McDonald’s. I’m trying really hard right now to think of another proper noun that made me more excited when I was a kid. “Atari”, “Hostess”, and “Baskin-Robbins” came close. I’m trying to think of what would elicit the same kind of response in me as an adult. “Canon”, maybe? “Cedar Point”, as in the amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio off Lake Erie, would for sure, both then and now. A quick trip to McDonald’s was much less expensive than any of these other things, and the fact that my brothers and I weren’t treated to meals there with any sort of regularity made a trip to the Golden Arches seem really special.
When I was really young, some of my classmates from families that seemed to be well-off had their birthday parties there. I was invited to maybe only one or two of those celebrations, but that was okay because that was only the warm-up for me getting to have one my own birthday parties a few years later at ShowBiz Pizza, which was later rebranded to Chuck E. Cheese. I’m proud to say that after having attended a couple of semi-recent corporate events at venues that feature once-popular arcade games, my Skee-Ball skills seem to have carried over mostly intact from 1985.
Uptown, Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, April 21, 2013.
There’s a scene in the movie Breakfast At Tiffany’s where Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly declares to George Peppard’s Paul Varjak about the famed jewelery store that, “Nothing very bad could happen to you there”. In my childhood, that place was McDonald’s. It now makes all kinds of sense when I think about it. McDonald’s became a place associated with rewards or special occasions in the pleasure center of my kiddie brain. My family would sometimes eat there when on a road trip that was longer than the two hours it took to drive to my grandparents’ farm, and sometimes during Christmas shopping with Mom, my younger brother and I would be treated to McDonald’s when we had been on our very best behavior.
Before my appetite outgrew it, I always wanted the Happy Meal, which in my case would be comprised of a hamburger, a small order of french fries, a small pop (orange drink, forever!), and a small, plastic toy – all contained in a colorfully printed, folded cardboard box with cutouts at the top that served as a handle. Others in my family would sometimes try to convince me that for the same money as the Happy Meal, I could get almost twice as much food. Absolutely not, and I did not care. If I was allowed to have anything on the menu by Mom and/or Dad, I was going to have exactly what I wanted, which was going to be a Happy Meal.
When my younger brother’s kids came to spend a week with their uncle four years ago, the local McDonald’s was a lifesaver. Thankfully, there are at least a few healthier options on the menu today (i.e. apple slices instead of fries, etc.) than when I was a kid growing up in the ’80s, so I didn’t feel terrible about us eating there a few times, and the kids were happy. However, there was still something missing during those dining experiences: Where were the McDonaldland characters?? Of course, namesake Ronald McDonald’s clown face and big, red hair were everywhere, but what about Mayor McCheese? Where was the Hamburglar (“Robble, robble!…”), or Birdie, even if she was a little whiny and sort of annoying? Last, but definitely not least, where was Grimace?
Grimace is, was, and probably always will be my favorite. He was big and goofy and very purple, long before a certain, similar-colored cartoon dinosaur named Barney was seemingly everywhere all at once. He had this low, guttural voice that sounded like he was talking out of the back of his throat, and also the best, loud, boisterous laugh. He was also hapless and got into the most ridiculous situations in those thirty-second TV spots that would run after school or on Saturday mornings between my cartoons. From the moment Grimace’s big, awkward self would lumber into frame, you just knew you were going to be shaking your head and laughing at something foolish. Oh, that Grimace. This grape Kool Aid-colored dude was always up to something.
I mean absolutely no disrespect to the owner of our subject car, but when I spotted this purple ’65 Buick Special in a neighborhood parking lot, and especially facing it dead-on, it reminded me of none other than Grimace. My mind seems to form associations that are mysterious even to me after some forty-something years on this planet, but when I looked this purple Buick in its “face” and saw its slightly droopy mouth of a grille grinning back at me, I might have even started salivating at the prospect of a large order of salty, greasy, delicious McDonald’s french fries. Granted, this ’65 Special is not quite as formless as gumdrop-shaped Grimace, sporting the crisp, new contours given to Buick’s intermediates with the redesign introduced the year before.
I’ve mentioned briefly before in a previous essay how I thought the “Special” model name sounded dorky, which befits this car’s resemblance in my mind to a big, lumpy, purple, fuzzy whatever-it-is. The Special, though, was seen as also lovable by many buyers in 1965, with total Buick A-Body production of almost 235,000 split pretty closely, 43% / 57%, between the Special and its upmarket Skylark stablemate. The former’s share of Buick’s midsize sales would steadily erode through 1969, its last year in this form (before reappearing as a bargain-priced Colonnade for ’75), when the rechristened Special DeLuxe accounted for only 35,600 sales, or just under 19% of total Buick intermediate production for that last year of the 1960s.
Just two engines were available for the ’65 Special and Skylark: a 225-cubic inch V6 with 155 horsepower, and a 300-c.i. V8 that was also standard on the LeSabre, with either 210 with a two-barrel Rochester carburetor, or 250 horses with the 4-bbl version. All engines had cylinders of exactly the same bore and stroke, as the V6 was basically three-fourths of the V8. When I was a young kid going to McDonald’s, 75% of anything wasn’t going to cut it with me, which is why the Happy Meal was the only way to go, at least until I was in maybe the third grade. And you’d better not put your ketchup-y fingers on my plastic toy, that is, unless you want to see me grimace.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
A spectacularly unadorned Buick. It’s unabashed plainness makes it rather, uh, special doesn’t it?
I had similar feelings for McDonalds – long ago. The first I remember eating at was on a boat on the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis. The most local McD’s to where I grew up was in Cape Girardeau. There was a covered wagon of sorts in the dining room one could eat in. Later, a trip through Oklahoma allowed for what was touted as “the largest McD’s in the world”. It was in a building built over the turnpike section of I-44, allowing access from either direction. The dining room was over the interstate.
Twice in my career I’ve worked in a building next door to a McD’s. Going there for lunch has always been referred to as being the “walk of shame”. Seems McD’s ain’t so special anymore, unlike this Buick which has become more special over time.
For me, it was the location in Salem, MA. My late father would bring me there coming home from weekend visitation. When I see an Egg McMuffin, I still think of those visits.
I too, have been to the one over l-44 in OK. I was coming home on leave and wanted to check it out. Aside from its location, I was a bit underwhelmed
Love that Buick! Usually I prefer dog dish caps with blackwalls, but seeing a whitewall as a comparison makes me rethink that.
Wow. Since both you and Jason had mentioned this particular McDonald’s in Vinita, OK, I had to look it up. It certainly does look like it had been the largest McD’s in the world at some point! Giving new scale to the Golden Arches!
Jason, I agree with you that the “Special” name attached to this Buick does seem a little ironic. And yet, I’m drawn to its simplicity – down to those actual hubcaps with the Buick tri-shield on them.
The main McDonald’s that comes to my mind was the one I grew up near in Flint, off Dort Highway near Atherton Road. As recently as February of 2011, I was able to go to the drive-thru at that location, which largely looked almost exactly the same as thirty years prior. It has since been remodeled, but I’m just glad it’s still there.
To your point, a kid’s first memories of a McDonald’s seem to make the biggest impressions. 🙂
You covered a lot of things I like here, Joe: ’65 Buicks, Happy Meals (who doesn’t like a toy with your food?), and Mayor McCheese. My wife got me a Funko Pop Mayor McCheese a couple of years ago, because I will never find a guy with a huge hamburger head not funny. I also will always wonder what Grimace is supposed to be, and I will always be unsure whether or not a grape-colored sweatsuit is a bad fashion choice.
Nice last line. 🙂
Aaron, you’ve got me thinking. What would be the grownup equivalent of a Happy Meal? I think every meal out should come with some sort of prize! Hahaha
I have to walk to the local grocery store this evening, and it’s right next to a McDonald’s. I have another four days before it’s my dietary “cheat day”, so reading some of these comments is sheer torture. I have willpower for days, though, so I think I’ll be alright.
OK, I am going to step right out there and admit it: a big red container of McDonalds fries can be next to nirvana when they are at their hot, crispy and salted best. But eat them first, because every second they are degrading until they become virtually inedible at around the 10 minute mark.
This Buick is kind of the opposite – on the edge of OK in 1965, a dull stripper of a thing in a world inhabited by Rivieras and Thunderbirds. But unlike the McD fries, this car’s shelf life is amazing, because it is actually quite good now.
I have to agree with you on the McFries, JPC. They MUST be hot. The waffle fries at Chick-fil-A are the same way. The hotter the better.
If a McDonald’s is crowded, I won’t ask, but if I go in at an odd time, I’ll ask them (nicely) to drop a basket, or to let me wait for the basket that’s about to come up.
Most times, they are more than happy to accommodate.
I feel that way about all fries actually, even at a local brewpub. Once they’re cooled off, they are no longer edible, so you may as well eat (most of) them first.
I always order the fries with no salt because they have to make them fresh. Then I salt them at the table 🙂
JP, this is great. I can’t remember the last time I tried to eat cold fries out of the bag. You know what I mean. There’s always that time on a road trip where you’re eating McDonald’s out of the bag, and you search the bottom of the paper bag for runaway fries that escaped out of the bottom corners of the red container. And once you find them, you’re so happy… and then when you eat them (cold), it just doesn’t live up.
I like shoestring potatoes for that reason – they’re almost the greasy, saltiness of McDonald’s fries, but they stay crispy.
Wow Joseph, what a great read before I start my day. Thank you!
Here’s my story of a McDonalds, a Buick, and a Mall.
It was 1971 and I was a very young lad. My parents and I were driving in our 1968 Buick Wildcat, heading out to explore a brand new mall which recently opened in Woodbridge NJ. Now Woodbridge NJ wasn’t really far from our home in Brooklyn NY, but it was only mall around, approximately 30 minutes away. I didn’t even know what a mall was.
As we were driving down Route 1&9 in New Jersey, my mom spotted a “McDonalds” on the road. I didn’t even know what a McDonalds was. She told my dad to pull in so we can check it out.
We pulled into the parking lot and were greeted by these “characters” that were jumping around and waving at people. Music was playing. Flags and banners where hung all over the building. This was pretty exciting to young little me.
My dad, with cigarette hanging off his lips, stepped out of our goldish-green 4 door sedan, with black vinyl top and black vinyl interior (thankfully it had AC), Grimace opened the door for my mom, and politely grabbed her hand and helped her out of the car. Then he waved his hands at me, opened my door, and picked me up out of the car. He didn’t have to worry about unbuckling my seatbelt cause we didn’t wear them back in the day!
I don’t exactly recall what I ate, but I remember that the size of the drinks and fries were no where as large as they are today. Not sure if the Happy Meal was around back then either, but I was given a little Ronald McDonald statue when we ordered our food.
When we left, Ronald McDonald himself grabbed my hand and walked me to the big, beautiful, shinny, Wildcat and gave me pack of Hostess Cupcakes.
Thinking back, I realize lots have changed since 1971!
– Parents enjoyed smoking as they drove their car (not SUV)
– None of the passengers wore seat belts, no matter their age.
– There aren’t any “grand openings” of malls anymore, since malls are dead and the owners are thinking how to repurpose them as the stores inside close down.
– Fast food restaurants are everywhere and the size of their portions are crazy big. It’s no longer considered a special treat. More people are on medication due to this..
– Buick no longer sells cars, as they specialize in SUVs. The big family sedan is hardly but a memory now.
-Vinyl roofs will never make a come back and AC is standard equipment on practically every vehicle.
– People dressed in character outfits now harass people (especially in NYC’s Time Square) instead of being nice and friendly.
– Strangers can’t hand children cupcakes unless they are certified peanut free.
Sometimes I wish it was 1971 again.
And another: Ronald McDonald no longer hawks hamburgers.
NJCarGuy, you have a great way of painting a picture with your words. I could see all of this as if through Kodak film. And you got to meet Grimace!! I’m glad to hear he was a gentleman and helped your mom out of the Wildcat, but then again, I would have expected that.
RE: smoking in cars, I don’t miss riding in such cars, but as I was thinking while at a party this past weekend, there’s something oddly comforting to me about the smell of baked-in secondhand smoke. Maybe that’s because pretty much everywhere I went in Flint back in the day, that’s what it smelled like. And I loved growing up there.
Spot on, Joesph. This conjured up so many memories that I forgot I had! And I dig your selections right down to the orange soda.
I’m telling you, Sam. Give me orange drink all day when I choose to have pop!
Orange drink! I haven’t thought of that phrase in forever. Hideous stuff from the perspective of (un)health; ’bout two tablespoons (30 mL) of sugar per cup (236 mL). It was very refreshing for about two seconds after a swallow, and then you wanted moarrrrrr, which was probably the point—much like the fries rang the salt-bell good and hard, and it lasted…um…until you took a swig of orange drink, come to think of it!
My Wisconsin hometown was too small to rate a McDonalds. I think I was 11 or 12 before I got to sample one. McDonalds had opened a new location in the county seat about 20 miles away. Lured by a a grand opening advertisement in the county newspaper, my parents piled us into the backseat of the Rambler for what they called a special dinner.
This was about 1963-64, so McDonalds didn’t have any seating. You grabbed a bag of food and ate in your car. No Happy meals either. Just the lure of tasty burgers with no wait. Good enough for me.
Our maiden voyage to McDonalds land was a special memory. As the oldest, I was allowed 2 burgers – same as my dad. Younger sister and brother each got one as did my mom.
Those burgers were so tasty. Not like the burgers we got at home. They were usually served on toast. I remember home cooked burgers as having an unfavorable bread:meat ratio. McDonalds advertised custom made buns. In retrospect, they they were thinner and smaller than the average store bought bun, but they made the burger tastier IMO.
Having wolfed down my allotted two burgers, I begged for another. My dad consented, gave me a dollar bill and leaned his seat forward to let me go order my own. I think he expected me to order one and bring back the change.
When I got to the counter, I realized I could get 5 burgers for my dollar (remember, this was the 60s). When I took the bag of 5 burgers back to the car, I think my mother was in shock. After chastising me about the sin of gluttony, she mumbled something about freezing the left over burgers when we got home.
My dad was a bit more understanding. My mom had him on a strict diet as he had been gaining weight. I think he was hoping to get another burger himself. Hopping into the backseat, both sister and brother started saying I had to share.
My dad consented and each of us got one of the 5 extra burgers. I still had the bag. My dad (a born salesman) was starting to work on my mother. He was talking about someone he had heard of over in the next county that had gotten sick from eating leftover burgers that had been stored in a freezer. He was just getting to the part about it being safer to throw away any leftover food due to the summer heat and drive back home in our non-AC Rambler (weren’t they all).
Now in my mom’s eyes, the wasting food was a much bigger sin than gluttony – or my dad putting on weight.
I could see her starting to soften and figured my dad would eventually get another burger out of her. I tried to sneak a 4th burger by bending down and pretending to look for a penny change I had dropped on the floor. Stuffing a 4th burger into my mouth, the trick didn’t work. Brother & sister saw me and immediately ratted me out.
I didn’t care. That 4th burger was as good as the 1st three. Perhaps even better because I had gotten away with something.
This started my mom yelling at me to stop eating like a glutton while my dad started hollering at my brother and sister to quit hollering. Our family could sometimes put the fun in dysFUNction.
Seeing my chance, I went for broke and grabbed the 5th. Further howls of protest followed, this time including my dad. Too late. I polished off all 5 burgers. Naturally I got lectured the whole drive home. I can still remember my mother saying over and over “Who ever heard of someone eating 5 hamburgers?”
For some reason, it was a long time before our next trip to McDonalds. My brother and sister blame me for that to this day.
I was rail thin and tall for my age. My mother became convinced that I had a tapeworm. She actually called the doctor about it. Evidently he told her not to worry, but I remember a couple of times thereafter she told me not to flush the toilet after I used it. She wanted to check for herself there were no worms swimming around in the toilet bowl.
Thanks Joseph for triggering this McDonalds memory.
Rob, this was so great to read, and thank you for sharing your McDonald’s-related youthful shenanigans. What kid didn’t try to pull something to rate an additional hamburger or paper container of fries, at some point?
I liked how your siblings told. I probably would have, too, unless I would have gotten a cut, and then again, I wouldn’t have wanted half of a burger that someone else’s mouth would have touched. LOL
What I also appreciate about your story is the time frame and context of McDonald’s before it had exploded in popularity. I was born in the mid-’70s, and by the ’80s (when I remember going there), I simply took certain things about McDonald’s as fact. Hearing about that fast rood restaurant in its “adolescence” from firsthand accounts is fascinating to me.
Ore-Ida just came out with some extra crispy fries that are virtually identical to McD’s. Not surprising, since Ore-Ida supplies McD’s fries. And yes, I own a deep fryer and I’m not afraid to use it. 🙂
I may need to add these Ore-Ida fries to this evening’s grocery list. Now to find my cookie sheet on which to bake them…
Nothing wrong with deep frying. It got a bad rap in the 50’s when you used animal fat in it, and for good reason. A stigma it still hasn’t shaken. But with today’s heart healthy oils, as long as you don’t use it every night, your not gonna shorten your life. I use peanut oil. And fire it up maybe 3 times a month as a treat. I rarely eat fast food. Haven’t been to McD’s since early 2015. Anybody who tries to give me a air fryer will be getting it right back. I’m 55, 5’11, 185lbs. Same as I weighed in the 9th grade.
Take another look. The notion of vegetable/seed oils as “heart healthy” and animal fats as bringers of disease and death was deliberately cooked up to sell veg/seed oils. See here, here, here, here, and here—take note of the sources; these aren’t spittle-flecked rants copied down off AM talk radio, nor tinfoil-hat types.
Thanks for the memories Joseph! Like everyone here, I too recall my early trips to the McDonald’s when I was probably 6 or 7 years old. There were very few McDonald’s around in 1967, and for a while, if you wanted to go there, it was always a few miles away.
In our case, there was one on Wise Avenue on the way to my great aunt and uncle’s house in Dundalk, Maryland, on the east side of Baltimore. What I recall as my go-to for years when I was little was the Filet-o-Fish sandwich, which I absolutely loved. It was more expensive (29 cents vs. a quarter for a cheeseburger) but Dad didn’t mind.
It wasn’t until 1976 when I got my first job while in high school (at McDonald’s) that I tried their other offerings, where the Big Mac became my go-to.
Nowadays, in the infrequent times that I do go to Mickey D’s, I ask for the Big Mac on a regular bun, as I am now allergic to sesame seeds. To be honest, this makes for a better Big Mac, as the bread to burger ratio without the center section is perfect. And it allows room for a Fillet-o-Fish, too! I’m lovin’ it when they have the mix & match deal where those two sandwiches are featured.
Oh, and the Quarter Pounder is a better sandwich now than it was when it was introduced. At least at the McDonald’s restaurants in our area, instead of the old frozen hockey puck, they’re actually fresh/never frozen (supposedly). When I get one of these, I have it put on an artisan roll (for a fee), due to the aforementioned sesame allergy. This actually ends up being a decent un-McDonald’s-like sandwich! Perhaps they are trying to up their game.
I love that you have found all of these effective workarounds to get exactly what you want and can have, based on what’s available.
I remember liking the Big Mac, but anything with mayonnaise on it is automatically disliked. I’m much more into the Quarter Pounder (Royale) With Cheese.
Yeah, Burger King isn’t the only place you can “Have it Your Way”. ;o)
Oh, and of course I love the Pulp Fiction reference!
…made of real artisans?
Yeah, that’s what I thought Daniel. Seems like a dumb name for a brioche bun, but that’s what McDonald’s calls it.
I think they use it for one of their chicken sandwiches. I know they used to use that bun for their Black Angus burger that was run for a limited time a while back.
Like I said, I think they’re trying to up their game, but with mixed success. McDonald’s is what it is, and they’re not going to be able to play in the gourmet burger field.
Sorry so late with the replies, guys!
They might be trying to up their game. Or down it, or sideways it. I haven’t been in a McDonald’s in uncounted years.
When I was a kid I loved going to McDonald’s, but not for the food. I liked it because our local McDonald’s was located on a busy four-lane road, and I always staked out one of the booths that faced the road. Watching all the cars go by was like heaven for me.
At some point, it became a tradition for my father and I to play “The Car Game” while eating. I’d count Chevys, and he’d count Fords. Or I’d count Hondas and he’d count Toyotas, and so on. From my perspective, there was nothing finer… even if I didn’t actually like McDonald’s food (which sounds like blasphemy from a kid, but it was true). Somehow, I don’t think my mom and sister were quite as enamored with The Car Game as I was.
I do remember one particular Car Game when I counted European Cars (I think dad was counting Japanese cars), and I argued to no avail that a Ford Fiesta should count as European. I lost that argument, by the way, and I can’t believe I remember it 40 years later…
I loved reading about “The Car Game” – and that you associate McDonald’s with it. IMO, the Fiesta absolutely counts as foreign! How did you and your dad handle a “Buick / Opel”? Were you just going with whether the nameplate was domestic, foreign, etc.?
I used to play “Count The Chevette” when I was really young, according to some accounts. The Chevrolet Chevette was probably the car that got me started on being interested in being able to identify makes and models of cars… and indirectly to why I write these weekly essays. 🙂
Ha! My guess is that Dad and I never saw a Buick/Opel during any of our Car Games. Now, that would have been a tricky one to figure out, but I’m sure I would have argued my case and lost!
And I think it’s funny that you owe a lot of your early interest in cars to… of all things… the Chevette.
There is a McDonalds every mile across Chicago. There were original drive-in locations with their big yellow arches and their Speedy burger man in neon walking step by step. There were 1970 McDonalds with thatched faux buttressed Mansard roofs, there were many different designs that were built as models, but not released to the System. There were Burger King restaurants, White Castle restaurants, Prince Castle restaurants, Burger Chef restaurants, Hardee restaurants, and every kind of fast food.
I remember when McDonalds began catering to kids. They became bright yellow, red, had wonderful plastic molded bench seats, I remember a McDonalds in Chicago downtown we called the Rock n Roll McDonalds, with 1950 decor. The closest McDonalds to me growing up remodeled into having faux Colonial Bicentennial décor with wooden soldiers and straight out of a JC Penney kitchen catalog.
Today, McDonalds doesn’t want families. They’re not family friendly. Someone over there at Hamburger University decided to copy Starbucks. Kids not welcome. McDonalds never excited my kids because there was nothing exciting about them. The last Play Palace closed about a decade ago and replaced with a décor for senior citizens.
Now – to the car.
Great car. Sad to see it in purple. Detroit couldn’t build a decent small car, but they sure as hell knew how to build a small family car. This car is the perfect size for today. The styling is also very nice even for today. If this was new – I’d get one. It can seat six. I need.
Minivans and SUVs be damned. This is a fine product. Thanks for writing about it.
I imagine that McDonald’s may have had a larger presence in the Chicagoland area simply because they were HQ’d in the suburbs for decades. The new headquarters are in the west Loop, I saw briefly using an internet search.
I agree with you that this ’65 Special is a good size for a family.
Built on the former site of Harpo Studios, Oprah HQ.
“There’s a scene in the movie Breakfast At Tiffany’s where Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly declares to George Peppard’s Paul Varjak about the famed jewelery store that, “Nothing very bad could happen to you there”. In my childhood, that place was McDonald’s. ”
Oh, man. That account is even grizzlier than the Burger Chef murders of 1978.
Speaking of Burger Chef, one couldn’t have convinced me as a kid in the ’80s that it was BC and not McD who had pioneered the concept of a kid’s meal. The Funmeal was the original; The Happy Meal was the copy.
My last trip to a Burger Chef might have been around summer ’82 (in Athens, Ohio), the year that chain was bought by Hardee’s and rebranded.
My first paying job (that wasn’t for cash) was at a Burger Chef. This was from about April 1990 to late 1991. Supposedly it was one of just a very few left in the nation at that time. How the name stuck around I am not sure, but it was owned by the same family who owns all the Drury Inns throughout the midwest. It used the same menu and I even found some of the old toys and literature one day, tucked in some weird place.
The Drury’s are from the place of my birth (mentioned in my earlier comment) and that’s where the BC was also, and it was located in The Mall.
I think that certain Burger Chef franchisees were able to keep the name and menus under some agreement. I have read quite a lot about Burger Chef over the years (I missed my chance maybe five years back to get a Super Shef at Hardee’s when they brought it back for five minutes), and the last one closed in 1996. So cool that you worked there.
Burger Chef was, at one time, second only to McDonald’s among fast food restaurants. This was in the early ’70s.
My parents never trusted fast food, so I was always stuck behaving myself in a sit down restaurant. However, while not McD’s, when on a road trip with my cousins, that generation Buick, fast food and me came together.
Not a bottom end Special, but the fancy Sportwagon my uncle drove and an A&W Baby Burger for lunch somewhere between Stockton and Fresno, dont remember exactly.
The Sportwagon, with its window panels in the roof, has long fascinated me. I used to love riding in station wagons (I call the wayback!) whenever that opportunity presented itself with people my family knew who had one.
We were more or less banned from McDonalds, which alone made the idea of it enticing, but when the parents relented at about 15, I have never been more deflated in my life, not to mention bewildered. Every single item tasted like one flavor, and even that was hard to identify beyond a sort-of mushy sweetness. It was like eating Muzak. Well, except for the fries, which left (and still leave) a charming waft of oil-based house paint on the palate. Worst of all, within an hour, I was as empty as if I’d had no food – which in one way, I guess I hadn’t.
In my mind, a Buick is a rich and grand transport, topped only on The Ladder by a Cadillac. Yet it seems this Special is such a stripper that GM didn’t even include wipers, let alone an automatic, a state of affairs altogether too drab for the nameplate.
Like McDonalds, I don’t understand why anyone would buy it. Though unlike them, at least Buick has changed enough to now make something that’s safe to use.
“Like eating Muzak” – golden.
I suppose that to some who regularly ate good meals and food (which my family did, to be clear) with no fast food, McDonald’s would have probably not been to their taste. Nature / nurture? I grew up with the occasional McDonald’s treat, so I associated it with special times and I thought it tasted great!
I wouldn’t eat it regularly, though, even if I had a magic calorie zapper. Like someone else had mentioned in the comments earlier, just once in a great while / every few months would be enough for me.
My parents never took us to McDonald’s, thankfully, since I hate the then unavoidable pickles and mustard, but I don’t think that was why. My father hates raw tomatoes because of the seeds. His father grew them but wouldn’t eat them either.
The Special doesn’t look a bit more luxurious or higher quality than the Chevelle or Tempest. Were they any better?
Ralph, these are good questions. Someone could probably do a deep dive on the levels of standard equipment between the equivalent GM brands among the A-bodies, but that was probably more than I had the resources or attention span to write about. 🙂
Now that you pose the question, though, I am curious. Could a consumer have purchased a reasonably loaded Chevy Chevelle for the same price as a strip-o Buick Special?
As far as quality, no, at least not here on the West coast. All A-bodies were assembled at the then new Fremont plant, now home of Tesla. Flint may have built the bigger Buicks, so you could argue a quality difference.
If you compare the exterior, yes there is a noticeable difference. Chevelle had a cheap looking stamped anodized aluminum grille vs chromed die cast of the Buick, for example. Engines and automatic transmissions still differentiated GM divisions.
The V-6 seemed more advanced, on paper, to the Chevy six, but not really. Super Turbine better than Aluminum Powerglide? Anyway a “Buick man” like my uncle, would go low end Buick instead of highly optioned Chevy, like he did in ’55.
The Super Turbine 300 transmission had an industry unique variable switch pitch stator in the torque convertor. This feature was also available in the Super Turbine (Turbo) 400 in Buicks and some Olds. What the variable stator did was give you either a low stall speed (1500 rpm) or high stall speed (3000 rpm), by either setting the stator blades in an open low angle to pass through Trans fluid or close them in a high angle to force the fluid around the outside of the pump vanes, making the converter a higher stall like a performance racing converter. Buick used this as it’s passing gear. It was controlled by a dash pot and switches on the throttle linkeage, so when the throttle was closed with foot off the gas, the converter was in high stall which prevented the car from creeping. And also, at about 3/4 throttle, switches would close and activate the high stall mode for passing. 3000 rpm stall made the engine rpms rise instantly into a higher horsepowercand torque range of the engine. Those in the know about this feature added their own switch to activate the high stall for drag racing.
The 300″ V8 also had longer connecting rods and a wider torque band than the equally carburetor-fed 283″ small block Chevy in the Chevelle, and had the same power as a 4bbl equipped 327.
Thanks. I always wanted to know the differences. It makes my point that a Buick was not just different styling back then, even if the frames and suspension, except for tuning, had become common among divisions by ’65.
Over at Mopar, the newish Coronet got you four headlights instead of two on a Belvedere. Ford didnt even have a mid-size Mercury yet.
Great story Joseph! A rare trip to McDonalds was always a huge treat for us as well; most likely we would go to it’s cheaper cousin Burger Boy or Wetson’s.
Grandma replaced her huge, ornate ’58 Buick Special Riviera 4 door with a ’67 Special 2 door. Of course they seemed worlds apart in all aspects, as did her final car was a ’77 Regal brouhamtastic. It was hard to believe only 20 model years separated those 3 very distinct eras of Buicks.
Thanks, Dave! What a great piece of serendipity it would be to have all of those three years / models of Buicks lined up, at a car show or otherwise, to make those direct comparisons between them.
Nice one. That is a very clean looking Buick.
This VW LT40 is what made me think of Grimace.
Corey, this VW Transporter is Grimace to the Nth degree!! Nice.
This car is so plain and ordinary that without the portholes you’d be tempted to assume it was Chevy or Ford, not a Premium Buick. The only things that could be special seem to have been omitted.
Except for the golf putter on the bench seat…..
It did come across as pretty plain – also in person, as it does in these pictures. What may not be apparent, though, is that its purple paint was a custom color with metal flakes in it. This gave it the presentation of being like a toy car of a plainer model that was given a fancy color. It liked its entire presentation.
This is a great story. My first trip to a McDonald’s was in Lorain, Ohio, in the summer of 1969. We were visiting my grandmother’s cousin, and her daughter took me, along with her two sons, to McDonald’s. I had never been to one before, and was amazed – particularly at the hamburger, which already came with ketchup, mustard and a pickle!
The nearest McDonald’s to us opened in Chambersburg, Pa., in 1971. My hometown was finally graced with its presence in early 1979.
My children enjoyed McDonald’s – primarily for the Happy Meal and its toy surprise. They have since outgrown it. As for me – every now and then I get hungry for a Big Mac and fries. One meal generally satisfies that particular craving for another 3-4 months.
That Buick’s clean lines remind me of how good the 1964-65 GM A-bodies looked, particularly the Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac versions. Those are sharp, well-styled cars. I’d still take an Olds F-85 or Cutlass over this Buick.
It’s great to read others’ first experiences of going to McDonald’s. You through 1979 out there for the year your town got one. I associate their former mansard-roofed restaurants with that time period, in a comforting way, and was a little disquieted when they all started to be remodeled.
Even the restaurant example I included in the essay was remodeled not long after. I like the 1970s / ’80s style restaurants, complete with their swiveling, plastic seats that are attached to the assembly that also connects with the tables!
I too, was unsettled when the ’70s architecture began to be replaced. To me, that is what helps with memories.
The one nearest me was recently redone.
The first thing I thought of when I saw the grey and brown exterior with the McDonald’s logo was “Mmm, municipal burgers.” It sounds better in Homer Simpson’s voice.
So municipal! LOL
I first went to McDonald’s as a kid in the early ‘70’s when the first one opened in Sarnia, Ontario. My mom would take us there once in a while, and it was always a treat. I liked the burgers and the general atmosphere better than a regular restaurant – it was always more fun to go to McDonald’s. I still remember the old commercials and the McDonaldland characters. By the time Happy Meals came along, I was too old for that kind of thing but I still enjoyed a Big Mac or a McChicken now and then…along with the fries. Lots of salt and vinegar (hey, I’m Canadian). As adults my wife and I rarely visit McDonald’s. I make a pretty fine burger myself, and we usually grab Wendy’s if we want a fast-food burger. That said, we still go for a Sausage and Egg McMuffin combo with sizzling hot hash browns whenever we go on a trip. Always a favourite. As for that Buick Special, I always liked them. They were nicer than a Chevelle, with just a little more style. I always like the script on the side as well. A touch of class even on a basic model…just like a few pickles along with ketchup and mustard on an otherwise plain burger.
Sarnia, right across from my home state of Michigan! I have driven through that checkpoint a few times. 🙂
Wendy’s did replace McDonald’s as my favorite fast food restaurant for a while when I was in college in the ’90s. I’d eat at either place while on vacation.
The original McDonald’s in Sarnia closed in the late ‘90’s. My father-in-law happened to be driving past when they were tearing down the building, and (with a little help from a few friends) he got the outside tables loaded into his pickup with their concrete bases. Since then they’ve enjoyed a long and useful second life on their beach father south on the St. Clair River. A nice spot to enjoy a cold beer or two…and maybe a freshly grilled burger as well.
I received a 1965 Buick Special when I was 16. Our Catholic High School had not busses, so I was charged with making the car full with students back and forth to school. Luckily, the car was really stripped. A radio was the only option. In fact the window-washers did not even have water function to clean the front windows. Ah but it did have the 300 cubic inch, with three on a tree. I loved the car beyond all reason, and thanked my Dad for picking up a car to help pick up my lads at school. It was Black with a white roof, and it never ever let me down.
We had and I drove a 65 Special to McDonalds as a HS kid in the early 80s. Tough I am almost positive it had a 310 CI wildcat in it. It was fast, in that fairly light car, for those days. Good memories of both. For my family too, growing up, fast food was a rare treat.
310 is the rating in foot-pounds of torque. You had the 2bbl 300″ V8 which had 210 horsepower and 310 ft-lbs of torque. The 4bbl 300″ V8 had 250 horses with 375 ft-lbs and was called the Wilcat 375. The bigger Buick 401″ V8 had 325 horses and 445 ft-lbs and known as the nailhead V8, was labeled Wilcat 445 on the air cleaner. In 1968, Buick started labeling the engines by displacement and carburetor barrels, like the 350-2, 400-4 and 455-4
My family were poor immigrants when I was a kid, so McDonalds was something we went to only for a major event, like a younger brother’s birthday. We never got happy meals or Big Macs, too expensive. One definitely could get more food for the same money, and for us four kids this usually meant splitting a couple of two-cheeseburger meals, a burger apiece and half the fries and soda (unless the refills were free, then I got all the Sunkist I wanted). “Our” McDonalds was across the street from a cemetery, and one of the gravestones just behind the fence said “Hamburger”. We thought this was hilarious.
These days we get McD’s only a few times a year, usually on road trips when I actually want my fast food to be fast. I too noticed that McD is no longer particularly kid friendly, and today’s kids don’t see it as anything special, like my generation did. They are OK with it, but not especially thrilled. They have no clue who Grimace was.
As for the Buick… weeeelll, isn’t that special, as the Church Lady said (another reference the kids wouldn’t get).
Gawd, yeah, that was a thing, wasn’t it! I had my…must’ve been fifth birthday at McDonald’s. I think I had to do a lot of whining for that to happen, but, y’know, the other kids were having their party there…!
Wait, wait…those two are really one?! My world just broke (again, and this after I finally put it back together after learning Karateka is pronounced “car-ah-TAKE-ah” and not “kuh-ROT-eck-uh”). Good grief…looks like it was quite a complicated path to ShowBizzes becoming Chuck E. Cheese’ses, too.
The pizza place I had a subsequent birthday at was Crystal’s Pizza and Spaghetti, comparable to ShowBiz/Chuck E’s. I was a bona fide grownup before I set foot—once—in Casa Bonita, though that was where the cool kids had their birthdays for awhile. I covered my own first trip to McDonald’s in this COAL entry. And yes, Grimmace beats the everlovin’ stuffin’ out of Barney with one hand tied behind his back…or…paw?…er…whatever that is.
If you lived in Maryland, especially around Baltimore, then you would recall going to a fast food hamburger place that looked almost like McDonalds only it was called Gino’s. Gino’s was founded in 1957 by Gino Marchetti, Alan Ameche, Joe Campanella, and Louis Fischer. Gino and Alan were Baltimore Colts. I believe I first went there in 1964 and only there until 1966.
After that we moved to the San Fernando Valley and the first hamburger place we went to was Bob’s Big Boy. I may not have gone to my first McDonalds until 1968. When I got my car I would drive down Navajo Rd. in San Diego to McDonalds as a regular occurrence. The Cougar was always waxed and I loved to throw some bread crumbs on the hood and watch the birds slide from one end to the other and then off. When I pulled my seats out in 2010 to thoroughly clean I ran across a single French Fry.
Absolutely! Here is a picture of our local Gino’s (Fairfax, VA) from about 1976:
I practically lived at our nearby Gino’s in Towson. We all went there after school every day, in middle school. They must have loved us, all the brats from Immaculate Conception. We practically trashed the place.
They had Kentucky Fried Chicken, which was a popular meal at the Niedermeyers when my mother started to fatigue of feeding us boys. A bucket got devoured in no time.
McDonald and Gino’s hamburgers were wasted on me, as I wouldn’t eat ketchup, mustard and mayo. And those cheap frozen hamburgers were crap if ordered dry. For hamburgers I’d go over to the Little Tavern where they sold small burgers for 5 cents, made from fresh ground beef. Much better…
Let me imagine It is 1966 and I am 12 years ago. I access Frederick Rd from my home on Tadcaster and head east. I pass the woods on the north side where the trolley tracks disappear to their shelter. I then pass the library where I tripped on the steps walking down and had a 6oz. coke bottle in my hand. Sliced the left hand open, blood all over the concrete and library floor. Stitches and leave for California two days later. I still have that scar after seeing the muscle hanging out.
I was at the library because school ended at St. Marks grade 7 after four years and it hasn’t changed. Downtown was a restaurant where my father made friends with the owner like he always did. When we moved to Orinda he made friends with the owner of Casa Orinda from 1972-2018. When I took him there for his 90th the owner’ son came out to great him. He was happy. I digress the restaurant downtown had great burgers with even greater sweet pickles. I loved those pickles and those burgers were way better than Gino’s. Look at how sweet pickles are on my mind now. Ah, and Monday, Monday also rings in my mind.
Clancy’s was our local equivalent, as McD’s had no locations nearby. This ad is from 1961. Like I said, my parents did not trust fast food so they did not go there, but I sometimes went with friends.
I always thought Grimace looked like a big gumdrop. Now that I think about it more, my fluffy Persian cat looks a lot like a Grimace when she’s sitting down, save for not being purple. McDonald’s was quite the place, though I think I found more enjoyment there as an adult than as a kid… like the time I went there with this one girl I knew- we were both in our 20’s. We somehow ended up in the McPlayplace, where she proceeded try and ride that curly enclosed slide, and being about 5’10”, her feet almost appeared at the bottom before her arms disappeared at the top. That, and occasionally using the place for free Wi-Fi on road trips.
Never thought much about the Buick Special name, though now that I do, it does seem like something of a good name for a menu item. “I’ll take a Special with cheese, and a V8, thanks.” The pictured one is a sharp looking little sedan, and is a nice size for everyday use.
The thought of your cat having the same shape as Grimace gave me a chuckle. 🙂 And I could totally imagine the scene with you and your lady friend in your 20s at the McPlayplace, as just something funny to do. I miss being of an age when I could get away with fun, wacky things like that. The McPlayplace looked so small about 10 years ago when I was up close to one with family members.
As for Grimace, I remember thinking that Warner Brothers’ Gossamer reminded me of a more threatening Grimace, though looking at the two side-by-side, they don’t really look like each other. Maybe I was simply picking up on the fact they were kind-of formless blobs with faces, arms, and feet on them.
The overall conclusion of ALL these remanences displays just how McDonald’s has gone from a “special occasion” treat, to an everyday necessity for a large part of our
I won’t grimace…though we never had a Buick Special, around this same vintage my Dad bought a new ’65 Olds F85 (though it was a wagon) to replace our ’63 Rambler Classic wagon which was totalled right outside our motel room in Catonsville, MD. Someone waved my Dad through but the person in the other lane didn’t get that message and clobbered the Rambler. My Dad was starting a new job (which is why we were in a motel room in our (former) home town, we were in the process of moving) and somehow (probably flew) to South Burlington, Vt, where he bought the F85 at Val Preda’s on Shelburne Rd.
As a kid (when we owned the F85) of course I liked McDonalds, but up in Burlington there were other choices like the Dilley Wagon and Al’s French Fries. If we did go to McDonalds, it was likely to be during a car trip, but even on those we’d vary, we’d eat at Wendy’s in Clifton Park, NY on our way down to Pennsylvania to visit grandparents, or my Mother was a big on picnics, we’d bring a cooler with us packed with sandwiches and the requisite tablecloth (can’t eat directly on picnic table). Last road trip I made with them was 10 years ago this month when we drove to my Cousin’s wedding from Texas to Pennsylvania; my dear departed Dad was still with us and as he was diabetic we had to carry a cooler for his insulin anyhow, so including sandwiches wasn’t a big addition. The trickier part is finding a place to picnic, not so on the interstates, but we’d venture off of them on connector roads that had “irregularly spaced” picnic tables (nothing fancy, no restroom facility, only a table and a trash can). So even then, we didn’t stop at McDonalds much, only maybe for breakfast (we were in habit of leaving early on our drive, then stopping after an hour or two, for breakfast, often at McDonalds, especially since my Dad liked their coffee). I think he’d even eaten at the original McDonalds way back when.
Wish they still made something like the Special, it is about the size I’d like at my current age, with seating a bit higher than most of the imports, but not so high as a truck or SUV. Almost like they stopped making the “old fogey” mobile before the target audience (us baby boomers) got to be old fogeys, as reluctant to admit it as most of us probably are.