Starting my 32 Model 54

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    Problem: I am having difficulty getting my engine to turn over. I set the choke and spark controls, raise the lever to the “on” position. The engine cranks but wont turn over. I pump the accelerator pedal 5 to 10 times (or more) and it turns over. Many times I wind up draining the battery. The battery is relatively new.  Does any one have an idea what might be wrong? Just had a major tune up. Could it be the carburetor (Strongburg) U U R-2?   any suggestions?



    First are you certain that the fuel pump is working properly?  Might check fuel deliver to the carb.

    Since you have spark (based on you saying it would run) and air and assuming the timing is correct, the only thing left is the fuel system.

    Are you fully retarding the spark? Does it make any difference if you advance it any?

    Will it stay running once it fires? Can you drive it?

    What was done for the tune up?


    Bill and Peggy, thanks for your response. I recently had the fuel pump rebuilt by Art Gould of Holden, Maine. They are listed in the “parts and service” section of PA recommendations. From what I can tell the fuel is getting from the sending unit (gas tank) to the fuel pump. I start out during the start up phase by pulling both choke and spark controls out as far as possible and moving the lever to the ” On  “position.  When it cranks I pump the accelerator pedal and some times it starts. Other time, although infrequently, the battery drains so I have to charge the battery and start over.Once it fires the engine runs great. The recent tune up utilized replacement of  the recommended Champion W 16 Y  plugs (Champion spark plug Customer Service ) verified the size Thread 7/8, Gap .025; Authentic spark plug wires, Dual Point Contact Set, Delco Distributor Rotor, new Delco Distributor Cap> once it starts it runs perfectly. It’s just difficult to start! Do you have any other recommendations?


    For cold starts, my experience with those updraft carbs on 1929-32 8s (and on a friend’s 1931 Studebaker President) is that I retard the spark and go to full choke (as you do), but ALSO go to full throttle with the hand throttle (being prepared to close it quickly when the engine fires), and after two or three revolutions go to 1/3 to 1/2 choke before it fires.  Be *very* quick to close the hand throttle as soon as it fires!

    Give this a try and let us know if there’s any improvement.


    Mr Teebay, thank you for taking the time to respond to my inquiry. I shall attempt to start my automobile as you instructed. Thanks again. Ron Kurland


    Please call me George.  Good luck!


    George, did everything you suggested.  It just refuses to start. It cranks trying to start infrequently. I am now beginning to notice the smell of gasoline and after my repeated attempts now I am noticing a small puddle of gasoline on the garage floor.  Yesterday, I had my vehicle towed to have new tires and tubes installed. The mechanic told me he had no difficulty getting the car to start but to do so he shot starter fluid into the carburetor  after removing the air filter. He said he started it several time that way and it turned over each time. I had the car towed back to my home upon completion of the tire installation. This morning I attempted to start car per your instructions, it cranked once or twice but wouldn’t start. Any additional suggestions would be appreciated! Ron



    Just a WAG but it sounds to me like the accelerator pump isn’t working correctly, maybe a partially restricted nozzle or the gasket cracked or sucked in. If it started with ether several times it’s not getting fuel.

    Jim L



    FUEL:  As Jim says, plus check your float level.  Are you using a mechanical or electric fuel pump?  If the latter, what’s the output in psi?  Dialed down with regulator?

    ELECTRICAL:  I’ve had cars whose tired starters drew down the voltage needed for the ignition to fire properly.  It would take some time, but measure the draw and the voltage to the coil during cranking.  What battery do you have?  Your car originally had a Group 3; a Group 2 may have too little capacity.  I run a pair of Optimas wired in parallel (can provide a photo if you wish)–makes the starter spin very fast, but my primary reason for using them is more reserve capacity for driving at night with a charging deficit.  Are your battery cables 00  (double ought) as they should be?  If smaller than that, your cables will heat up while cranking and not deliver full battery power.  I ask because you say you run down your battery, rather quickly it seems.  Tell us how fast the engine is turning over during cranking–it won’t be as fast as a 12V unless you have a pair of Optimas, but should not be “suffering” either.


    George, my fuel pump is mechanical, just rebuilt so perhaps that isn’t the problem. I have the appropriate battery in the car. The cables are correct “OO”. Last evening I charged the battery. I am going to attempt to start my car again this morning. I’ll contact you later on today and let you know if I was successful. Thanks for your concern!!! Ron



    It does sound like a fuel issue, but a quick check of the spark quality will help eliminate the ignition as a problem. Pull one of the plug wires and place the end 1/4″ from the block. You should get a strong blue spark when trying to start.  If it is weak or yellow, you need to correct that before you start on fuel issues.  I know you said you just had it tuned up, but replacement parts can be bad or incorrectly installed, plus the low voltage issue George talked about usually shows up as a weak spark.

    Next, disconnect  the line from the fuel pump to the carb and crank and check that the fuel pump is delivering a good stream of fuel at cranking speed. Put a container under the fuel line so gas doesn’t go everywhere.  Have a fire extinguisher nearby, just in case.  Just because it was recently rebuilt, doesn’t mean it is good. I have gotten many bad rebuilds in the past. They sort of work, but not well. There also could be a blockage in the fuel tank pickup. Is there an inline fuel filter somewhere between the tank and the carb that could be plugged?

    Tracking down a problem like this is a process of elimination of possible causes.

    Good luck,


    • This reply was modified 1 year, 2 months ago by David White.

    Hello Ron.

    When you are having trouble starting your ’32, has the car sat, not running for several days or weeks?  Or is this no-start situation going to happen even if you had the engine not running for only a few hours?

    My experience with the updraft carburetor’d cars is that the fuel in the float bowl evaporates, and it takes a lot of engine cranking revolutions for the mechanical pump to refill the carburetor.  George Teebay’s method creates the maximum vacuum in the carburetor to draw fuel out of the fuel bowl.  A fully closed choke, and full throttle will put full manifold vacuum to the venture’s in the carburetor throat.  If the throttle is at idle, the throttle plates only allow fuel from the IDLE circuit to be drawn up into the intake manifold.  SO:  use full choke and at least 1/2 throttle.

    Also: and this has been a fairly consistent problem: The choke plate MUST close completely. Only the spring-loaded flapper valve in the choke plate should be allowing air past the choke plate..  So: remove the air filter, look into the throat of the carburetor, make SURE that the choke plate is completely closed..  Even a 1/16″ gap is too much.  Adjust your choke cable and linkage to get FULL choke.

    For starting my ’32 Model 54, I have an electric fuel pump that I run until I hear the pump motor slow down, this indicates that the float bowl is full, and the float needle has closed.   I then turn off the electric pump, use full choke, and 1/2 spark retard [my engine likes this better than full retard].   Since the Model 54 has a Start-ix, I use my foot for the full throttle, not the steering wheel levers.

    With full throttle, the engine starts with only minimal engine cranking, I push the choke in about 1/4 of the way to prevent flooding the engine.. I also push in the spark advance full.  Within 30 seconds or so, I can push in the choke to 1/2.. and soon all the way in.

    Regarding voltage to the ignition system:   If your car does not already have a DEDICATED to the starter-body [+} cable from the battery post directly to a starter bolt, you really must put a dedicated cable on our battery/starter.  The original factory [+} ground cable going to a bolt in the steel chassis frame-rail is NOT enough of a conductor for our cars after they get 80+ years old.. The starter draws 300-400 amps, and the steel frame, rusty motor mount rivets, old engine mount bolts, engine mount to engine crankcase bolts all have corrosion and resistance.. Installing a heavy [+} battery cable from the battery post to one of the three starter mounting bolts WILL amaze you with how much faster the engine will crank over.. This also means the voltage to the ignition coil is much higher during cranking the engine..



    Make sure the choke is closing completely, and make sure you have a dedicated [+} battery cable to a starter mounting bolt.


    Greg Long




    Ron, Dave and Greg have given you excellent advice.  Please bear with us on requests for info, as it’s hard to diagnose over the internet!

    Clarification:  Starting fluid (ether) will often overcome liabilities of spark or cranking speed, but it’s very inconvenient and over time can cause damage to your engine.  We certainly want to get your engine to start reliably on its own.  Please check and correct any corrosion on the coil primaries, coil secondaries, battery posts and terminals.  Note in your records the date you have dome all these checks, and do them again every few years even if you’ve had no problems.  The dedicated additional cable from the battery ground (+) terminal to a starter bolt is well worth the effort, but scrape off any paint (an insulator) from the ear of the starter.  Part of that is because the engine motor mounts (rubber doughnuts) insulate the the engine from the chassis except for their thru-bolts, and the additional cable vastly improves the ground path which is critical on 6V systems on large engines.

    I don’t know how long you’ve cranked before you run out of battery, but that remains a concern of mine from what you’ve told us.

    Please follow suggestions and report back–we’ll get you through this!



    On my ’35 the primary ground path is not via the engine mount bolts but via a large lattice braided copper ground strap direct from + battery terminal to a large attach bolt on the transmission. A secondary 8 or 10 gauge wire grounds the body.


    George, this morning I did as you suggested. I retarded the spark and choke, pumped the accelerator 2-3 times, raised the lever to the On position and it cranked and started. I couldn’t believe it! I think that the excessive pumping on the accelerator pedal yesterday flooded the carburetor. I’ll let you know if any problems persist. I can’t thank you enough. Ron


    Dave White, Gregory Long James Chase and George Teebay. Thank you all for your suggestions and help! I look forward to personally meeting at a future P A function. My very best Ron Kurland


    George, hello again. I am planning on replacing the battery in my Model 54. I shall be purchasing an Optima 6 volt + ground. What “group size” do your recommend ( having limited knowledge to 6 volt batteries) I hope my question is understood. Ron


    George, would the Optima Red Top 850/6 be a good choice?


    Hello Ron.

    As far as I know Optima only has one size 6v battery.   Each spring Peter Williams manages to arrange a group buy for the Pierce Arrow Society for the Optima 6v Red Top battery.  Last year I believe the price was $125/per battery including shipping.  Limit 2 per address.   I believe this is about a $60 savings over retail.

    If you are going to attend the Gathering at Gilmore meet at the end of August, I can bring one to you at Gilmore.

    6V batteries tend to take longer to be fully charged than most 12v batteries.. Maybe this is because most of my 6v batteries are rather large?   I don’t know for sure.. BUT most 6v/12v battery chargers have a greater average charge rate for 12v batteries, so this is also a factor.   I’d make sure your battery terminals and connections are clean, and that your charging system is working well.

    Making several tries to start a stubborn 366 cubic inch engine on a 6v battery will soon exhaust it’s capacity.  And it takes at least a 30 minute drive to recharge a partially discharged battery.   So I’ll suggest that you make sure your existing battery is actually fully charged and then reassess if you need a new battery or not.  I like the Optima batteries, but also have had excellent luck with plain-old lead-acid batteries as well..

    Regarding my suggestion of adding a dedicated [+] battery cable from the + battery post to a mounting bolt on the starter:  a copper heavy wire cable will conduct current with less resistance than a steel frame, iron transmission/engine crankcase.  Add in the inconsistent connections of bolts and surfaces, you have a lot of potential resistance to current flow.

    In my experiences, ALL 8cylinder and 12Cylinder cars benefit from a dedicated + battery cable to a starter bolt.  If you understand ‘Ohm’s Law’ and  Watt’s Law,  and think about it, if there is a lot of resistance, the amperage draw will go up to attempt to run the starter motor, which draws down the available voltage in the system, which then reduces the voltage to the ignition coil.  Combined this can make the difference between a consistently fast-starting engine and a stubborn one.

    Do not be surprised if you park your car after a long drive, and come back to it a week later and it’s stubborn about starting.  The fuel in the carb’s float bowl will likely have evaporated.  This means that you will need to crank the engine over several seconds before there is fuel in the carb.  So it most likely won’t start immediately.  This is normal and only having an electric fuel pump to prime the carb first will alleviate this issue..

    Have fun driving your car, now that it is starting better!

    Greg Long




    George Long,  “Your The Man”

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