One-in-a-Million Original ’38 Buick Special Business Coupe

Stories and photos by John Gunnell |

“I just wanted a car that was nice and original,” says John Merrick of Fremont, Wis. “But even I couldn’t believe there was something as nice as this 1938 Buick Special business coupe ‘ until I saw it in person.” According to Merrick, the dark-green five-window coupe exceeded his every expectation.

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This low-mileage, original 1938 Buick carries a grille that is heavier-looking than those on 1937 models.

    The 62,000-original-mile car is not the first ’38 Buick Merrick owned. “I had a nicely restored 1938 four-door convertible that John Koutrie had owned,” he says, referring to a well-known Wisconsin car collector. “That car started with almost no floor and received a great restoration,” says Merrick. “But it never ran the way the coupe does, which shows one of the advantages of an original car.”

    The coupe was purchased from a man in Minnesota, but it came from California in 1994, and Merrick still has the California title. “It was always kept out there until the point it was sold to the Minnesota man,” John notes. “He was a bachelor who took great care of everything he owned, including his motor home,” Merrick discovered. “He also had real nice ’34 Buick and an extremely nice ’35 Buick four-door sedan with 43,000 original miles.”

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They’re only original once, and one of the beauties of finding a well-preserved car is that all of the trim details look factory correct.

    The ’38 Buick is very original, down to its paint and factory pinstriping. The body finish shines like only the old Duco nitrocellulose lacquer can, but there is crazing and “hen’s feet” cracks in areas around the factory-leaded body seams and on the curved surface below the rear window on the driver’s side.

    Merrick has owned the car for two years. “I changed the oil, cleaned it and drove it,” he says. “The seller had already gone through the fan belts and cooling system hoses. The man who had it in California put $1,500 into the brakes back in 1992, so they are great.” Merrick ‘ who deals in wood boats and collector cars ‘ says the car stays in a big, locked garage all year.

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The car’s upholstery, headliner and wood-grain dashboard finish have all been preserved in very nice condition.

    The Special two-door business coupe, Model 38-46, has front Ventipanes, lowerable door glass, small rear quarter windows and a spare tire in the trunk. Merrick’s car is one of 11,337 made. This model retailed for $945 and had a shipping weight of 3,385 lbs. All 1938 Buicks were distinguished by a new two-piece die-cast grille with wider horizontal grille bars spaced farther apart. Longer bullet-shaped headlamps were mounted integral with the radiator shell.

    Technical advances for 1938 included a full coil-spring suspension. An Automatic Safety Transmission was offered for Specials, although most people preferred the standard three-speed manual. All models had all-steel Unisteel body construction and Fisher Body Turret Top styling. Batteries were moved from beneath the floorboards to under the hood, and all Buicks had hypoid rear axles.

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The original GM nitrocellulose lacquer tends to “alligator” in spots where the factory used lead under the paint to fill in body seams, such as below the rear windows.

    The Special engine was a 248-cid valve-in-head inline eight with a 6.15:1 compression ratio and a Marvel CDI or Stromberg AAV-1 dual-downdraft carburetor. It produced 107 hp at 3,400 rpm and 203 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,000 rpm.

    In addition to his 1938 Buick Special coupe, Merrick owns a 1955 Cadillac, a pair of 1961 Corvettes, a 1967 Corvette and a 1971 Corvette. He says he’s looking for another 1938 Buick four-door convertible that’s “real nice and original.” That’s his dream car, but his coupe is a reality that he’s very happy with. “They’re only original once,” he reminds us. “And this is a nice one, especially for a business coupe.”

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Older California plates on the rear of the car go well with the Buick’s high degree of originality.

One Response to One-in-a-Million Original ’38 Buick Special Business Coupe

  1. Thomas Pregent says:

    beautifull car [38 special]. it got me to thinking, i need one. two years ago i got a 38 buick coupe & i just turned an original 46,000 miles. he just completed paint a 5 month paint job. i’ll send you some pictures. his name is Charly

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