1958 Buick Special
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This is our car and an attempt to record our restoration attempts so far. Enjoy.

Basic Specs

1958 Buick Special 2 Door Riviera - Model 46R

  •  364 cid "NailHead" V8 engine
  •  4bbl Carter AFB carb
  •  DynaFlow transmission
  •  Full instrumentation
  •  "Redline" speedometer
  •  Unique "push gas to start" starting system
  •  Factory options:
    • Power Steering
    • Power Brakes
    • Backup Lights
    • Speed Alert
    • Trip Odometer
    • Interior Map Lights
    • Rear Speaker (w/ fader control)
    • Two Tone Paint
    • Wide Reveal Moldings


The "Before" Picture Series


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A close-up with the rear trim removed:

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(Hey, I think I found my hat! :-)


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The engine photos were not done until after we got the car running. We had already de-grunged the engine bay and installed a new 4bbl manifold and carb. (The car originally had a 2bbl carb and manifold on it.) The 4bbl carb and manifold are factory 1958 Buick pieces from the larger 60-70-700 series cars that were optional on the smaller 40-series. Just think of it as a very belated dealer-installed option. :-)

The engine is 364 cid version of the famous Buick NailHead engine. It's a rather unique engine design - below is a cutaway drawing showing the key details. Look at the orientation of the valves in relation to the pistons, and the way the valve covers sit - they are both vertical. Most V8 engines have the valves leaned out at about a 30-50 degree angle and the valve covers are mounted at a similar angle. The vertical arrangement allows for a very compact engine design that produces gobs of torque at low RPM in exchange for limited higher RPM capabilities - the extreme turn in the exhaust port results in reduced high-RPM breathing abilities. A side effect of this design is that it tolerates a very lumpy cam (used to help offset the poor exhaust ports) and can run on a higher compression for a given grade of gasoline than a typical engine without knocking and pinging.

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There are some assorted photos of fender supports and such here. I'm trying to track down a few missing braces for under the front fenders and am collecting photos and parts diagrams to help me.


Future Plans

Future plans include actually painting the car, some more work on the motor and interior, and actually installing the front grill pieces that are presently safely in storage. We want to go with a silver and maroon paint scheme where the roof and body above the beltline trim are maroon and the lower body is silver. I have some pictures of another car in this color scheme (where do you think I got the idea, after all? :-), that I scanned in below. Interior colors are slated to follow the maroon and silver theme eventually.

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Motor ideas include a possible 401 or 425 swap. According to various Nailhead authorities, that means I need to use a rear pickup oil pan from a 1957-1961 364 or 401 (aka, my original 364 oil pan will work on any 401 or 425 and it will fit my chassis). Also, if I am using a 1962-1966 401 or any year 425, then I need to use an oil pickup from a 1965-1996 GS. Some folks sell them as reproductions, which is good news. It means that I just need my original oil pan (so long as I don't smash it getting the engine out of the car or commit some related act of stupidity on it) and a possibly reproduction oil pickup, and other than that, it should be mostly a bolt-in affair. Cool!


AC Details

I've always wanted to add AC to this car at some point, and when I got the chance to inspect a factory AC setup on a local unrestored Buick Special, I gladly took the drive and took some pictures. These pictures clearly shows where the condenser and receiver/dryer mounts in front of the core support, the hose layout, the double mufflers on the compressor section, the location of the AC "hot air" bypass valve, the center dash outlet and how it works with the side padded dash sections, and the AC/heater controls in the dash. The car also had seatbelts added and wide whitewall tires, so I took pictures of them as well for reference. Also, the fresh air duct that runs from the core support to the generator was missing, but the air intake for it can clearly be seen behind and to the left of the receiver/dryer assembly in the third picture.

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Wishful Thinking

I had an idea to put a custom serpentine belt setup on the Nailhead to mount everything low and out of the way so the natural coolness of the Nailhead could be better seen. A diagram of my initial thoughts for the component arrangement and the belt layout is below. I used two idler pulleys and a tensioner. You might even be able to cut this down to one idler and eliminate the lower idler on the driverís side if you can get the belt wrap around the power steering pulley to be enough by lowering it and letting the tensioner on the passengerís side go higher to ensure that the belt wrap on the crank pulley is sufficient. The general rule of thumb Iíve heard is to get at least 1/3 of the pulley arc in contact with the belt, more if itís a high point load like the compressor or the power steering pump. You can also move the idlers very high and close to the matching pulleys if you want to increase the arc of contact. Another idea would be to add a third idler on the top passengerís side to bring the belt down lower and out of view more, and increase the contact arc on the AC compressor. There are a few different ways to arrange this, but the basic component layout of the AC compressor, PS pump, and alternator is pretty decent in this idea. Playing with the idlers and exact component locations can resolve the details, and a lot will be determined by the actual mounting points you can use on the engine, where things stick out already, etc. Also, a lot will be determined by where the AC compressor can go. The frame may be in the way for the pictured mounting location, especially if you keep the stock A6 compressor. :-(

For the component arrangement, if you put the PS pump down low on the driverís side and use a small remote reservoir pump, the alternator can go right above it and help form the needed direction change on the belt. That way the actual pump is usually smaller around than the pulley and just a few inches deep. Since the front cover sticks out a few inches, you should be able to easily tuck the power steering pump up tight to the motor in front of the block and below the head and mount the reservoir somewhere off to the side in a discreet location, maybe even using one of those finned ďbeehiveĒ covers that they sell for various things.

The idea here is to keep the alternator up high for easy service since itís the most likely component to need replacement. I guess putting it low could be OK, but the remote reservoir PS pumps are ugly and not quite as readily available in chrome, whereas the alternators are. (NOTE: Since I originally write this, the remote reservoir PS pumps have gained more use by the hot-rod community, and are now much easier to get in chrome. I still think they're ugly, though, so I still want to mount it down low and out of the way. :-) Also, since the battery and starter are on the driverís side, keeping the alternator there keeps the wires short and keeps the wiring harness to the other side of the engine compartment small and unobtrusive. The PS pump stays low to be hidden and is close to the steering box for a short run on the high pressure hose. The return hose can go pretty much anywhere you want it to. The AC compressor stays on the passengerís side where all the AC hoses need to go, and you can even run them along the frame to reduce the amount they ďstand outĒ in the engine compartment. The upper idler preserves the standard rotation water pump.


Odds 'n Ends

We originally intended on keeping a full parts and price list online too just to know what we need to buy and to keep track of just how big of a money pit this is. Like most other projects, it got put on the back burner and forgotten, so it's long since out of date.

Here's an article we found about a '58 Buick Chrome Dream and scanned in.

I have a a 1958 Buick Special parts car. Read all about it, ask about parts you might need, etc.

I had the radiator re-cored and had a custom overflow tube added so I could mount a overflow tank on the car. Here's the page about it. It's still in progress, but the car is running again after the work, so that's worth something. As part of this, I also converted the car to a more modern thermostatically controlled clutch-style fan.

As part of resurrecting the car, I had to disassemble the steering column to fix a problem with a really "tight" shifter.

I'm converting to electric wipers and trying to figure out how to integrate the new electric wiper controls with the entirely non-electric original wiper controls.

I have a separate page for details on the alternator conversion.

Since the car is running, I made a recording of it starting up and revving a bit. It's a pretty crappy recording because the microphone in the laptop I was using stinks, but hey, it's better than nothing.

I have a gallery of photos of other 1958 Buicks.

Cowl and Body Tags

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You can visit my 1958 Buick Identification Codes page for more information on how I decoded these tags to understand what I had. My tags break down to the information below. There are some details that are not clear yet, but I'm still researching those.

  •  1958 Buick Special 2 Door Riviera - Model 46R
  •  Body #2226
  •  Two tone paint scheme
    • Arctic White Top
    • Casino Cream Bottom
  •  Gold Pattern Cloth and White Cordaveen Interior (Not sure about this one... Maybe the interior is just that dirty?)
  •  Accessory Code "E-P3"
  •  Built in South Gate, MI
  •  Serial #012846


Carpet and Floorpans

As part of the teardown to asses what to do next, it was time to remove the carpet/padding and inspect the floorpans. Not too bad, but there is some rust that will need to be dealt with.

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New Fuel Line

The rubber fuel line from the fuel pump to the carb started leaking and needed to be replaced, so I decided to replace it with a custom bent hard-line and a smaller chrome inline fuel filter tucked up closer to the carb and air cleaner. I started with a simple 90 degree male pipe fitting to female hard line fitting adaptor to thread into the fuel pump and a piece of appropriately sized brake line with a connector on each end. I made a template out of a piece of hanger wire and then started bending the hard line to fit the space I had. I used a small piece of rubber hose to connect the filter to the carb, and cut the hard line so that only a short piece of rubber hose would be needed to connect the filter to the new hard line.

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Purchasing Order

This was Car #14. The first car I bought "for my wife". My first experience with a Buick NailHead V8. The first car I bought as a result of networking through my local BCA chapter. My first experience with a 50's car and learning about the culture of the era. The first car I started collecting advertising and literature for.

Comments? Kudos? Got some parts you'd like to buy/sell/barter/swap? Nasty comments about my web page so far? You can email Mike or Debbie.

Pretty much everything on this website is copyrighted, if you want to use something, ask first.

Page last updated 03/29/2009 07:53:15 PM