John’s ’33 Buick “Wildcat” Hot Rod

1933 Buick Hot Rod 56-S

1933 Buick Hot Rod

ing what I affectionately refer to as my ” ’33 Buick Wildcat”. This is what Buick might have built back in ’33 if they were building a sporty Wildcat model. It started life as a 1933 Model 56S rumble seat three window coupe.

It’s going to be ALL (body, frame, wheels, tailights, headlights, dash, steering wheel, powertrain, etc.) Buick, with only a couple of exceptions such as a Richmond QuickChange (well, Buick never built a Quick Change). It’s taking a lot longer than I’d envisioned, but I understand that’s not unusual. As you can see, we’ve got it chopped and channeled already after replacing all wood body frame with steel.

We bobbed the frame front and back and pinched the front in enough to keep the rails under hood. Front has a monoleaf stainless cross spring located by hairpin radius arms while rear is coilover located by a ladder bar setup. For fuel delivery I’ve got a Hilborn injection system that’s been converted to E.F.I. with all of the other dress up goodies.

My love of Nailhead Buick V-8’s has its roots in the “Gasser Wars” of the mid-late 50’s with my heros being Tommy Ivo, Tony Nancy and even “Ohio George” Montogomery (our local guy) before he swapped to Fords in the 60’s. My buddies and I stuck a blown Nailhead in an old Chevy coupe and ran at the local dragstrips, albeit not in the same league as those heros above.

Being the stereotypical grey beard and silver haired guy who wanted to go back to my roots a couple of years ago, we first bought a very low mileage ’66 Buick 425 c.i. Nailhead and started looking for nostalgic dress up and speed equipment and although it takes some looking there are some great parts out there for Nailheads. One guy even threw in two complete 401’s with the factory 2X4 factory intake manifold I wanted.

A couple of the gems include a never used N.O.S. Schneider cam with all of the retainer clips and valve springs. I’ve authenticated it with Schneider by tracking down their internal work order number and they’ve graciously sent me another dial in card with all lift, duration, etc. information. Another gem is a Hilborn Fuel Injection system.

I’ve accumulated more than I can even use then went looking for a car to build around it. We searched all over for a couple of years looking at clapped out Fords (coupes and roadsters) and just couldn’t find the right project car for a hot rod. I am a good sized guy and my son is really big at 6′-7″ and 350 lbs. and we wanted rod we in which we could both cruise in together. That meant that we would have to have lengthened and/or widened a Ford or Chevy and we discussed this with several shops, but that runs into really cubic inch dollars and there are those who believe that such changes too severely alter the esthetics and lines of the classic rod bodies to remain the “traditional hot rod” look.

On one of his trips back to college, my son called me about a really big coupe he’d seen along the road. He didn’t know what make or model it was, but thought it was big enough for both of us. Before the day was over, I’d driven up to South Carolina and bought the 1933 Model 56-S Buick three window rumble seat coupe. From there is was a pretty obvious decision to build it into an all Buick traditional hot rod and that’s what we’ve endeavored to do. We refer to it as our ” ’33 Buick Wildcat” in that this is what Buick might have built as a sporty Wildcat model back then.

We first stripped it all the way down to the bare frame. The first step was splitting, pinching and bobbing the front rails to keep them inside the radiator shell and sides of the hood. We mounted a Ford Model A front cross member with a stainless steel monoleaf cross spring over a dropped I-beam axle and located same with hairpin radius arms. Out back, we hung a Richmond Quick change with coilovers and located with a Pete and Jakes ladder bar and home made panhard bar. The quick change rear end is Richmond’s hot Magnesium Cased “Champ Car” set-up with Mosler axles.

For wheels, we had a set of steel Buick “Wildcat” wheels narrowed for the front and widened for the back, we’ll have them rechromed and painted later. They’re mounted with finned aluminum Buick brake drums all the way around. We screwed up by not properly marking the centerline of the rear axle before removing the body, so we couldn’t finish the chassis at that time and had to remount the body to properly locate the rear axle in the rear fender wells.
We’ve been working on the body ever since and will have to go back to the chassis later.

First step was to cross brace the body throughout and strip out all of the wooden body framework. Wow, what a job. The quality of cabinetry and wood workmanship in the body frame was unbelieveable and it seemed a shame at times to be removing it, but we wanted the strength and rigidity of a steel framework. Using mostly 1/2 inch and one inch square (some round) tubing we finally finished that long and laborious task. We then chopped the top 2 and 1/4 inches. That doesn’t sound like much, but with the long turret of the Buick any further chop could have easily looked like a cartoon charactor, ( and remember my son’s height?). Then we filled the top.

For channeling the body, we located the height of the the rear portion of the body by making certain the mounted rear wheels were vertically centered in the rear fenderwells and rotated the front down to the desired rake and stance. Turns out that the rear is channeled about two inches and the front about seven. The Cowl vent has been filled and the hood has been converted to a three piece with the solid top mounted on ‘aligator’ hinges so we’ll be able to run with or without the hood sides. Work since then has been on building the floor system, firewall, inner rear fenderwells, etc. and mounting the electric window channels.

For this ol guy, hot rods have got to have three pedals. We mated up a Ford 427 Cobra four speed to the Nailhead after installing a Jeep top plate on the transmission, hence, it really is a top loader with enough strength to handle the torque and horsepower of a built Nailhead. We’re going to run the Hilborn Injection system after converting it to electronic with Electromotive’s crank driven TEC II system.

In one of the photos there was one of the rear deck with the big Quick Change rear end showing. Obviously we removed over a foot (don’t have the exact measurement, just cut it where it looked the best) off the bottom edge, continued the reveal across the bottom edge to match up with the reveal coming down the side and around the rear fenderwell so it will look finished. The taillights are from a ’51 Buick Special with the two little bullet shapes within the lense itself and have been frenched into the body in the traditional style.

For the interior I found a Buick steering wheel at a swap meet. Don’t know exactly what I came from (the owner said it was Grand National), but it’s a Buick with tri-shield logo in center and it’s a fifteen inch leather wrapped three spoke wheel. We’ll change the tri-shield logo to a Wildcat logo as we’ll be using in the centercaps of the wheels and probably one somewhere on dash just to tie it all together. And speaking of the dash, I’m making inserts out of solid South African ebony. I’ve got them cut and basically shaped at this time and still have to do the router work and polishing. There’s plenty of time for that as the interior is still some time away.

Although we looking forward to the day we can drive it, we’re enjoying the journey of the build.
John C. Grunden


Specifications:

Year: 1933
Make: Buick
Model: 56-S
Body Type: 3 Window Rumble seat Coupe
Body Mods: 2 and 1/4 inch Top Chop
Channeled 7 inches front, 2 inches rear
Filled Cowl
3 Piece Hood
Electric Windows
Filled Top
Bobbed frame at rear, Pinched rails up front
Front End: Model A Cross member
Dropped I-beam axle
Hairpin Radius Arms
Front Suspension: Stainless steel monoleaf spring
Rear End: Richmond “Champ Car” Quick Change
Magnesium casing
Mosler Axles
Rear Suspension: Pete and Jakes ladder bar
Home made panhard bar
Engine: 425 cubic inch Nailhead V8
Fuel System: Hilborn Injection
Electromotive crank driven TEC II EFI Conversion
Transmission: Ford 427 Cobra four speed
Location: USA
John writes…

This car is well on it’s way to becoming the Ultimate Buick Hot Rod. I love ‘Rods and especially Buick powered ‘Rods.
I am blown away by so many details that it’s hard to decide which aspect of it I like the most. I am
eagerly awaiting more shots as the progress continues and will be updating this page as John sends them
through. An “All Buick Hot Rod” is the coolest concept for a ‘Rod I’ve seen in a long time. Very Nice work John.

Bill S.
  1. jerry doolin Said,

    Sounds like you are from around Dayton Ohio,so am i . love your car i’m also in the process of converting my car over to a nailhead from a small block chevy. Would really be interested in how your fuel injection is working out. Thanks Jerry

  2. jerry doolin Said,

    Just purchased a 425 Nailhead with a Hilborn.

  3. steve esman Said,

    I love to read about other buick lovers,i myself helped my dad years ago build a 1974 pinto wagon you sat in the back seat to drive,the 425 was in the front. the 425 had dual quads,.030 over,and a small cam,when we put the motor in it had 257,000 miles on it,still ran 12.77 quarters on road hugger street tires and 3,200lbs,we sold it 10 years ago and it is still running today,[eventhough the owner lies about what was done to it.bottom line,nailheads are the best all around street toy motor

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