I was approaching 16 when my dad brought a 1939 Buick home from Kansas City. I’ve forgotten what he traded for it, but whatever it was he got rooked. It looked good – black, straight body – a Machine Gun Kelly car. That was where the likes stopped and the dislikes began.
Something had happened inside the transmission, a chip knocked off first gear, I suppose, because it made a combined knocking/grinding sound. It was a three-on-tree tranny, so fixing it wouldn’t have been impossible, if anyone had some cash. But it still went down the road, so he drove it. The other problem was the engine.
The Buick was nearly as old as me, but it hadn’t aged as well. If Buicks wore shoes one might say it was run down at the heel. Given a choice I would not have chosen this thing as my first courting car.
The engine was a straight-eight. Smooth when it was hitting on all eight. This one wasn’t. It needed a valve grind. And since I’d done the valves on the old four-cylinder Allis-Chalmers tractor, Dad thought I could do this Buick too. I was going to be trying for my driver’s license in a couple of weeks, and I wasn’t going to take a chance on being turned away by the examiner because of the way this thing ran and smelled. Besides, how could I pick up girl in a car while raw hydrocarbons were burning my eyes? As much as I disliked mechanical work I was boxed.
Dad went for the parts I needed. By the time he returned I had the cylinder head off and stripped. I was done before noon the following day. I’m sure an experienced mechanic working in a shop with proper tools could have beat my time standing on his head, but lapping sixteen valves by hand took time.
When I got done and earned my license I drove the Buick 15 miles to Plum Street to pick up my girl. She didn’t know about the Mickey Mouse dimmer switch and a 4×4 strapped underneath. The Buick looked and sounded pretty good and it didn’t burn my eyes. She didn’t seem to notice the transmission sounding as though it was devouring itself while we watched. Maybe she did, but didn’t say anything.
Oh well, a kid on a super tight budget shouldn’t look a gift horse, I mean a free set of wheels in the mouth, as it were.