The first year of a series can prove to be a very challenging car to restore. Sometimes it is the best of the run, or it can be the most trouble-prone, but it is always interesting to research, restore and see its evolution from its inception through its last year of production. Our first-of-the-nailheads-series '53 Buick Roadmaster 2-door hardtop is no exception, and to add to its exclusivity, it was a 50th Anniversary model.
In last month's article, we were about to begin our engine work. We had gathered all of the information we could find, including a Buick motor's manual, product school manual (service updates), product service bulletin and drive reports of the day. We were also fortunate enough to speak with a lot of people who knew these cars and some who had driven them when they were new. To begin, we checked our engine number and found our engine to be a correct, late '53 Roadmaster engine. We removed the hood, photographed the engine and related parts from every angle, labeled all of our wiring, linkages, etc., and sat down to discuss the peculiarities of this engine we had found in our literature before removing it. This 1953 model has many parts exclusive to that year only.
'53 pistons had a higher dome (and corresponding heads) than subsequent nailheads. Measuring the '53 piston from the center of the pin to the top of the dome, the distance is 2.578". The '54 pistons were 2.180"--a .398" difference! Why the change? None of the books we had explained this, but a drive report published in 1953 by a leading authority of the day reported "pinging" around 30-35 mph that could be accelerated through, and Buick's product bulletin described a spark rap that could be eliminated by installing a 3/8" long spacer in the vacuum advance spring unit, leading us to believe that the piston/head change for 1954 corrected these problems. While the '53 and '54 322 Dynaflow had different pistons and heads, they had the same 8.5 to 1 compression ratio. We would discover after disassembling our engine that we had '54 low-dome pistons and matching heads in a late '53 engine that had never been bored, which could mean that Buick started putting the low-domes into late '53s, or possibly the dealer retro-fitted them. We wanted not only to keep the engine original, but also for it to run its best. We called Buick World to check availability of the '53 pistons, and they had them on the shelf! Now it was up to us to decide which setup to use, which we will cover next month.
Another evolutionary change of the nailheads was the use of hydraulic valve lifters. The '53-'55 used a deeper-dished lifter and longer push rods. The '56-'60s used a shallower-dished lifter with shorter push rods. The outside measurements are the same on both sets: .843" wide and 2" high. The difference comes in the working distance measurement, from the bottom of the lifter to where the push rod rides. On the '53-'55, the measurement is 1.750". On the '56-'60, it is 1.900" For reference, the lifter number on the '53-'55 is VL-2 and the '56-'60 is VL-3.
Timing gears: The aligning "0" marks on the gears do not align together as in many V-8s. They are spaced 12 washers between each other on the timing chain (driver's side of chain, as seen from the front of engine). Harmonic balancer: Buick called this the "bottom front pulley" and changed them for '54. The '53 had a humming sound at 70 mph, which was eliminated beginning with part #V1465017 on the 70 series.
Cylinder banks: Number one plug is in the front on the right side of the engine.
Timing marks: There is one on the harmonic balancer and on the early '53s, one on the flywheel. A small snap-in metal cover conceals it on the left rear of the engine housing, covering the teeth on the flywheel.
Keeping all of this in mind, we removed the engine and laid it on the table to disassemble. We had a '54 322 parts engine, and as we took apart the '53, we found another difference: The generator bracket on the '53 mounted to the exhaust manifold (passenger side); on the '54 it did not. It had brackets running down to the engine mount, and one to the block. Jim at Buick World told us that there had been a problem with breaking the exhaust manifold during engine removal and servicing, but suggested keeping ours original for authenticity to the '53, which we decided to do. As we removed the bolts, we cleaned, painted and put them in labeled plastic bags with notes on which ones went in certain holes, to eliminate the possibility of putting a long bolt in the wrong place and plugging a water port later on. The usual rust was found in the block, the cylinders would have to be bored, crank turned and the heads reconditioned.
Finally, feeling that we were in control of the project, Joe Rabelskie took the parts to his shop, Motorvation, for reconditioning. He called me later with a report of what magnafluxing had revealed: A crack in the block on the right side, near the oil filter. It was repairable by way of powder welding or pinning, but I chose to get another block from Buick World. They supplied a low-mileage, early '53, which Joe baked, cleaned and magnafluxed. After several moments of tension, the test showed that it was okay! No cracks! It was ready to bore. As Joe continued machining the parts, I began cleaning and reconditioning the other parts. We hope there will be no more surprises! See you next month, when we continue saving this vintage nailhead V-8. Keep 'em driving!