Junkyard Find: 1938 Oldsmobile Touring Sedan

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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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Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Randall Tefft Sundeen Randall Tefft Sundeen on Aug 19, 2022

    Oldsmobile was ALWAYS my favorite GM marque ! I remember as a kid you couldn't walk down the street without tripping on one! In 1977 and 1984 respectively olds sold. Million units, GM's second biggest seller as well as being the test brand for new options (Why take a risk with Cadillac?) The first CLUTCHLESS MANUAL , the first ELECTRIC POWER WINDOWS the first AUTOMATIC not to mention in 1974 the first airbag. Iam fortunate enough to live in a warm climate where old cars are plentiful sadly very few Oldsmobiles. Many features we take for granted were developed by this special brand

  • Wal65689441 Wal65689441 on Oct 27, 2022

    Is the car for sale and where is the car at I have the same car

  • TMA1 Been thinking about getting one of these for my mother. Skip the AWD and DSG, the FWD comes with an 8-spd. Good size vehicle for a woman who wants a SUV and has a small garage. Much better view outwards than the Mazda CX-30 I was looking at. Wish it had a power tailgate though - she's short.
  • Ajla Mustang.
  • Slavuta 2.3 mustang auto was quick enough but I didn't like it. Is this Ford still comes with Aluminum body parts? Because paint used to peel off. I like more classy Nissan cockpit. Both are not nearly perfect.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X I would have to try each one on Flinton Rd in Eastern Ontario. This winding and hilly road is located between HWY 41 S and HWY 7 W.
  • Slavuta "a bill that would helped fund consumers who wanted to turn their used cars into EVs" - sounds like subsidies to good $$ earners were cut. Did anyone listened what this is about?
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