Larry and Rich Tackle John’s 1963 Buick Wildcat

The Wildcat trim on the rear quater
The Wildcat trim on the rear quarter

My good friend John M. owns a 1963 Buick Wildcat convertible, which he bought in 1992. Yours truly accompanied John on the trip to Staunton VA when he purchased the car, which is a whole ‘nother story (which will someday be told in a blog post, as I have PHOTOS). Fast forward to 2015: John has been slowly but steadily bringing the Buick back from the brink, and requested that Larry and I assist him in diagnosing some troublesome overheating issues, plus a rough idle/rough running complaint.

Let's start under the hood...
Let’s start under the hood…

We had not seen the car since John had the body and paint work completed, and overall, the exterior looked stunning. The car had also just come back from Montclair Auto Top where a new convertible top was installed, and that was looking fine. Regarding the overheating, John told us that it took a few miles of driving before the red dash light would come on (no temp gauge), yet the water pump, thermostat, and hoses were new.

Buick 401 nailhead, WITH factory air
Buick 401 nailhead, with 4 barrel carb, power steering, and factory air

Examining the radiator, it seemed obvious to all that it had either never been out of the car, or, if it had been removed, it was sometime during the Carter Administration. The coolant itself looked suspect, and a hydrometer check revealed it to have minimal temperature protection. Leaving the radiator cap off, John started the car and let it warm up so that we could continue our checks.

The "445" is the engine's torque in ft. lb.
The “445” is the engine’s torque in ft. lb.

With the engine idling, Larry the Carburetor Expert began to apply his touch. First he checked the dwell and found that needed adjustment. The ignition timing was spot on at 12 degrees BTDC. But the 4V carb was running quite rich. Larry leaned out the carb mix and reset the idle to spec. John pronounced that the resulting smooth idle was the best he had experienced with the car in a long time.

In 1963, dwell and idle speed were adjustable
In 1963, dwell and idle speed were adjustable

Back to our cooling system, we observed good flow past the cap opening, and a digital temperature gauge recorded a coolant temp of about 185 degrees, well below boiling (but keep in mind that the system was not pressurized). It took a long time for the bottom (return) radiator hose to feel warm. We still suspected slow flow through the radiator core.

Interior is final step to be tackled; John has all the parts
Interior is final step to be tackled; John has all the parts

Time for a test drive; with the owner piloting, the two visitors climbed in for a tour of downtown Glen Ridge. John said that the car ran stronger, and the slight hesitation/surge he felt when he put his foot into it was almost, but not completely, gone. After about a 10 minute ride, we were back at John’s house, and leaving the car to idle, we never saw the temp light come on. The daytime temperature was around 50 degrees, so to be fair, we were not duplicating the outside temps John experienced in August.

Car looks as distinctive from the rear
Car looks as distinctive from the rear

Our wrench work finished for the day, John treated us to bagels and coffee while we searched for Buick parts on our phones (could not have written that sentence during the Carter Administration). With driving season almost completed for the year, John said his next step may be replacing the coolant with fresh mixture. He will consider pulling the radiator, but perhaps not until first thaw of next year. As we departed, Larry and I both told him we’d be thrilled to see that big ol’ Buick on the road in 2016.

All photographs copyright © 2015 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.