Debbie and I try to do a fast four mile one hour walk every day after she gets home from work and on week ends. Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night will stay us from these hand holding rounds, but icy sidewalks and hot, humid, temperatures sometimes do.
Walking in the dark isn’t too dangerous, but dusk can be. We both got gently knocked down a year ago by a turning Scion xA on a near-dusk evening, and that prompted us to buy high-visibility orange and yellow jackets. Of course that’s a story for another post.
I am always scanning the streets and curbs for: (A) turning Scions, and (B) the beloved shapes of curbside classics, but I was surprised when a CC from my early childhood and actual family fleet rounded a blind corner that we were approaching and confronted us with a front end from my first automotive stirrings.
Debbie knew this was an old and odd visage from the past and I was about to tell her all about it.
Few people are indifferent to the 1950 Buick grill. Some love it (like I do) and many others think of it as the essence of automotive excess, kind of like recent Acura can-opener beaks or the current Lexus and now Toyota predator maws.
Such grills seem to be an acquired taste. Like green olives, gin martinis, or 1958 Oldsmobiles.
I never drove the family’s dark green over light green 1950 Buick Rivera hardtop (no B pillar) coupe legally on the road, but I did run it up and down the driveway of our Rockville Centre Long Island home and at the less space restricted (in the winter) parking lot of the Freeport Yacht Club.
Dynaflow, no power steering, no power brakes, huge steering wheel, and a cloud like suspension made the Buick a delight in my unskilled 13 year old hands. From the outside, it sounded like an old cabin cruiser and accelerated in the same manner. Rev the engine to a set RPM and the craft would eventually get to a ground speed that matched the engine speed, eventually being the key descriptor. For faster take offs, move the short, black tipped chrome Dynaflow lever to the “L” of the P-N-D-L-R selector strip and hit the gas. The big Buick would then squat in the rear and move with alacrity, where alacrity means: “promptness in response or cheerful readiness”. Relatively speaking of course.
The nose dive on braking was as dramatic as the rear squat on acceleration.
The Buick’s motor hood opened from either side like “really” old cars. Each side had both a hinge and a latch.
This surprise CC was in the slow flow of vehicles leaving an afternoon girl’s soccer game at the Basking Ridge high school. When it appeared from around the corner my animated response was not lost on the driver, and he slowed to a stop and attempted to move closer to the curb so as to not impede the flow of soccer mom SUVs, CUVs, BMWs, and Audis. I know … I know, soccer moms are supposed to drive minivans, but these are thin on the ground at our high school. However, minivans are still plentiful at the elementary and middle school lots. I have a theory about this, perhaps in another post or, more likely, in some comments.
The driver of this beauty was a pleasant fellow named Matt and he was still in the process of doing a full on-frame restoration. The entire car, inside and out, was sprayed in an attractive dark red, including the dashboard and the uncovered interior roof panel (new headliner not yet installed). The tan upholstery was newly and neatly done, and most of the instruments and the huge original radio showed their chrome nicely against the shiny red dash. Matt told us he could channel his iPhone music through the old 6 volt tube radio.
This Buick had about 67,000 miles on the odometer.
Because the traffic flow was still heavy and the Buick was partially impeding it, we thanked Matt for his time and told him he had a beauty. He told us he was planning to give the finished vehicle to his father.
The only thing missing from this Buick was the engraved letters B_U_I_C_K E_I_G_H_T centered on the grill’s top chromed bar, some rocker panel paint, a headliner, and some trim. The big radio’s five station buttons spelled B-U-I-C-K, just as I remember from way back when.
It was odd to see what I once considered to be a giant of the road looking so small, even fragile, as modern, and to my eyes bloated, 7 passenger SUVs and CUVs squeezed past it with one tiny soccer player passenger in the right front passenger seat looking down at her (remember, girls soccer) smart phone. Of course boys do this as well. None of these young people, nor their parental chauffeurs, seemed to notice the strange and elegant red car as they passed.
As Matt drove away, I noticed the Buick leaning to the left, a sign of worn driver’s side springs that affected many cars back then, even when these vehicles were not too old. I recall installing twist-in coil spring “spacers” on the left side of my 1953 Chrysler convertible so it would ride level.
Debbie said she loved the way I reacted to seeing this Buick. Sometimes we find CCs, and sometimes CCs find us. Debbie’s sharing of my excitement with this CC reminds me how lucky I am that we found each other back in 2005.
Less than a week later, Debbie’s beloved 2005 Honda Element needed a new alternator, so on a Saturday morning I followed her to the local garage in the Tacoma to drop off the Element and lo and behold, we saw another red CC nosed into a parking spot at the garage.
I am not an expert on post war Chevrolets, but the license plate frame said “1949 Chevrolet”, so I proudly strutted my stuff and said “look, a 49 fast back”. This model was also known as a Fleetline, but I did not know that until I Goggled it later. These fast back Chevrolets never appealed to me back then, but now they seem quite attractive in a 1954 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback type of way.
This bare bones car with minimal exterior decorations was fully restored with a sharp red and white leather-like interior. The mechanic working on it said it had about 36,000 miles on the odometer. It was in for a tune up (hard starting) and to fix a driver’s door latch mechanism that had suffered metal fatigue.
Metal fatigue is an issue as time passes. When a car gets really old, the strangest things can fail. The number of times that driver’s door has been opened and closed may not be a lot, but 68 years of physical slamming and maybe a dearth of white grease, can make metal tired. That’s why most aircraft frames (especially the wings) have a clearly defined expiration date pending refurbishment.
There’s also something called mental fatigue, but I forget what I was going to say about that.
I described to Debbie how the three speed column shift worked and that it had no synchromesh on first gear. But since Debbie’s earliest cars were: (1) a Type 1 mid 60s Beetle, (2) a similar Karmann Ghia, and (3) a Simca Chambord, and (4) a Borgward Isabella coupe (all I believe to be fully synchronized), it seemed odd to her that American cars would not be so equipped. While this is a 1949 model, my 1961 Comet and my friend’s 1963 F85, also lacked a synchronized first gear. The Borgward did have four on the tree, so she knew the basic and long reaching gymnastics required for column shifting.
When we picked up the repaired Element the 49 fast back was being readied for delivery to the owner, so I was able to get better photos. Below is a photo where we first found the fast back. Talk about size differences; that red Fleetline is a full size Chevrolet way deep inside that parking spot.
Wow I thought, two red CCs in one week. Just the thought of these classics still plying the local roads, even if not as daily drivers like those found elsewhere, made me happy. Even better, these two finds were not the overly popular body styles of hardtop coupes and convertibles that one often sees at car shows. These were classics of a plainer type that were normally used up by a string of increasingly younger and less affluent owners, and then discarded when a needed but expensive repair reared its ugly head.
About one week after we saw the red Chevy fast back, while on an early beat-the-heat Saturday morning walk, we ran into red CC number three.
It was certainly not a plain old conservative grocery getting sedan.
A 1959 (or 1960 – they were quite similar) 4 speed Roman red over black interior with white coves Corvette. This was the stuff of teenage dreams in my day, and probably still is today for many. I know it was not a 1958 because there was a shelf under the passenger dash cove grab handle and there were no [fake] vents on the motor hood.
Actually, it may be a 1960 if the seats are original because the seat pleats run up and down rather than side to side as in the 1959. To be honest, I just learned this seat pleat detail from http://vettefacts.com/C1/1959.aspx as I wrote this article.
It was perfect, even if it was missing the front right wheel cover.
It did not have Powerglide and it wasn’t a three speed, so I am going to guess it had more than the base 283 cu. in. 230 hp engine. Or not. However, even a Powerglide 230 hp Corvette was much faster than most cars of its era, including a 1957 four-barrel and Torqueflite equipped Desoto Fireflite convertible. I think I heard, or read, about such a contest a long time ago, on a ocean bordering parkway far, far away.
Chevrolet’s 327 cu. in. engine did not arrive in Corvettes until the 1962 duck-tailed model, which was the last of the C1s.
The driver of this open Corvette was nowhere to be seen, so we walked around it like sharks circling a victim, took some photos, and proceeded on our way.
Half a mile later the Vet with the missing right front wheel cover cruised past us heading north and emitting a gentle V8 burble.
Just think, three red beauties from the era of my youth in about two weeks time. That may not seem unusual to some of you whippersnappers, but remember, I was born in 1944. Most of the cars of my youth only lasted 7 or 8 years and were then melted down (well maybe not the Corvette) to make the “new” 1960 models.
Debbie and I are keeping our eyes peeled for CC number 4, red or not.
These widely varying automotive relics are all dream cars to me. No thoughts in this post were wasted on their outdated driving manners, high and frequent maintenance schedules, or lack of modern safety features. Not even for one minute. Because, there’s fantasy and reality. Sometimes they come together, but often they do not. So I try to enjoy the fantasy of these rolling classics and leave their reality for someone else to handle.
Postscript on the C1:
The allure of the Corvette in the early 1960s probably had something to do with the TV drama “Route 66”. This certainly was my favorite B&W TV show and the four headlight art deco face of these C1s and Nelson Riddle’s theme music are forever etched in my mind as symbols of a free-wheeling life of fast cars and interesting people.
Years later, the following generation would discover the Grateful Dead, endless travel, and old school buses, but Martin Milner and George Maharis were there first.
Paul N. has a (not quite) NSFW post on the ducktail C1 and Marilyn Monroe here.
Joseph Dennis turned his quick draw and expertly handled camera onto a retro-mod ducktail C1 here.
And, Paul N. wrote about a cohort 1958 C1 in NYC here.