They say that in Michigan, when the days are long and temperate, there’s a car show every weekend. That’s probably true, but most of them are local cruise-ins where Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop a Lula” is still being cranked to 11 and guys of a certain temperament are still waxing their egos along with their fenders. That’s not to say that car show season is all about cynicism and platform burnout; there are still plenty of good cars to be seen out there. In Flint, the home of Buick and General Motors itself, a good venue for seeing GM’s finest is the Sloan Museum Auto Fair in June. Here are my top five cars, with an honorable mention thrown in for good measure. (Salient point – there is a DJ at this event, the music is too loud, and I guess I’m too old.)
Anybody who’s been paying any attention at all to me over the last eight or nine years on this website knows that the original Riviera is in a three-or-four-way deadlock as my favorite car. This silver ’63 therefore is the perfect first car on my list.
Its shape has been lauded here and everywhere for decades as the pinnacle of American automotive art. Odd point: I prefer the standard wheel covers on this car to Buick Rallyes, turbines, or wire wheels.
This one is almost a little too nice for my taste (my cars get peppered with chips and bugs and surface rust from cold storage and our silly, humid, changeable Michigan climate). The interior, however, could use a new set of seat covers, which are (last I checked) available from Clark’s Corvair of all places.
Please allow me to reiterate that, in my opinion, there isn’t a bad line or angle on the Riviera. The roof is obviously influenced by the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, and I’m fine with that.
I prefer the 1963/’64 front end to the more widely lauded ’65, but I’ll take any of the three. When the right one comes along, I am willing to spend the money for the car and for storage. It’s out there somewhere, and I’m being patient; my kind readers will know as soon as it happens.
Of course, the wrench in my plans is the beautiful 1966/’67 Oldsmobile Toronado. I’ve been so distracted by Toronados lately that I’m having a personal luxury existential crisis. Do I get one or the other? Sell the T-Bird and get both? Keep the T-Bird, get both and go broke trying to play the shell game with too many old cars, simultaneously hating and loving the choices I’ve made?
Being driven to the brink might be worth the effort. Look at that smooth fastback, flat tail, chrome tailpipes, and bulging wheel lips.
And that copper interior. You know, it grows on you, but I can’t imagine it was the first choice among those who chose colors in the gold/tan slice of the color wheel. Like many Toronados, this one is loaded with air conditioning, power windows, and power antenna. As Oldsmobile’s halo car, the Toronado was unconventional but dazzling.
Three decades earlier, Buick’s comparatively conservative almost top-of-the-line model (I didn’t forget about you, Limited) was the Roadmaster. I admire cars from the 1930s and ’40s more than I truly want one, but this ’36 (the first year for the Roadmaster) was perhaps my favorite car of the show.
According to the sign in the window, the Roadmaster is unrestored, and its condition is almost unbelievable. It’s not, however, impossible-to-maintain shiny as is a 100-point over-restoration. It’s perfect.
Old Buicks are usually ostentatiously restrained; and the subtle art deco touches of the interior, such as the clock and speedometer, certainly angle toward restraint, but flashier and toothier Buicks were soon to come. The floor-mounted shifter for the three-speed transmission was soon to be replaced by a column mounted shifter, but by the late 1940s, the Dynaflow was the only transmission Buick offered on the Roadmaster.
The “big block” 320 was standard equipment on the Roadmaster all the way through the Nailhead’s introduction in 1953.
The 1936 GM grilles represent the vertical school of design at its finest. Even the grille badge is perfect – don’t change a thing, Mr. Earl.
If this car were offered for sale at a price I could afford, I may have to forgo my Riviera/Toronado dreams.
Diverging wildly from the Roadmaster ethos, and representing the “P” in BOP, is this first-year Firebird with base wheel covers and cool Firestone Wide-Oval tires. As the owner of a red ’74 Firebird, I have a soft spot for Pontiac pony cars of all stripes, but the ’67 and ’68 models may be my favorites.
This one is a bit of a puzzler with its “400” scooped hood.
Why the confusion? The automatic transmission quadrant indicates that a Super-Turbine 300 two-speed is doing the transmitting of engine power to the differential.
If an automatic was ordered with a 400, the buyer could only specify the three-speed “Turbo 400.” The shifter plate on those models indicated “P R N 3 2 1” (according to the Ames Performance Firebird catalog I just referenced).
On the other hand, although it’s difficult to see under the air cleaner, the familiar Rochester Quadrajet fuel inlet seems to be peeking out from underneath that chrome air cleaner.
The intake manifold number is of no help; I can only see the first three numbers, and there’s no differentiating among intakes using just those three numbers.
Ah, who cares? This is still a super cool Firebird with super cool, swoopy quarter panels. My uncle once had a beat-up ’68 Firebird 350 with a 400 hood, but maybe this one’s real. It’s easier to change a transmission shift indicator than an engine or a hood. It’s also easy to soup up a 326 using factory parts.
The final entry in my car show top five wasn’t in the car show at all, but in the museum collection. The museum has been closed for remodeling over the last few years and is scheduled to reopen soon. Therefore, car show spectators and entrants were allowed to wander around the nearly completed building. This ’65 LeSabre four-door hardtop is a part of the museum’s large collection of General Motors products.
I love all ’65 models, but there’s just something special about every single GM full size car from that landmark model year. They all looked great, and anyone getting into ’60s cars could hardly make a mistake in buying any of them. Most of the cars at any car show are the flashiest models from their representative manufacturers, but I always appreciate seeing the plain old base models, four doors, and wagons, because they’ve mostly disappeared.
I’m glad to see that this one’s survived and is being maintained by the museum.
How cool is this script? It’s a sabre, get it?
At the outset, I mentioned an honorable mention, and it’s this 1975 Camaro, which was not in the show but parked in the spectator parking lot. Because of my Firebird, I have a soft spot for stock second-generation F-Bodies, and this Camaro is another basic car that’s become uncommon these days.
Let’s hope the owner continues to drive and enjoy it just the way it is. Unfortunately, this Camaro has made me a bit of a liar, since it is a C to counteract my BOP favorites of the day. As you may have gathered, I prefer stockish old cars to perfect customized or hot rodded affairs, so my commentary tends to favor examples of cars that represent that predilection. With that being said, try to make it out to a car show or two this summer and see if there’s anything that suits your fancy, even if it wasn’t built by General Motors.