1941 Buick Buyer's Guide
Your first real clue in identifying the car is the body, easily identifiable even from a distance. As we discussed earlier, a torpedo or fastback body, in all cases, will either be a Special or a Century. A trunkback body will be a Special, Super or a Roadmaster. IMPORTANT NOTE: The bodies themselves are identical (i.e. the Special and Century used the same body on different chassis), and the additional chassis length is found entirely forward of the firewall to accommodate the longer 320 cubic-inch engines in the large series cars. Because of this, you can often determine whether it is a small or large series vehicle by simply looking at the front fenders. The smaller series (Special and Super) have only 4 vents and the curve of the front fenders extends almost all the way to the door. On the larger series, there are five vents and the fender has a flat area just forward of the front door. Look at the photos below and compare:
The next easy item to check is the hood latch. It will have the series name spelled out in block letters on a black background. It is important to bear in mind that these handles are easy to remove, break easily, and are universal-fit for all series. It is very possible that an uncommon car, like a Roadmaster, may actually be wearing more common handles, say from a Super because the original handles broke and Roadmaster replacements were impossible to find. This was a common repair when these cars were still in daily service decades ago. For this reason, don’t rely on the hood handles alone to tell you what you have.
The most accurate way to determine exactly what car you have is to check the model number. The model number can be found by examining the data tag located on the passenger’s side of the cowl or firewall, under the hood and in front of the passenger’s front door. This data tag will give you the real information on the car and forgeries or duplicates are highly unlikely.
The next part of identifying the vehicle in question is to determine the body style. Since you now know what series you are looking at, you’ll need to know what body style we’re talking about. Each body style had a different number to indicate exactly what it is. For example, my 1941 Buick is a model 66S. From that number, I can determine that it is a Century 2-door coupe (also known as a sedanette, fastback or "torpedo"). This model number is your best technique for correctly identifying the Buick in question.
Buick (and General Motors) used a fairly basic and comprehensive coding system for all model numbers. The first number of the model number is the series, the same as outlined in CHART 1. The second number tells you the body style, and may be followed by a letter denoting specifics about that body style. With certain notable exceptions, the coding is universal:
In many cases, there is a third letter in the model number, which may indicate additional details about the vehicle:
In our example, the model number is 56C, which indicates a Super (series 50) 2-door (56) convertible (C):
IMPORTANT NOTE: Sometime in early 1941, Buick decided to build a smaller Special series based on a 118-inch wheelbase and using Chevrolet bodies (refer to CHART 2). These are referred to as “A-Series Specials” and are the only Series in 1941 to use the _4 and _7 model number designations. These A-Series Specials featured traditional trunks unlike the regular production Specials (B-Series, using the standard _1 and _6 designations) which were all of fastback or “torpedo” design. Station wagons were only available on the 121-inch wheelbase B-Series Special chassis.
Here’s a chart of all the model numbers made by Buick in 1941 (if you're curious about how rare each of these models is, take a look at this production numbers chart):
*SE designates “special
edition” which was a Special with certain
We won't go into a lot of detail about decoding the rest of the body tag information in this article. The remainder of the data describes the production number, Fisher body style, the paint code and the interior trim fabrics, as well as the top color on convertibles. None of that information is especially critical to correctly identifying the car, though it can be useful in tracing its history.
What if the body tag is missing? Well, you'll have to do some detective work. Take all the visual clues I offered above regarding body style, length of the front fenders, number of vents and whether there is a back seat in 2-door models, and you can probably get pretty close. But there's one other place to look, and that's at the engine number. If the car is original and still has its original engine, the first digit of the engine number will tell you what series the vehicle is. It follows the same numbering sequence found in CHART 1.
The engine number on both the large and small engines, is located on the passenger's side. It is a machined pad cast into the block, just above the oil pan rail. On the 248 cubic-inch engines, it is near the distributor shaft. On the 320 cubic-inch engines, it is farther back towards the starter, and may take some looking before you find it. It's there, I promise. The serial number will be hand-stamped into this pad and will likely be covered in several decades worth of grease and road grime. Scrape it off to find the number. If the engine has been replaced in the past, you may be out of luck, as replacement engines often did not include a serial number that matched the series designation. But if you can conclusively find the engine number and you know it to be correct, you can use the clues I've provided above to correctly identify the car's model number in almost every case.
Go on to Part 3: ISSUES
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