The idea that many of the things I enjoy may disappear within my lifetime makes my head hurt. When I was a kid, I would lie awake in the dark when I should have been sleeping, wondering if the world’s crude oil supplies would dry up before I’d done all the driving I wanted to do. Today, I’m still worried about that, but you can also add machine shops and antique stores to the endangered list. Antique stores occasionally evince a flea market ancestry, but they sometimes sell things you couldn’t find anywhere but an estate sale, such as the “Owner Protection Plan” for a 1965 Buick, complete with the original owner’s name, address, and just about anything you’d need to know about his new car. Let’s examine a random guy’s new Electra, purchased one midsummer day in Michigan.
My lovely bride often buys antique store finds for me, knowing that by the time my birthday or Christmas comes around, I will have forgotten all about it, and that was the case with this booklet. It’s a triple threat as far as literature is concerned: It covers my favorite model year, it covers Buicks, and it pictures GM’s “Futurama” pavilion from the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair, which is probably the first place I’d go if I had a time machine.
On the inside cover is the original owner’s name and address, along with the date of purchase. I wish I had documentation like this for all my cars, but I only have it for one – my ’65 Mustang that has been in the family since 1968. I know the names of every owner of that car and where they lived. On a side note, I’ve always hated seeing family pictures in an antique store, and finding a person’s personal information is almost as sad (although I understand the hypocrisy of my talking about it on the internet). That’s why I rarely attend estate sales; reducing someone’s life to some dollar store price tags and bulk auctioneering doesn’t lend any dignity to the party for which the entertainment is given.
Back to the booklet: Did you know that Buicks had two year warranties in 1965? I didn’t, and I own a ’65 Skylark. Of course, I bought it in 2003, long after the warranty was out.
There are plenty of service coupons inside the Owner Protection Plan Booklet, but significantly, “charges will be made where applicable.”
Maybe that’s why the only coupon that has been removed from this booklet is the one for the “1000 Mile Service Credit.” That one appears to have been “on the house.”
This is the Protect-O-Plate itself. It is literally a metal plate with a bunch of seemingly random letters and numbers punched into it; if you look around long enough on the internet, however, you can figure out what most of it means.
The Protect-O-Plate was “inked” and transferred to another page for the sake of legibility. It wasn’t done well; therefore, I often had to refer back to the plate itself and read it backward. Here’s what we’re looking at:
17-025: Selling dealer (I couldn’t find this, but I like the little tri-shield in the corner)
7-29-5: Date of sale (this is one day later than the cover date for some reason)
5H323029: Partial serial number – 5 means “1965,” H stands for Flint Assembly, and 323029 is the car’s sequence number
W 592 (obscured beneath the address): Turbo 400 with 3.07 axle
BN 528: 425 cubic-inch engine with a single four-barrel
Over on the right side of the page is the full VIN, mentioned above; however, the first five numbers are important.
8439: Electra Custom four-door hardtop
I gave up on B 278388. That might be a Fisher Body code, but since this isn’t my car, I didn’t spend the extra time figuring it out.
Back on the left side of the page:
VV2: Shell Beige upper and lower colors, with (I believe) a black vinyl top
698: Black Vinyl interior
S: Month of build, which I gave up finding (I imagine it’s May or June.)
The option codes are at the bottom.
C60: Air conditioning
A31: Power windows
K30: Cruise control
U69: AM/FM radio
Power steering and brakes were standard on the Electra.
This photo from Wikimedia Commons is roughly what our gentleman’s new Electra looked like (although this is a sedan and not a hardtop). Shell beige would not be my first choice, but I think we need to understand the context behind the probable buyer. Midland, Michigan, is the longtime home of Dow Chemical, which is, to say the least, a financially successful enterprise that employs a lot of people. An expensive, highly optioned yet conservative Electra Custom would be exactly the type of car that would go over well in Midland among Dow’s executives, managers, and engineers.
If I were alive in 1965 and had any of that sweet, sweet Dow money jangling in my pockets, this Riviera is the Buick I’d buy. On the other hand, the Skylark GS had been recently introduced, and I obviously appreciate them as well. I am, however, a notoriously impractical person, so I can’t be surprised when others don’t share my tastes.
The Electra Custom four-door hardtop was quite successful in 1965, selling 29,932 copies, making it easily the most popular Electra by production volume, so the original owner was in good company. I wonder if his car is still floating around out there somewhere. Michigan salt is hard on cars and always has been, but who knows? Regardless of the status of the Electra’s existence, there is a lot of history to be learned at the antique stores, and this isn’t the only time I’ve decoded someone’s long gone new car. If you’re bored some rainy day, do your part to keep an antique store in business. Maybe there’s a Protect-O-Plate out there with your name on it.
Further reading for code readers: Mystery Monday: Getting to Know Your New Junker – VIN and Fender Tag Decoding