a great looking car.
Research also showed that the 1934 Series 40 was an important model in the history of Buick. It was this model that introduced the new style straight 8. The 8-cylinder motor introduced in the 1931 models were really an extension of the 6-cylinder motors. They retained the generator, distributor and water pump being driven from the cam/timing gear and the ghastly ( thirsty!!! ) Marvel updraft carburetor.
The all new Series 40 motor was really an experiment. It had a downdraft carby, distributor running directly off the cam shaft in the middle of the block and generator on the other side of the motor being run by a belt which also ran a water pump bolted to the front of the head. Sound familiar? It should because this motor with some further refinements made to the 1936 models is the motor used right up to 1953 when they were replaced by the common old V8.
Buick hedged their bets with the 34 models. The larger series cars all ran the old style straight 8, as did the larger series 1935 models.
This led to some interesting anomalies. The Series 40, the lightest of the series developed 93 bhp with it’s new 233 cubic inch motor. The larger/heavier Series 50 using the old style motor only developed 88 bhp while the Series 60 with it’s old style motor of 278 cubic inches only managed 100 bhp. If you wanted a bit more get up and go and use less fuel ( it is a Buick remember ) then the Series 40 was good buying.
Back to Roadsters!
I was also aware of a 1934 Buick roadster in Queensland. This had been restored by Wal Anderson in the early 1970’s and I had seen a photo of it at an eastern states rally featured in Restored Cars magazine ( Restored Cars did a feature article on the car some years later, Sept-Oct 2003 ).
So I knew of three 34 Roadsters, not a bad survival rate for such a low production number but I wasn’t real hopeful of anymore turning up.
1934 Buick Roadster For Sale
Roll on to February 2000. Reading the For Sale/Wanted ads in the Buick News for that month I spotted an interesting entry:
1934 8/40 Roadster, 95% complete, partially dismantled. Complete details not known at time of writing, Bernie Higgins may have further info.
So that was the fourth 1934 Roadster I now knew of, pity it was on the other side of the country and I was sure those east coasters would be onto it like seagulls onto an old prawn!!!
Full details of this vehicle appeared in the For Sale column of the March 2000 Buick News:
It read really well, all the hard to get parts seemed to be there and I thought it would make a really great project – for someone on the east coast and resisted the urge to phone the seller, surely it would be snapped up.
I was very surprised when the advert appeared in the April issue of the Buick News. Curiosity got the better of me and I made the call. I had a lengthy conversation with the car’s owner and he told me he had owned the car for the past 30 odd years and yes, it was pretty much 100% complete. The biggest issue was it was in pieces. It’s very difficult to transport a basket case. I told Derek ( the owner ) I was very interested and he offered to send photos of what he had. I had a lot of frequent flyer points up my sleeve and said if I was still interested after getting the photos I might fly over for a closer look. Derek offered to pick me up if this eventuated.
The photos arrived. I was impressed with what I saw. The major drawback was that the body was removed from the chassis.
I phoned Derek and closed the deal after he agreed to put the body back on and have it on wheels so it could be transported. Containerised shipping was arranged after Derek had a few mates help him put the car back into one piece, well one major piece and he was good enough to box the rest of the items and secure them in/on and around the vehicle.
I got my first look at the car when I went to pick it up at the Kewdale freight terminal. Even though some people thought I was mad, I was more than pleased with what I had bought.
The first thing to do was get it home and see exactly what I had. After emptying the boxes of parts I went about completely assembling the car to see what was missing and needed to be sourced.
Derek was true to his word, the car was basically 100% complete, some of it pretty worn but plenty to work with. All the woodwork was present which was a relief. Although none was usable it was invaluable as patterns to have the replacement frame made.
The floor was badly rusted, no big issue as the floor panels are the same as the sedan and meant better panels could be sourced. The chassis was cracked in numerous places but Derek had supplied another and I later sourced a better one still ( they are the same as the sedan except for two holes on the top of the rear chassis rail to accommodate a different style bracket for the luggage rack ).
The only problem part missing was the taillight and bracket.
Derek had told me this was a special light that bolted to the top of the luggage rack and had a swivel so when you lowered the rack the light swung out and still faced the rear, not the ground. I imagined this was similar to the hinged brackets found on early station wagon tailgates. He said this had been lent to another Buick restorer many years ago and the car had since changed hands ( I later discovered after reading the article on Wal Anderson’s 34 roadster that this is in fact where the light and hinge was
In fact this had been a makeshift arrangement by a previous owner of the car and not correct. The light stalk actually bolts to the right hand mudguard and during the cars tough life on a rural property it had rusted and dropped off.
The stalk is the same as used on the American bodied 1934 Series 40 ( Australian bodies have a different stalk attached to the side of the boot ) and I was fortunate to purchase one at the swap meet in Flint when I attended the Centennial Celebrations in 2003. What was even luckier was in the US you could get an accessory stalk for the other side giving you two taillights, how modern is that!! I got one of those as well ( at great expense!!! ) from the same vendor.
As I was half way through the restoration of the 1950 Jetback coupe I had to be satisfied with rolling the 34 into the corner of the shed to await it’s turn for restoration.
THE 34 AFFAIR Part 2
The 1950 Jetback Coupe wasn’t finished until early 2005 so in reality I didn’t touch the 34 until late that year, 2005. I did pull the motor and gearbox before putting the car into a further period of storage. This was mainly because my good friend Rob
Fergusson Stewart who was the proprietor of STEWARTS AUTOMOTIVES, engine reconditioners of some repute started talking about retirement!! Rob has rebuilt all my Buick motors and even though a FORD man at heart he has a soft spot for Buicks ( and up until recently owned several ). So fearing the worst and wanting to get the motor into his workshop I loaded it onto his ute while visiting one day with instructions that it be rebuilt before he retire.
I had also discovered EBay while restoring the 1950 and used to regularly check for 34 parts on the American EBay site. The parts that appeared were amazing, NOS crown wheel and pinion, transmission gears, bearings, fuel pumps, carbys, auto chokes, vacuum starter controls – the list went on and on. Occasionally I would get lucky and win, in those days packages could be sent cheaply surface and as I wasn’t desperate I was happy to wait the three months they took to arrive. So even before commencing restoration I had a nice stock pile of NOS or good used parts. I discovered Americans like and are prepared to pay good money for a variety of items which in those days were available in second hand shops here so I became an EBay seller, ran a Papal account in the US using these funds to offset the purchases I was making. The good part of this was not having to make those sobering conversions from US$ to AUS$.
I had examined the chassis on the 34 closely and had come to the view that it was so badly cracked in a number of places it was probably not repairable. The rear spring hangers had pounded there way through the bottom of the chassis rails, telescopic shocks had been welded on the front and a tow hitch welded directly onto the rear of the chassis. The only good part seemed to be the front cross member, unusual because the generally holds moisture and rusts out.
My friend and fellow club member Murray Lizatovich restored a beautiful 1935 8/40 sedan about 10 years ago and always makes the comment about how everything fell into place with that car. Missing rare parts he required turned up and nothing impeded his restoration of a trophy winning car. Murray and I have often talked about this because the same thing happened with the roadster restoration. An example!!
I had a couple of chassis ( 3 in fact ) but none were really good, suffering from severe cracking, accident damage or just plain rust.
In 2002 I was working at the Wheatbelt District Police Office and spent a lot of my working days traveling to various Police Stations from the coastal towns of Jurien and Lancelin to as far inland as Southern Cross. Another Inspector and myself had overnighted in our swags at Bidgemia Station which is a pastoral lease north of Bencubbin ( West Aussies will know where all these places are, you East Coasters will have to look them up!! ). As we were returning I was relaxing in the passenger seat enjoying the ride and watching the gradual change from pastoral leases to farming lands. I caught a glimpse of an old wreck on a side road which I convinced my partner we needed to investigate. Unbelievably it was the remains of a 1934 Buick 40 sedan.
While stopped and examining the remains a local farmer pulled up and asked if we needed help ( must have looked a bit odd, a couple of cops closely examining an old car )
So I asked the question “ How long’s this been here? “
He didn’t answer straight away, took his hat off, scratched his head and said “ dunno, but just hang on.”
In an adjoining paddock there was a Header taking off a wheat crop, the farmer looked that way and picked up the handpiece of his two way and said “ Hey Mike, how long’s this car wreck been on the side of the road? “
I guess Mike was watching proceedings from the cab of John Deere Header because it didn’t take long for his reply “ Well, I’m 38, it’s been there as long as I can remember so at least 30 odd years. “
So it could well have been on the side of that remote road for 40, maybe more years. The chassis was in really good shape, the only rust being in the front cross member.
When I got back to the office I rang the CEO of the Wyalkatchem Shire to inquire about the remains. Within 10 minutes I had a letter of authority to recover the remains, with a request to do it ASAP as the Shire was cleaning up road verges, after all, it had only been an eyesore there for the past 40 years or so!!!!
So with paperwork in hand, a trailer and a mate, a day trip to Wyalkatchem and I’m the proud owner of another 1934 Buick.
August 2005, We really start!!
The Jetback was finished, the motor and gearbox for the 34 had been rebuilt and sitting on the shed floor and I had accumulated a lot of what I needed to start the restoration ( except money, never seemed to have enough of that ) so there were no excuses, into it!!!
I had cut the front off one of the old chassis and mounted the rear section onto a 4 wheel trolley. The body was removed ( delicately, it was in a very fragile state ) and bolted onto the trolley. The rolling chassis was brought into the workshop and front end removed, then the front cross-member ( the only really sound part of the original chassis ) was cut off .
The rest was rolled back out, the rear end removed and the remainder of the chassis delegated to the scrap heap.
I had the Wyalkatchem chassis sandblasted and removed the front cross-member with a plasma cutter before painting it with POR.
Murray Lizatovich has the appropriate accreditations and welded the new front crossmember in place for me after confirming correct frame alignment from dimensional drawings contained in the 1934 Series Forty Buick Shop Manual.
With the chassis now painted I moved onto the rear end and front suspension.
THE 34 AFFAIR – PART 3
By now it was 2006 and work on the 34 Roadster continued at a fairly steady pace. The only thing that seemed to get in the way was work!!!
I don’t usually put time frames on my restorations – enough of that with work, deadlines for this, completion dates for that, all outside your control. Vehicle restorations always formed a big part of my “ stress management plan’’ and I steadfastly refused to put completion dates on any stage.
But, Queensland was hosting the 2008 National Meet and Tour and I started to think it would be nice to take the 34 back to its home, just for a visit of course!
2006 quickly became 2007 and with mechanicals basically completed I turned to body work.
I managed to talk Terry Fullwood ( West Australians will be familiar with Terry who used to build replacement wooden auto frames many years ago ) to come out of retirement and replace the timber frame in the roadster. Terry had done the frame on my 28 Roadster back in the 80’s and his work is exceptional.
The only problem was Terry lived about 120kms from me and I had arranged to have body panels sandblasted, rust repaired and basic panel beating done then deliver these sheet metal components to Terry as he required them. I had a panel beater lined up who promised he could do the repairs and have the panels ready for me to take to Terry as required. Naturally this didn’t eventuate, front cowl and doors were on time, floor repairs dragged on and the roadster rear section and deck lid were rushed, sub standard and not completed which meant parting company with that panel beater.
Terry completed the frame but we didn’t nail the sheet metal on as I determined I needed to remove it and have the substandard work repaired.
Time was rolling on and by this stage the Nationals were only about 12 months away.
I could see work was really going to be a distraction.
I decided there was only one solution – RETIRE.
Seemed fair, I had done 35 years in the “ JOB ” and was starting to feel a bit like a dinosaur ( the young ones in the job used to call my service ribbons dinosaur badges ). I reckoned the on going firearms qualification shoots gave me a headache/backache and any other ache you could think of, and then there was the after effects of Capsicum Spray training ( I like my pepper on steak, not in my eyes ) and then some lunatic decided with the introduction of TASERS it would be a good idea that we all get shot with the Taser to see how effective they are… GET REAL!!!!!
So the time was right to retire while I still had a sense of humour and could enjoy the memories of the last 35 years of what for me was a great job and fulfilling career.
I retired at the end of August 2007 which left about 12 months to finish the car if I wanted to take it to Queensland.
I still had the problem of some rust repairs and body work. Fellow Buick Club member Ken Churchman is a very accomplished ( self taught I think ) body repair person. I caught him at a weak moment just after he had purchased his 1954 Roadmaster coupe and was waiting for it to arrive from the US. Having the woodwork basically completed I did a body fit up and invited ( coaxed, coerced, you know what I mean ) Ken to come around and cast his eyes over it.
To cut a long story short Ken decided he had some time and we struck a deal. Ken, with me helping out ( holding bits and fetching, making coffee, getting lunch, etc ) put the sub standard repairs right and the other rust repair/panel work was completed on the front guards, bonnet and running boards THANKS KEN a.k.a. ROOSTER
This entailed removing the entire rear section, having it sandblasted ( which hadn’t been done with my first panel beater ) then reassembling and nailing the metal to the wooden frame. Pretty satisfying work at the end of the day though!
I wrote earlier how things just fell into place with this restoration, another example occurred around this time.
I had rebuilt the original rear springs and noticed the rear end of the car rode high. Even when I did the body fit up with most of the completed car weight on the rear end it still seemed high. I purchased some NOS shock links through eBay and they appeared to be short by an inch or so. I asked Murray Lizatovich to check his 1935 sedan rear springs and ride height at the rear end. This revealed that my springs had an extra 2 leaves and it seemed the main leaf was way too heavy duty. Murray’s inspection also revealed he had a previously undiscovered broken spring leaf on his own car.
I knew Les Woodruff had some spares for 34/35s. I spoke to him at a meeting and asked if he had any spare main leaves. In typical Les style he said he thought he may and would have a look. Not long after this he rang and said he had a pair of springs he purchased probably 30 years ago at a swap meet. He didn’t know what year or model they were for but they were tagged “ BUICK ROADSTER “. I can tell you I was pretty excited ( as was LES ) when I identified them as being for a 1934/35 Series 40 Buick. What are the chances of a mate having a set of springs ( in all likelihood NOS ) in his shed for a 1934 Buick, complete with a tag saying Buick Roadster. No time was lost giving them a paint job and slipping them in, it was nice to see the back of the car sitting level and the shock links fitting.
By now it was the end of 2007, Nationals only about 8 months away. I already had the car booked in for upholstery but it had to be painted prior to that. Once again things just fell into place. The colour had been decided by Delys. I was keen on red and she had seen a shade of red to her liking on a car taking part in Rally West in October 2007. The car was a Dave Reid restoration so after the Rally I dropped in on Dave to find out the colour. In conversation he asked who was painting it, of course at that stage I hadn’t come up with anyone (after parting company with my previous panel beater/painter earlier in the year ). It just happened that Dave’s son Jeremy was funding the building of a shed/house on his property in Tasmania and was returning to do some contract work. I had seen his work and was more than happy to jump in and take first berth for a paint job.
I disassembled the car again and had much of it delivered to Jeremy before Christmas 2007. He did a great job and I had it back, re-assembled and ready to go to the trimmer by the end of March 2008
Time was rolling on, still a lot of work to do and the Nationals only a few months away.
To Be Continued
Stuart Syme WA Buicks