(first posted 6/23/2014) “Big Blue” is my vehicular soulmate. She’s my 4000 pound friend: beautiful, unhurried, unique, glorious, etc. I ogled this car from afar for about two years before it came up for sale, but had to work the next day; so I sent my dad with a check, telling him, “If it’s not a rusty mess, buy it.” It wasn’t rusty, but it was a mess all right.
Mess or no, the ’53 Special was a multitude of “lasts:” the last straight-eight Buick, the last Buick with a six-volt electrical system, and the last Buick with lever shocks in the front (to be fair to Specials, all Buick models had lever shocks in ’53). Honestly, the 1954 models were the first “modern” Buicks, with wraparound windshields and hoods that flowed into the fenders somewhat more gracefully.
Even though the above pictured ’54s might be more conventionally “’50s modern,” my favorites have always been from the 1940 to 1953 era. I caught Buick fever when I was a young man visiting nearby Sloan Museum in Flint. Nothing in the world smells like a Buick from the forties or early fifties; the odor is a concoction of crankcase fumes and aging interior that is quite unlike the odor emanating from other old cars. That smell stuck with me for years. Leaving nostalgia aside, I think my ’53 is beautiful; I still giggle when I look at it and drive it.
Model 45R, the hardtop “Riviera” model, actually outsold the two-door sedan by about 5000 units, but I seem to see more sedans than hardtops when I do see other ’53 Specials, which is rare. Buick sold 100,000 four-door Special sedans in ’53, and a healthy 58,000 two-door hardtops. Perhaps not surprisingly, 91,000 Super Rivieras with the new 322 “Nailhead” were sold.
Anyway, Big Blue showed up in my driveway looking like this–old chalky pitted paint (which was kind of cool), running on about five and a half cylinders. It leaked transmission fluid on the driveway in puddles the size of saucers. The interior wasn’t bad; someone had obviously redone it years before. The front shocks had no oil to speak of. It ran pretty hot. Oh boy…what had I gotten into?
Needless to say, this became a familiar sight in my driveway. I immediately diagnosed a zero compression situation in cylinder #8, and found that the compressed air I pumped into that cylinder was immediately finding its nearest exit, right through the exhaust pipe. The head came off about two days after I bought the car, allowing me to inspect its egg shaped, cracked #8 exhaust valve.
Thousands and thousands of words could be wasted discussing the mechanical work I (and my machine shop) performed on this car between day number two and today, nine years later. Therefore, I’ll try to cover the highlights.
In 2007, the radiator (which I had had boiled out) sprung a leak and the engine started making a bunch of noise at roughly the same time. The radiator had to be recored ($450), and I decided that my garage, where I was knee deep in Mustang metalwork, was no place to rebuild a straight eight. I farmed the engine rebuild out to the machine shop. They found two broken rings and a few other incidentals, but the noise culprit was actually a broken pushrod end. It sure didn’t sound like one.
Fascinatingly, the engine number (which is the title number) is pretty much the numerals in my birthday backward. Pretty neat. Cosmic coincidence or no, this car was bleeding me dry.
While the engine was out at the shop, I did a reasonable job degreasing the engine compartment, and I replaced the front pump seal and converter o-ring (by the way, a Dynaflow stops leaking only once, when it’s out of ATF). As an aside, this car was built in the Atlanta BOP plant, probably around July or August of 1953, so it’s a late in the model year example.
There aren’t too many good ways to lift a straight-eight. The shop manual recommends lifting it by its rocker shaft (!), but I didn’t have the balls for that kind of maneuver, so I pulled the rocker shaft and lifted it by two bolts, which probably is worse in retrospect. Either way, the engine is tall and long, the car is tall and long, and that’s about 650 pounds of iron hanging there. I heaved a sigh of relief when it touched the motor mounts and I was able to bolt it to the transmission.
Here it is in all its glory, the last of the straight-eights, 263 cubic inches of raw…um…130 horsepower (gross). I guess she’s putting about 60-70 horsepower to the wheels through that Twin-Turbine Dynaflow. As Top Gear would say, naught to 60 comes up in about 20 seconds, give or take. This car was designed for the 55 mile-per-hour two lane road, so I tend to drive 60-65 on the freeway. Average MPG? Probably 10, maybe 14 on the highway.
Until Buick introduced the Nailhead, there were two basic straight-eight designs, with the “big-block” 320 finding a home in Roadmaster and Century models. In fact, in ’41 and ’42, the 320 came with “Compound Carburetion” and 165 horsepower. After WWII, Buick no longer offered Compound Carburetion, ostensibly because their engines were creeping dangerously close to Cadillac levels of power. In fact, Buicks were among the fastest cars of the early forties, especially the Century models.
I had tossed around the idea of repainting the ’53, but I had never pulled the trigger, because I kind of have a thing for old machines that actually look old, but an unfortunate incident in my driveway made the decision for me. I managed to have a mishap with my oil change ramps, mangling the left front fender and rocker molding. I was genuinely embarrassed and suffering from a healthy dose of self-loathing, because I love this car more than just about anything, and I hurt it. Ouch for both of us. The paint was bad enough that matching it would have been impossible, so I had the repair shop paint the whole car, and I paid the extra on top of the repair.
Fortunately, I ran in the house immediately and looked online for a molding, and found a decent pair. It was a fortuitous occurrence, seemingly rare in the quest for obscure car parts.
I think the Buick looks great now. The previous owner had the rear bumper rechromed, but the front bumper is original. I looked into the price of rechroming it and the grill bar, and the quotes I received immediately made the current chrome look completely acceptable. Luckily for me, I’m far from being a perfectionist.
I used Big Blue as the subject for an article about replacing torque ball and torque tube seals for a Buick Club magazine. Pulling the torque tube out of an antique Buick isn’t really hard, but it is heavy and tedious, so it’s something I don’t like doing too often. It is something I’ve had to do several times, however, so at least I know the drill.
Just to save someone a headache in the future, if you replace the rear axle and pinion seals, you’ll need to vent the axle housing somehow. The old seals were felt, allowing pressure to escape; the new ones are lip seals. A local parts guy came up with the cool idea of using a brake bleeder to vent the housing; the rear cover bolts are open to oil, so I just replaced one with the bleeder and attached a hose capped by a fuel filter. Instant vent!
Crawling out from underneath and opening the door, you’ll notice that the interior is nice, but not perfect. It has non-original seat covers, a replaced headliner, newer carpet, and recovered door panels. Like I said, this was one area that didn’t need too much work.
There’s nothing like being behind the wheel of Big Blue. There’s no power steering or brakes, so parallel parking is a bit heavy. I can’t deny it; I feel like more of a man because I can park it proficiently. My wife had the sun visors redone to match the interior, which really improved its general appearance.
I just love this picture (pre-paint job). It actually ran in Hemmings Classic Car during a Buick retrospective. The car was also pictured in Collectible Automobile for an article on the Buick Special. A photographer came to my town and took about 200 pictures of it, but only two or three ran in the magazine.
I could go on for days discussing the work I’ve done on this car. None of that really matters though, because it is a work of art to me. After years of tinkering with it, I can usually just get in, push the accelerator (remember, Buicks have starter switches on the carburetor), and drive away. It was completely unreliable when I bought it, but most neglected old cars usually are. I’ve only seen a handful like it in person, and if I’m lucky, the next owner will buy her from my estate. Or I’ll just drive Big Blue until the end of time.
Better get that ignition switch checked for recall status.
There were 6 recalls on the 2006 Civic over the past few years. They aren’t immune from it either.
Gee Kev you’re always such a ray of sunshine. You shoulda got that Tru-Coat, dontcha know. And I am sure the recent ignition recall affected 1953 Buicks. :/
Great car and story. I understand completely the feelings you have for your Buick.
Great car, great story!
You know, I don’t give much of a hoot for 1953-54 GM cars, especially Chevy, but I’d own this heap in a minute! Beautiful car.
A very nice car and also nice to see young folks taking an interest in these .
Kind words, Nate, but I’m closer to 40 than 30! 🙂
40 is the new 30! That’s what I’m going to be telling everyone on my birthday next year anyhow. 🙂
I’ve got three years yet, but it’s creeping up!
I’m a couple years older than both you guys, but nowhere near as skilled. Take pity on an old man! 🙂
BOC is correct; 40 is the new 30 and 50 will be the new 25.
What about 63? Young fart???
Hey! I’m 27 again, then. Woo hoo!
63? While 5 is the optimum age of childhood, 63 is the optimum age of adulthood – or somewhere in that neighborhood. 🙂
My dad used to tell me the story of a guy with a Ford dump truck that put the big buick 8 between the fenders. Would pull anything.
I was pretty young at the time but my brother owned one of these and later so did a high school classmate. Slow to get up to speed but cruise fast all day (or so the memory seems to go). Good job saving this car. My next project is making storage for my 57. Weather and old cars don’t go together for long. Houston summer makes me envy your garage.
What issue of Collectible Automobile? I have a lot of back issues and would love to re-read the article.
April 2009…It covered the Special from 1936 to 1958, and then they changed the name to LeSabre, which is probably somewhat more creative!
Didn’t Buick come back with the Special later, in the 1960’s? My uncle had one, it spent a lot of time parked in our driveway, waiting for it’s day in the sun.
Yes, the Special was reintroduced in 1961 as a compact with an aluminum V8.
The ’54 Century will always be my favorite Buick (the only year combining waterfall grille, sweep-spear side trim, Nailhead, portholes, and Century – I’ll skip the iconic Dynaflow, though); but I have a hearty appreciation for the ’51-’53 cars, my grandparents having purchased a brand-new ’52. Gorgeous car and great to see it loved.
Really, though, I don’t think there was a single ugly car built in 1953. It was the single best year for domestic auto styling.
Those cars look like a giant camel with a retarded hump. Give me a 1965 Wildcat or a 1969 full-size Pontiac any day. Or a 2006 Civic. Even better. No recalls today. (I’m watching the news for today’s GM recall, all you fanbois out there.)
Yes, recalls today. Read this: http://money.cnn.com/2014/06/23/news/companies/honda-nissan-recall/index.html
What a great automobile. I drove a ’52 Super Riviera throughout my high school career in the mid 1980’s and it quickly earned me the moniker of ‘Fonzie’..I also remember driving like a happy teen with a smile on my face until the entire slab of a hood flew up, off and OVER my car, luckily missing the windshield during its separation and landing behind us after seemingly a full minute airborn. When it came down, the only thing that was broken on that hood was as the circular trim ring around the hood ornament, and two gently curved edges where the hood meets the windshield.
They just don’t build them like this anymore.
Vacuum operated wipers were a challenge to get used to as they would cut out even on light throttle application, but I have never felt safer in any car. This article sure makes me miss her even more. The Dynaflow proved to be too much of a repair task for my teen skills and too costly for a minimum wage earner, and the car ended up leaving my possession begrudgingly. I’ve missed that car ever since.
1953 was the 50th anniversary year for Buick and all the ’53s came with anniversary badging in the grille and a special cap covering the steering wheel hub. I’ve read that the original owners could sign their name inside that cap in gold leaf, but I’ve never gotten up close to see one in the tin. Is there a name on your steering wheel? How cool a feature is THAT?
Fantastic write up, and one helluva great looking car. You’d never get me out of it.
No name on the wheel, thankfully. 🙂
I would like to know a little more about the car’s history, but I feel like it’s lost to the ages. Apparently the southern owners brought the car up north in ’78. It has a “State of Florida” inspection tag from 1978 on the windshield.
After doing some checking it looks like the signature thing might have been an option only on the Skylark?
What a great car. I;ve always had a soft spot for Buicks, as the my ’74 LeSabre was the first car I bought that i really wanted. I’ve said it before, but I always admire the folks with the skill to do all the work you have put into it.
Wonderful story. Your long term relationship with this car is really cool. Makes me wish I had kept my Model A, although a rumbleseat coupe is not great for a young family.
The steering wheel on your Buick is a work of art.
That was indeed a touching story Aaron. As a kid, I remember a Bicycle Shop owner who bought a new 53 Century with the nail head V8 engine. I admired that car a lot and when I saw yours, it took me right back. I’m twice your age but am pleased by your feelings for that old Buick. It is truly a gem. As a high school senior, I spent 8 weeks at the GM training center going through the 58 Buick from stem to stern. They were indeed great cars.
Thanks for a good story, Aaron, even though it gives me pangs of inadequacy. 🙂 It’s usually right after I’ve completed some modest repairs that I read about a real mechanic doing serious work. Just the sight of a naked straight eight hovering over the driveway…damn.
We all feel inadequate at times. 🙂 Yesterday, I was talking to a guy with a ’70 Charger that he built a street hemi for, and I could tell he was in a whole other league from me as far as mechanical prowess. I always try to keep learning, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m going to make some mistakes.
Great writeup on a beautiful car, Aaron. Congrats on getting it all sorted out, and on the well-earned magazine appearances.
Your description of having to start repairing the car on “day two” strikes a chord with me. My convertible is finally reliable enough that I’m not worried about taking it on a long trip, provided that I top-up the leaking differential beforehand.
What convertible do you have? Your Chrysler’s a hardtop, right?
I have a convertible too. I guess you missed this…
Other members of my family have a New Yorker town sedan and a Windsor sedan, all from 1966.
You know, I actually saw some of that movie. I like the Flying Burrito Brothers and “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” and all that stuff, but the movie didn’t seem to really get into Parsons all that much, probably because he was dead.
That’s cool that you have that car; it’s about the only thing I liked about the movie!
Great car, massively disappointing movie. I’m a big GP fan and the story around Phil Kaufman’s promise did not need any embellishing, it just needed a good director and script. Wasted opportunity.
Aaron, as with 73ImpCapn I have pangs of jealousy when I see someone who can work on their car like you. I know its not all beer and skittles, but I don’t mind a bit of hard work and the occasional heartbreak. All I need is a mechanically sympathetic psyche, which I can’t seem to find for purchase on the internet. Beautiful car.
Great story on a beautiful car! These cars have a presence that few modern vehicles can match. From a time when the eight was straight, and a Buick was definitely a Buick.
It would be interesting to make a back-to-back comparison between this car and an Oldsmobile 88 from that vintage. The difference between the straight eight and Dynaflow and Rocket V-8 and Hydramatic was undoubtedly quite dramatic.
One thing’s for sure…the 88 would be a half a block down the street before my ’53 started moving. 🙂
Definitely. The small straight eight was for speed-limit-at-the-time cruising plus a little bit more. I actually got my ’37 up to 100 (indicated) mph. Once. On a downhill run. And it was definitely running out of breath at that point.
These cars were comfortable transportation, not stoplight warriors.
How many Buick’s sacrificed their side trim to chopped top Mercury’s?
It is a great look (though I’d go for different colours personally).
One thing’s for sure, that makes the Buick like downward sweep of the 1969 and 1970 Mercury Cougars make sense lol
I do dig a good chopped Merc.
Well, that side trim seems to fit the curve of the sheetmetal better than the car it originally came on.
This would be Bob Hirohata’s ’51 Merc customized by George and Sam Barris. It was built in 1953. The side trim is from a ’52 Buick. It was beyond iconic.
It or something similar is at the Peterson museum in LA.
This is awesome. And I’m with you – I like the ’40-’53 Buicks best, too. All of ’em.
Thanks for sharing your baby. It’s a gem; and obviously a keeper.
The 1970 film, Zabriskie Point, starred a Buick two-door sedan and its driver, Daria Halprin. In the late sixties there were still a lot of cars of this vintage running and for sale, cheap. I owned a string of Chevys, a ’55 wagon ($35), a ’52 wagon ($100), a ’54 half-ton ($300), and a ‘51 3/4-ton ($175), but what I really wanted was a Daria.
Well, you may still have a chance. Daria divorced Dennis Hopper in 1976. I’m sure she is still toothsome at age 66.
A spellbinding story, Aaron. It is really heartening to see such a young guy take this kind of interest in 1950’s Detroit iron. Younger folks today have no clue about these classic beasts, nor a shred of interest in them. Congrats to you for making this your baby, it is a beaut.
I have posted before about Buicks of this era being virtually everywhere in my kidhood in the ’50s. My paternal grandparents had a ’52 Special, my best friend’s mother had a ’50 Special, a classmate’s parents had a ’52 Roadmaster, my cub scout den mother had a ’54 Super, another cub scout den mother a ’56 Roadmaster, a babysitter for my brother and me had a ’52, my cousin’s grandparents a ’55 Roadmaster. my mother’s best friend a ’57 Super (oddly enough, no ’53s in my immediate realm, though). The list is endless. They were all over L.A. back then. They were built like tanks, and I’m surprised that more haven’t survived, you never see any of these anymore. Thanks for a great ride down memory lane again!
Great car, great story…! Thanks, Aaron!
Beautiful car and being kept in good order now,it should out last you. Typical Buick single carb problem having burnt valves at either end of the head, I was told not enough fuel mixture gets to the ends of the manifold.
After looking at the stock intake manifold I’m not surprised. That’s a loooong trip to cylinders 1 and 8!
Each pair of cylinders on a straight 8 actually has siamesed intake ports, so there are only four intake runners; therefore, cylinders 1/2 and 7/8 would actually be theoretically leaner.
The far ends get their own carburetor venturi, and I have to set the idle mixture about a quarter turn richer on that side. I’ve thought about staggered jetting, but that might be getting a little nit picky.
Like many have said, great car and great story.
In the ’80s I went to look at an old Buick two door hardtop. Too many issues and too foreign to me with some of its dated aspects. I have to wonder if it was also a ’53. The look seems very familiar, a straight 8, 6 volt, adding oil to shocks. That all sort of rings a bell. The exterior colors were probably the same as your car. Tired, worn interior. Tired, probably original paint. The car seemed reasonably solid and complete. An old man that appeared to like to tinker on old cars was the seller. Heavyset guy in overalls as I recall.
It was in the Omaha area. It would be pretty wild, but not inconceivable, that it was this car. Do you know any history on it?
Mine’s from Florida, and I think it’s been in Michigan since ’78. That means there’s another one out there! 🙂
Beautiful car! I love the “puffy” Buicks. I was driven home from the hospital in a ’51 Super Sedan!
This is a car that really befits the title Cars of a Lifetime. I hope you have lots more years of enjoyment of it.
Beautiful car and great story!! I have a real love affair with 1940-1953 Buicks as well. I’m a european sports car guy at heart, but the first classic car I buy when I get out of college and get a good job WILL be a straight 8 Buick, no doubt about it.
My first thought is “Wow, four thousand pounds, but it will still crumple like a pop can in a crash.” However, who wants to live their life in bubble wrap?
This is such a lovely Buick and I am so glad to see you enjoying it. Thank you for keeping a lovely piece of Americana on the road and I love the little zigzags on the license plate. Do you have a 1953 plate on the back as well or has MI never required two plates?
’53 Buicks and ’65 Skylarks are both on my wishlist!
I think that you must have a hint of perfectionism creeping in, judging from the results. Great story and car, and your wife is a saint. Does she have an unattached sister with an empty barn?
She is a saint…sorry, she just has a brother, and he doesn’t even have a barn! 🙂
Still having very clear (of the definitely non-rose colored glasses variety) memories of driving my 1937 Special, I’d love to have a chance to take that car down the street, just to see the differences in 16 years. Considering we’ve got the same drivetrain (except for transmission), and same suspension, it’d be an interesting comparison.
I always call my ’53 the newest ’30s car you’ll ever drive. 🙂
Aaron, I really enjoyed reading this. It is also infuriating to see that you are able to do so much with it yourself! 🙂
Thank you for writing this. Seeing somebody enjoy any car from long before they were born is always a treat.
Time to get out those shop manuals, Jason! 🙂
Good story. I think I remember reading your article in the Bugle. But I disagree about Dynaflow leakage. Our ’63 never leaked a drop until two winters ago when the rear seal started to leak when the fluid drained out of the torque converter and overflowed the pan. However by ’63 it had a flex plate instead of the flywheel which made for better aligment of the torque converter to the front seal and pump gear.
I wonder how much Buick improved the transmission by ’63, just in time to discontinue it! If you let a Dynaflow sit long enough, it seems like the converter will drain back and overflow the transmission, with the results you witnessed. At least you have an open driveshaft instead of a torque tube!
I haven’t done any maintenance to the Dynaflow except to change the fluid a few decades ago. They did a few changes to the internals of the torque converter like turbines and second stator which got fatter but fewer blades , put the ring gear on the torque converter since the did not have the flywheel. Your 53 doesn’t have th second stator, that did not come along till 56. My 63 has 93 k miles on it. It had 38 or 39 K when we bought it in 72 as an every day car for my wife. I had some body work done and repainted about 25 years ago. It has alot of chips and some pealing now a days.
Great story, great car.
I’m a little envious, but my living arrangements never really allowed me to have a good keeper car like that.
Such is life…
Beautiful car, wonderful story! Blue has long been my favorite car color.
When I was a little tyke, these Buicks were often seen. We lived on a hill, and the Buicks made a different sound from other cars going uphill. I didn’t know about Dynaflow back then!
Working on these is not rocket science. The principals of operation are almost the same for a ’32 Victoria and this ’53. Patience is the key. Something will baffle you – just keep looking and asking – someone knows the fix. Nothing comes close to the satisfaction of that first drive after mechanical rebuilding, when everything operates as it is supposed to. I have a theory as to why many stop here and sell the car for someone else to cosmetically refinish. Remember, the designers and builders are long gone from this mortal coil. They live on through our pride of accomplishment and ownership.
Absolutely beautiful car! Congratulations and thank you for your efforts, and for sharing it with us. I can imagine the “Ohhh, sh!t…” feeling after the ramp incident, but it looks good as new now. I wish I had 1/2 your aptitude and ambition; thankfully we have this site and people like you to share your projects. Thanks!
Amazing car and it looks like you’ve done an impressive amount of work to get it back into shape. It seems a younger man can indeed have a productive relationship with an older lady!
The early to mid fifties cars seem to be more cultural works of art than transportation, and that’s where I’d slot this Buick. Keeping the drivetrain original, as well as the sheetmetal, is a labor of love. Most would just slap the ubiquitous SBC/TH in the engine bay and call it a day. Would it be easier and faster? Sure, but you wouldn’t get the same experience from a Buick straight 8 and Dynaflow.
Most impressive is the hands-on ‘everyman’ aspect of personally tearing down, then fixing up an old car that isn’t seen everywhere at the car shows. Some guy who likes cars (and found one he ‘really’ likes) but isn’t an expert mechanic, willing to sacrifice many weekends and a good part of his home garage to have something quite unique, but as original and drivable as possible.
She’s a real beauty. A keeper for sure. It’s great that you have done much of the work yourself. Make a person appreciate what they have a lot more. The work you have done on it looks well done.
I still can”t stop laughing about your comment regarding the transmission leak!? My dad’s 1960 Corvair would go through a clutch on a regular basis, thanks to a sub-par engine seal. (Picture gobs of oil dripping from the lower, rear vents!?) I’m sure GM’s marketing division would tout this as integral rust-proofing!?
Great article, perfectly describing our slightly irrational love for old iron.
Ya know, I envy you. I lust after my first car, a ’52 Willy’s wagon. Ran two engines through it. The overdrive never worked, 55 mph flat out. And the same two carbs, over and over. Don’t know enough about them to know what was wrong, but nobody could make either one work right. I know that like most CCs, or more so than most, it would be a drag in the performance and comfort departments, but after going through 65, 66, & 67 Mustangs, a 56 T-Bird and a 69 Chrysler with a 440 (another disaster of a carburetor), I would still rather have that sad old junker than anything I’ve owned since. Yeah, OK, I’d very much like to put the 56 next to it.
The CC effect strikes again!
I just went for a walk and spotted a blue Buick just like this one, except with a white roof and in nowhere near as nice condition. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in the wild before…
Time to write it up! 🙂
This is a stunningly beautiful car Aaron! And a really great story. Thank you for sharing. It helps keep me inspired with my own restoration project at the moment. Lots of heart over head decision making, especially regarding the costs (planned and unexpected) involved. It really is a labor of love.
When I hear the name ‘Buick’, the glamorous early 40’s to ’53 era cars are what I imagine. Definitely not the geriatric-approved blandmobiles from the last two decades. These are among my favorite cars of all time, and I’d even have an early 50’s buick over a tri-five chevy.
I’ve been fascinated with straight-eight’s ever since I found this buick sedan a few years ago when I was hiking in Utah near Goblin Valley. There wasn’t much left of it, but the portholes helped me identify it as a 1950 model. I bet these engines purr as smooth as a kitten and have a good wallop of torque, despite modest hp numbers for the displacements. I’ve always wanted to hear one to get an idea of what a straight-eight sounds like. It’s definitely the mill I would use if I were to build a hot rod.
I’m not very familiar with torque tube drive shaft systems. It inspired me to do some research on it. Didn’t buick use these until the mid 60’s on some cars?
Wow…That is one petrified Buick!
Buick used a torque tube through 1960, so ’61s were the first ones without it…
I’ve got mixed feelings about the torque tube; on one hand, it’s different and a little fascinating. On the other hand, unbolting a driveshaft is sooooo much easier. As far as the sound a straight-eight makes, it’s a distinctive burble. Sometimes, I like standing next to it just to listen to it idle. Mine’s got a cylindrical turbo muffler actually, but it’s still really quiet. It idles at roughly 400-450 RPM.
Fords had torque tubes until the 1949. Ramblers used them with coil rear springs (like the Buick) at least through the 60’s I think. The new 1956 model which was facelifted for years after that had the torque tube.
Thank you for all the nice comments about me and my car. I was happy to share it, and I’m glad you enjoyed it!
Hello Aaron. Here I am seven months down the road from your last comments on this post. I just love your car and your story. It’s a wonderful car and it’s wonderful to see a young fellow interested in this type of car purely for what it is and what Buick intended it to be. I say, in all honesty, that for you to share any aspect of your experience with this car would not be wasted words. I, too, love the cars from this era. I discovered your car while trying to find, on line, an image of a car like one from my past. My Dad owned a Packard when I was born. He wrecked it not long after on a snow covered winding road. He said that he then bought a 1953 Buick Special four door sedan. I believe he said it was two tone green. I was too young to remember that car, so I tried to find a picture of one like it. Though a different body type and color, yours is a great close example. After that 1953 Special came a 1954 Super Riviera, the first car I remember, the first car I set in motion, and the car I considered to be the most beautiful car ever built. I looked up the color names for 1954 Buicks. It was Tatian Red with an Arctic White roof. It resembled the image of the red Century in the brochure you included above, but, of course sharing the Roadmaster platform. The features I loved most about that car were the raised read quarter panels, tail lights, and above all, the full cut outs of the rear wheel openings of the Rivieras. I do, however, think that the rear wheel openings of the 1953 models is more attractive than those of the 1954 two door and four door sedans. The 1953 Buicks were an all around beautiful, and dignified, car. Well Aaron, I’ve gone on and said more about my experiences than praising yours. I will say that after reading your story, I immediately went to ebay and purchased an April 2009 issue of Collectible Automobile. I’d like to know what issue of Hemmings Classic car features your Buick. I may have it. You thanked all who made comments on your Buick and your story. I say, Thank you. Thank you, Thank you! You are a great example of the folks who are part of the true old car hobby! Not in it for the money, but for the love of old cars.
Beautiful car and a great read. Looks like a keeper to me!
my paternal grandmother had a 53 special 2 door sedan as her last car. Dad always use to always say ”last straight eight” and used to say ”never used a drop of oil” hers was a stickshift. reading about parking this rig makes me wonder how my little bitty grandmother did it! yours is one pretty 53!
They had optional power steering on Roadmasters and maybe Specials by then.
When I was in college around 1970 a friend had his family’s old 1953 Roadmaster 2 door H/T. Probably with the new V8? Anyway I borrowed it once. It had PS and PB and Dynaflow. It seemed like 30 years old inside, not 15. Tall, narrow,huge steering wheel, high, deep soft seats, soft suspension. Every bit, as you can see from the photos here, styled more like a 30’s than even a later 50’s car. A different world from late 60’s cars, not that long after. The worst handling car I ever drove.
I didn’t read this on its first go-round. The love is palpable and heartwarming…and it is NOT the same kind of “love” that makes a Subaru a Subaru.
This is a wonderful story, and there are some parallels to my own relationship with my 1953 Packard Cavalier, also a straight-8, with the Packard Ultramatic, with many of the same good and bad points as the Dynaflow. Someday I’d like to give my engine the same loving rebuild as yours got, it’s getting to be time though not quite there yet. Neil Young had a great love and many experiences with Buicks of this era, including his 1948 hearse “Mort”, detailed in his book “Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life & Cars”. Cars of the early 1950’s are interesting as they still have a lot of pre-war engineering (6 volts, straight 8’s, etc.) though they also have a lot in common with more modern vehicles. I’m sure that straight-8 and DynaFlow is really smoooooth, though perhaps not Packard-smooth 🙂
Very much enjoyed the read. I used to read Collectible Automobile, so I might have had a glance at it back in the day. Great writeup, and I admire your mechanical work. Excellent job, and storytelling. My complements.
I am happy to see this on here again today…Big Blue and I are still trucking along, even if she has to share time with six other old cars these days. 🙂
Glad to see that you and your fine old Buick are still cruising around. Great old cars.
This is my first read on your Buick Special Riviera. You may have done the restoration for your own desire but you have preserved a part of American history, too. Enjoy your ride. I remember the antenna. My uncle’s ’51 Super four-door sedan had this of course. Watching him “extend” the aerial was interesting. Power operated by the driver with a twist of one’s wrist!