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Buicks have been a part of America’s automotive heritage since the Brass Era, when a motor car was more mechanical marvel than trusted transportation. At the AACA Museum, there is a 1910 Buick in the 1900s segment of its Sea to Shining Sea exhibit. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Buick Heritage Alliance, the Buick nameplate will appears in three other decades within the exhibit.
The Buick Heritage Alliance is dedicated to acquiring and preserving the Buick heritage in all its dimensions, from sales literature to actual automobiles. However, unlike some historical organizations that are content to collect and hold their collections solely for research use, the BHA is working hard to share the story of David Buick’s extraordinary automobiles with the general public. The arrival of three special Buicks at the AACA Museum is the latest example of their outreach and educational efforts.
Selected to illustrate the variety and quality of the Buick marque over its 104-year history, the cars dramatically demonstrate how Buick automobiles embodied and helped define the highest style of their times.
Chuck Bidwell’s custom-bodied 1932
90 Series Town Car dates from an era when elaborate coach-built Dusenbergs and Packards were the rides of choice for the discerning upscale automobile buyer. Commissioned by Charles S. Howard (who owned the celebrated racehorse, Sea Biscuit), the car was constructed on stretched Buick chassis by the Murphy Company, one of the foremost coachbuilders of the era.
The big Buick’s styling and craftsmanship rival that of any vehicle produced during a period known for elegant, jewel-like vehicles. Commissioned as a birthday gift for Howard’s daughter, Anita, the town car (the passengers rode in an enclosed cabin and chauffer in the open) combines limousine elegance with sporting design elements. The two-tone paint scheme and polished aluminum and stainless steel hood and cowl trim are similar to that found on the famous Murphy-bodied Boat Tail Speedsters. The lack of built-in trunk and steeply-raked windshield add to its sporting character.
Charles Bidwell acquired the car in 1999. After an 8,000-hour restoration, the Buick returned to one the Howard family’s former playgrounds, the Pebble Beach Golf Course, where it was awarded a first-in-class and the CCCA Trophy.
Jeff Brashares’ 1953 Buick Skylark “sports car” was debuted by Buick as part of its 50th anniversary celebration. The most expensive model Buick offered that year, 1890 of these vehicles were hand-built on the line from Buick Roadmaster bodies. The Skylark was a custom model of a noteworthy Buick model; 1953 was the first year to offer a powerful new overhead-valve V8 engine.
The Skylark featured custom stamped front and rear fenders and “cutdown” doors, a feature formed using a special welding jig, lead filler, and considerable body working skill. The roof line was lowered by “chopping” the windshield, side glass and convertible top mechanism by three inches; the seats had to be lowered and the steering column shortened to provide passenger head room. Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels completed the look.
John DiFrancesco’s 1965 Buick Riviera Gran Sport is a rare sport version of a landmark American automobile design by GM styling chief, Bill Mitchell. Introduced in 1963, the Buick Riveria was a four-passenger “personal luxury car,” with a graceful silhouette and a clean, uncluttered design unlike that of any other vehicle in the GM fleet. It was an American car with European flair, and a luxury car with a sporting nature.
The 1965 model, with its hidden headlights, smooth flanks (the fake scoops were gone for ’65) and tail-lights “frenched” into the rear bumper, is held by many to be the finest example of an early (1963-1965) Rivieras. DiFrancesco’s well-optioned 1965 Riviera is a Grand Sport, high performance model. It features a 425 cubic inch V8 engine with twin four-barrel carburetors, a heavy duty “sport suspension” that lowers the car about 2 inches, and a limited-slip (posi-traction) rear axle. This combination of equipment yielded 0-60 mph times of seven seconds; respectable performance for a 42 year-old vehicle weighing over 4,000 pounds.
This trio of beautiful Buicks is on display at the AACA Museum through August 31, 2007. They come courtesy of the Buick Heritage Alliance. Our thanks to this visionary group of Buick Guys and to Jeff Brashares, whose article provided some of the information on which this article is based.