Junkyard Find: 1938 Oldsmobile Touring Sedan


August 15th, 2022 10:06 AM

Most of the inventory at your typical Ewe Pullet-style big self-service car graveyard will be vehicles between about 15 and 25 years old, though you’ll see some much newer 500s and Mirages while discarded machinery of the 1970s and 1980s remains easy enough to find. The 1930s, though— that’s a different story. While you will run across prewar iron in a generations-old family junkyard, I’ve managed to document but a single 1930s car in a U-Wrench-type facility prior to today. Here’s the second: a once-glamorous 1938 Buick in an excellent yard in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

This car was a prestigious and powerful luxury sedan in its day, with an MSRP of $1,107 during the hard times of the Great Depression (that’s only about $23,100 in 2022 dollars, but keep in mind that a new 1938 Chevy could be purchased for the 2022 equivalent of $13,500).

The Olds Motor Works factory moved to Detroit in 1899, then returned to Lansing in 1905. This car was built at Lansing Car Assembly, where Oldsmobiles from the 1913 Six through the very last 2004 Alero were made. The final vehicle to come off the LCA line was a 2005 Pontiac Grand Am. This tag identifies the car as an L-38 Series Touring Sedan with Trunk.

This car looks imposing, but its curb weight was a mere 3,295 pounds. That’s a bit less than a brand-new Honda Accord today.

Cars back then were narrow, with simple interiors and little structural reinforcement.

This one has been sitting outdoors in harsh High Plains weather for decades. Many decades. Can you smell the dust and decaying horsehair through your screen?

Early safety glass tended to delaminate if exposed to the elements for long enough.

A ’38 Olds in good shape can sell for decent money, but not enough to make a very rough one worthwhile.

I thought this was a temperature gauge at first glance, but the number range seemed too low for engine coolant yet too high for interior temperature. Turns out it’s the tuning knob for the factory eight-tube AM radio. Radio stations KLZ and KOA have been broadcasting out of Denver on the same frequencies since the 1920s, so perhaps the occupants of this car tuned in when it still had That New Oldsmobile Smell.

Oldsmobile was always an engine innovator, introducing a water-cooled one-banger in the 1901 Curved Dash, an overhead-valve V8 for 1949, and the screaming DOHC Quad 4 in 1987. From 1932 through 1948, the top Oldsmobile engine was the flathead straight-eight.

This is a 257-cubic-inch (4.2-liter) version, rated at 110 horsepower. Lesser Oldsmobiles got a six-cylinder version making 95 horses that year.

Escape Velocity Racing’s 1941 Oldsmobile sedan ran very well at MSR Houston with a flathead 257, back in 2018. There is talk of pulling the front bumper off today’s Junkyard Find and shipping it to EVR.

Now that’s a cool-looking bumper!

The transmission in the 1938 Olds was a three-on-the-tree column-shift manual, like most US-market cars of the era, but at least it was a full-synchromesh unit. Note the radio box above the steering column.

The split-window/ bustleback look of late-1930s luxury cars proved so popular that kits were available to get this look on the Chrysler PT Cruiser.

Most of Cheyenne Auto & Metal‘s inventory is late-model stuff, but they have a respectable selection of cars, trucks, and tractors of the 1930s through 1970s as well. It’s about 100 miles from where I live (and located just down the road from Artillery World), but the selection of ancient machinery (including a genuine ’57 Chevy) is so good and the employees so knowledgeable that I will be returning soon.

[Images by the author]

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