1938 BUICK SPECIAL


Most owners of antique cars are people magnets. They are social animals who tend to regularly congregate at antique car gatherings. An occasional new face appears at such events but generally, it’s the same familiar faces and cars that keep reappearing.

Jim and Edna Cross were on a tour of antique cars in Greensburg, Pa., when they saw a familiar face. He was driving an unfamiliar car, but mentioned that back at his Massachusetts home his 1938 Buick might be available for sale. Jim and Edna had previously seen the Buick, so they knew the model being mentioned to them.

“Honey,” Jim Cross said when he saw his wife’s interest piqued, “we don’t need another car.”
Before long, however, Cross looked across the parking lot and saw his wife negotiating a deal with the Buick owner. Edna Cross says what appealed to her was the big back seat, which would accommodate some of her 11 grandchildren. A deposit was placed to hold the old 1938 car. Seven months passed before, on a day last October, Cross drove to Massachusetts towing a trailer in order to take possession of the Buick.


Once the 3,560-pound Buick was nestled in its new home in Leesburg, Va., Cross did a bit of research and discovered that when new the four-door car had a base price of $1,047. Buick enticed shoppers in 1938 with rear coil springs.
Power was provided by the in-line eight-cylinder valve-in-head, oil cushioned, Dynaflash 8. The 248-cubic-inch engine develops 107 horsepower. An oil bath air cleaner caps the single barrel carburetor that sets atop the long engine.

On the initial trip in the Buick, Cross discovered that the car could comfortably idle all day long, but had difficulty when placed under a load.
“The problem was a cracked head in exhaust port number two,” Cross explains. With considerable difficulty, a healthy replacement was located and installed, which solved the problem with the engine.

Cross then turned his attention toward the rest of the car, happily discovering no other serious problems existed and only a very few minor ones. He points out a feature rarely found on the small Buick Special — dual side-mounted spare tires in the front fenders. Side mounts are usually associated with the larger Roadmaster models. White sidewall Silvertown tires and stainless steel beauty rings adorn each 16-inch wheel. The Buick has a cushy ride because of the 122-inch wheelbase and the aforementioned rear coil springs.
Inside, the cabin occupants of the cozy front bench seat observe the car has not only a two-door heater but also an AM radio and a clock. “Everything works except the clock,” Cross says.

A 360-degree chrome horn ring encircles the hub of the banjo-style steering wheel in front of the 120-mph speedometer. An ashtray is provided at each end of the wood-grained dashboard. On the dashboard near the base of the two-piece windshield is the plastic knob that operates the vacuum wipers. On the outside of the windshield is the cowl ventilator which, when opened, draws fresh air into the cabin.
Sprouting from the front floor is the long gearshift lever, a feature that would soon disappear in favor of steering column-mounted shift levers.

Cross says some of the upholstery is original while some panels have been replaced. It does have new seat covers, he says.
At the front of the car are two Trippe lights to augment the feeble illumination produced by the stock pre-sealed beam headlights. A separate parking light crowns each front fender.

As for cosmetics, Cross reports, “All I had to do was clean and wax it.”
The Buick’s odometer now is approaching 74,500 miles; a figure Cross believes is accurate. The Cross family is convinced their Buick really is Special. — Vern Parker, Motor Matters
Copyright, AutoWriters Associates Inc., 2011

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