Curbside PSA, Starring My 1953 Buick Special – Have You Checked Your Hood Hinges Lately?

General Motors products from the early 1950s are not known for their precise panel gaps and hood fitment, and in the Buick world in particular, the 1953 model is particularly egregious.  Several service bulletins and mid-model year running changes were the results of hood and fender chips resulting from a first-year alligator hood.  Because of my personal interest in these matters, being the owner of the car pictured above, I keep a careful watch at car shows, and even glamourous restored Skylarks sometimes suffer from “the best compromise” of hood, fender, and door alignment.  After nearly 16 years and numerous struggles, I have managed to arrive at a compromise that brings me solace.  Maybe it can help you, too.

This is my Special the day I sent my dad out with a check to pick it up from the previous owner.  As you can see, the driver’s side of the hood doesn’t quite fit correctly at the cowl.  It was worse than it looks in this picture, and attempts to adjust the hood resulted in frustration after frustration, sometimes making matters worse.  Not all days in the garage work out as you might hope.

This past fall, I finally grew tired enough of this blemish to actually take serious action.  My reaction to it gave me pause.  My other cars don’t all have perfect panel fit, so why did a hood that was slightly ajar at the cowl make me so preposterously angry?  Was it because I love this car more than almost anything?  Was it that the eyeball searing blue paint can’t possibly hide sloppy alignment?  I don’t know, but it was time to get to work.

This was my dilemma.  On a Buick, the hood hinge adjustment follows an arc: If you adjust the hood backward, it is also forced upward by a slight amount.  Exacerbating the problem was the back edge of the hood; the shape didn’t follow the cowl, making it seem that the hood was bent or damaged at some point in the car’s past.  I called a local hot rod shop to inquire about reshaping and refinishing the hood; my metalworking skills are fairly good, but not nearly good enough for a complex job such as this.

The estimate was fair but not cheap.  Regardless of my decision, I figured that I should have the hood hinges rebuilt before any work was done, simply to remove them as a variable.  My garage rafters temporarily became a hood support device, because a ’53 Buick hood weighs something like 57 billion pounds; to lift the hood, I used some ratchet straps and a block and tackle.  The straps allowed the center of gravity to be easily shifted while I worked, while also keeping everything stable.  My lovely bride, meanwhile, shared some helping hands in case things went sideways (literally and figuratively).

Once the hood was hanging safely, I removed the two inner hinge bolts from the cowl under the dashboard.  One extra bolt per hinge is removed from the outside of the cowl.

Once they were on the garage floor, I discovered that the hinges were shot.  The rivets and arms were extremely loose, especially once I removed the springs. (This is accomplished by stacking washers between the coils while alternating sides, stretching the spring enough to be removed – be careful if you do anything with hood springs.)

One of the difficulties in removing the hood was removing these shoulder bolts, which have a head that is shaped like a potato.  I had to use a crow’s foot attachment and take a half turn at a time while that huge hood was strapped to the ceiling.  Not great.

Needless to say, I sent my hood hinges to a business in Virginia that specializes in that service.  The owner, Willie Wilson, not only rebuilt the hinges but also made me some new shoulder bolts to replace the worn out originals, AND the new ones have a traditional hex head.  Mr. Wilson asked me if this was acceptable, and I replied that I’m not a stickler for originality and would prefer that he do that.   I have to mention that I am extremely happy with his work and especially his communication.  Really good, prompt communication is somewhat rare in the car repair world (in my experience).

The happiest surprise was that once I reinstalled and adjusted the hood, it fit much, much better.  Obviously, the shape of the hood had previously followed the loose hinges upward and outward.

It fits so much better, in fact, that I will actually have a little fender and door adjustment to do, but even if I don’t, it’s completely acceptable to me as it is.

Both sides are now close enough that they don’t upset me, and life is all about minimizing disappointments.  A few spots of touch up paint (when it warms up outside) where the hood touched the fenders and cowl over the years will complete the job.

My PSA for you is this: If you have an old car, and its hood fit is raising your blood pressure, it may behoove you to check the hinges.  It may seem obvious in retrospect, but we all have lapses of reason, and sometimes they last for over 15 years.  Now that one of my life’s minor annoyances has been eliminated, driving Big Blue will be even more fun this summer.

See my history with “Big Blue” here.