Restore Or Rod? 1938 Buick Coupe Barn Find

Amateurs or youngsters might be forgiven for thinking that “all ’30s business coupes look the same,” as a rather consistent formula influenced the lines of many such cars of that description. Take one look at the 1938 Buick, though, and at least one thing should strike you as different; look at the length of that hood! While somewhat necessitated by Buick’s choice of an inherently balanced inline or “straight” eight-cylinder engine, there’s no question that the result adds style and elegance in addition to necessary space. This 1938 Buick coupe in Plymouth, California, a literal barn find, comes to market here on eBay where tepid bidding has raised its value above $2,000.

Advertised for “parts or restoration,” it’s no surprise that the car has already been picked over for chrome, glass, bumpers, running boards, instruments, and other parts. If that’s all flat glass, making the cockpit weather-tight again may not break the bank. The preponderance of missing parts likely takes this one out of the running for a full-on stock restoration, but could work to the advantage of custom builders.

More missing chrome up front no doubt helps account for the lack of bids, but a custom front-end doesn’t need bumpers or other costly chrome to stand out.

What looks like the (reversed) radiator obscures the straight-eight engine. Hose clamps and the ubiquitous Mr. Gasket clear fuel filter suggest running condition in the ’70s or ’80s.

Wow! Not much to stoke the flames of potential here compared to the once-spectacular original dashboard, but what’s old (or gone) can be made new again with no qualms about discarding or deviating from factory perfection. Should this once-beautiful Buick become a hot rod or merely give up its parts for another project?

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  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    It just doesn’t look like a hot rod or restorod. Also doesn’t look like a car with enough parts to put it together anyway. I’d say parts for anyone who is restoring one like it who could use them.

    Like 10
    • Tom Bell

      Agree here–let it give its life so that others may live. To hotrod it would rob legitimate restorers of hard-to-find parts for an unusual body style.

      Like 2

    i would like to buy the 61 red pontiac bonnaville, 2 dr. no number on windshild…..please give me a number….i think its in a auction.

  3. Bill

    That would be a tough call on this one, I guess it would depend on how much rust there is and how much you really wanted to spend on it .

    Like 3
  4. JRHaelig

    There’s a lot there, but at least as much missing.

    I saw this posted elsewhere and didn’t think there was an engine in it!

    I think the straight 8 chassis is too narrow to take a small block, but I do know a guy who got a Buick nailhead in his.

    If this were a Ford in this condition we’d be knocking each other over to pay $2,000 for it.

    Like 1
    • Poppapork

      To narrow to take a smart block????
      Why in hell would anybody want to get rid of that marvelous straight eight? a small block chevy would ruin this car, how many people can say they drive a straight eight vs a small block…

      Like 9
      • JRHaelig

        Engine swap only if you were inclined to go that way.

        Str8’s are cool. Just not available in every town and that one looks neglected.

        Like 2
      • Bob McK Member

        I can… My 38 Sport Coupe is all stock, except for adding AC. The engine runs really smooth. The original sales ad says it will go from 10 to 60 in about 18 seconds. I laughed when it did not start at zero.

        Like 2
  5. Vance

    My Father born in 1908, and it was amazing on how he could identify any pre-wwII car just by the radiator/grill, light placement, fender configuration etc… He was never wrong, and he lamented how cars in the 70’s all looked the same. He would probably lose his mind now, but he taught me the differences at a young age. It came in handy when I used to be able identify cars at night by their light set up. It doesn’t work so well anymore.

    Like 8
    • Phlathead Phil

      My Phather was born in 1918 and by the time I was 9 years old I could identify every car on the road and then some. As we cruised the new L.A. Phreeways I was constantly summoned from the back seat of our gorgeous ‘60 Chevy to I.D. the unknown. It became a game to see how or if I could lose a gumball bet.
      Man, I chewed a lot of bazooka gum! This car reminds me of my ‘40 Olds Club coupe. It had a straight 8 too. As did the 40 Cads. They were Opera coupes. Gone are these magestic powerhouses, but there legacy of beauty will live phorever. Did I mention they were phlatheads?

      • Bob Bubba

        1940 Cadillacs had straight 8s? News to me. I know that LaSalles did in the mid-30s, but ’40 Cadillacs had 346 flathead V8s.

      • Poppapork

        Cadillacs never had a straight 8
        V8 (going to ohv in late 40ties)
        And v16

  6. Speedo

    This looks like a stalled restoration project that was disassembled and painted but only partially put back together. I bet the gauges, trim etc. are all inside the car somewhere. The paint looks too good to have been driven much or at all. There are also several duplicate parts. It may be a better deal than you think. :)

    Like 1
  7. JBP

    it has a V engine under the hood already. but the cyl. head for the org. engine is in cabin. what about the rest of that engine ?

  8. JBP

    It also have glas in trunk. in buttom of ebay page, is a black 38. like it for sale. its not perfect, but much better than this one. price 28,000

  9. The One Member

    Wow!! it is a California car you guys, come on you could do sooo much with this awesome fastback.I’m just getting to old to take on a project like this.. 20 years ago, Riviera 401 Nailhead drive train would be the way to go.. Fugedabadit!!

    Like 1
  10. R J Ackerman

    If cost were no object, I’d say chop the top, lay the windshield back, and section the body to go along with those wide but stretched fenders. A new frame with a more powerful mill and reshape the rear window and rear of the fenders.

    Like 1
  11. LarryS Member

    It does look like it has a V- engine under the hood. From what color is visible on the engine it looks like it could be a Buick Nailhead. Although there really isn’t enough to go on for me to be able to identify it. Sure would be helpful if there was more information provided – I think that the late 30’s Buicks are beautiful cars. Can anyone identify the model?

    Like 1
    • The One Member

      So there you go! Good eye LarryS, now this is getting interesting.. Do I have enough left in me to go through this gem?
      It may be possible, after all, the conversion has been done. Straight eight engine bay gives plenty of room..I know, who did the work, was it ever running? etc. etc. etc. I know, maybe I’ll just call!

      Like 2
      • Robert bilderback

        Restore it,the parts missing can be replaced with custom.its a super cool looking ride,the long hood cool too

    • Bob McK Member

      I have one. It is either a business coupe or sport coupe. The sport coupe has fold down seats in the back. The business coupe does not. There are no pictures to show that area. I am the 3rd owner of mine. Love that car, it is a blast to drive.

      Like 2
      • LarryS Member

        Any idea what series this one is? I assume it’s a Special, or maybe a Century, but there too little left for me to tell. I would have thought that a Roadmaster would be bigger and probably have side-mounts. My Dad had a ’38 Buick Special 4 door.

  12. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    It would be very costly to bring this beautiful machine back to factory new status. Likely, make a great mild resto mod. It would be nice to keep it a straight eight, but a small block v-8 with 4 speed or automatic would also be nice. Adding such amenities as power steering and a/c and power disc brakes makes these cars easier to operate and safer to drive but then you get into high dollar which never seems to come to an end. Missing tail lights are a might hard to replace, but opens the opputunity to choose any style you prefer.
    Well that’s enough rambling on from me.
    God bless America

  13. Kenn

    No one mentioned the mileage, which always seems so important. And, I’ll bet it’s not a numbers-matching car either! Guess I’ll have to pass.

  14. steve mellon

    In Black Lake Wa. ( Olympia ) there is/was a wrecking yard for 39 chevys. He had every type. Some of the parts will work for this Buick. Bet he knows someone who has something for Buicks

  15. Bill McCoskey

    About 30 years ago I did some restoration work to a similar car, so I know a little bit about them. The decision to either rod or restore may well be determined by one simple digit on the Fisher Body Co. ID plate on the right side of the firewall.

    The top line should have the digits 1938 or just 38, then the word “BODY”. To the right of that word is a single digit. If it’s a 4, that’s a Special series. If it’s a 6, then it’s a Century series. My memory is a bit rusty, but there should be a 5″ difference in wheelbases between the Special and the Century, I think they are 122″ and 127″ if I remember correctly.

    Special coupes of both business and Opera types are not difficult to find on the internet. Century Opera Coupes are quite rare, and I don’t believe more than about 1,500 were built. I don’t think there were any Roadmaster [with a 7 on the ID plate] Coupes built, and I’m certain there were no Limited series [with a 9 on the ID plate] coupes built.

    Pick this up cheap, then locate a nice, but rusty, 38 Buick sedan for the missing parts. If it’s a Special, go ahead & rod it. If it’s a Century, then it deserves a restoration.

    Like 2
    • LarryS Member

      Great information, Bill. Thanks.

  16. Bob Mck Member

    Larry S. It is a Special

  17. 1st Gear

    I see in the future a mile high front end blown big block gasser. Go for it

  18. Stan Marks

    AGAIN….. Before you take pics, wash the d_mn thing. From what I can see, the body & paint look decent. Pump up those tires. What a difference it would make. Presentation is EVERYTHING.

    • Stan Marks

      BTW…. So it doesn’t have glass. So what…. That trashed interior could use a wash, too. LOL!!

      • Rob

        Man, could use a wax! Lol

  19. Dave

    Hot – rod

  20. max steel

    I don’t see a floor shift…it could be a semi automatic that Buick tried in 1938. If that is so, the car is worth big $$$$

  21. Barry Duncan

    Looks like its been used for a parts car.

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