Curbside Classic: 1969 Buick Special DeLuxe Wagon – Not So Very Special In 1969

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(first posted 7/5/2013)    I should have a “CAUTION – I Brake For Curbside Classics” sign on the back of my car; it’s spotting cars like this that’s going to get me rear-ended one of these days:  An original survivor, and from my formative school years no less. This is a perfect example of the near-invisible cars that were everywhere back then; in parking lots at school, church and the shopping centers, and of course in driveways and on the streets. Yes, we kept our eyes peeled for the rare Buick GS 400 and utterly ignored these, except of course when copping a ride to somewhere other than school. And then we only got into (or on the rear bumper of) a certain Special wagon only because it beat walking.

Buick SportWagon 1969

If it had been a nicely decked-out Sport Wagon, I would have been all over it. The cooolest wagon if its time, along with its twin, the Olds Vista Cruiser.

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But a lowly Special in that ubiquitous color (Trumpet Gold?) that 69% of GM cars came in during those years: Blahhh. I’ll get in if that’s the only choice on tap, like if that senior with the bright red ’68 GTO ignored my thumb…and then undoubtedly along with a half dozen other sophomores.

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And if it’s a real crowd, some are going to have to crawl into the rear compartment. Of course the Special has no third seat; that’s why the sports Wagon existed; with its stretched wheelbase and raised roof, it had a forward facing third seat, no less. That was traveling in (relative) style; not third class Special class. Beats walking; barely…

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It’s not like the rear seat is all that roomy either; why didn’t Steve’s parents buy a proper full-size wagon? Probably for the same reason we had a Coronet wagon:

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Because all-too many parents are a cruel combination of narcissism and cheapness. Let’s face it: these mid-sized wagons were a more pleasant car to drive for Mom (or Dad), not quite the oversized whale to park or such, and they certainly drove nicely enough. GM’s A Bodies-on-frame undoubtedly were smoother riding and quieter than the unibody mid-sizers at Ford and Chrysler.  And the accommodations for the driver were reasonable adequate, even if not for a horde of stinky fifteen year-old boys in the tail end of their growth spurts.

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Under the hood, Buick’s 350 V8 (in two-barrel form, natch, unless you were a very special Special buyer) provided a buttery-smooth flow of torque for the normal jobs at hand (when Mom was driving), and gave it the old college-prep try even for the abnormal ones, like when the car’s owner’s son turned sixteen, drove it to school, and then headed up Chestnut Avenue with a number of “Men of Loyola” standing on the rear bumper and two sitting on the roof. The 3:35 express to Mid-town Towson is now leaving Gate 3 – All Aboard!

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But Buick’s fine V8 deserved better than to be mated to the obsolete two-speed Un-Super Turbine 300 transmission. 1969 would be the last year this indignity would be foisted on this engine in the mid-sized cars. The Sports Wagon was spared this insult, and the excellent THM 350 was also available in Specials, but for a higher premium. A column-mounted three-speed manual was standard, and if Steve’s mom’s Special wagon had had one, I would have had a hard time deciding (back then) if that was really cool or really lame. Probably the latter, at least for a couple more years. So what does this one have? Did its owner spring for a THM?

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Hell no. I bet every Special Deluxe (there was no more just plain “Special”) that wasn’t special-ordered had the ST-300. No wonder the Stevemobile’s engine was hitting the higher registers as it labored with its burden at some 55-60 mph in front of Pickersgill Retirement Community (where my mother now resides). I don’t seem to remember it ever shifting into Hi before the drum brakes were summoned to duty in time for the STOP at Joppa Road. At least not with a proper load on board.

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But it seems to have survived, and somehow found its way to Eugene, where a certain Brian picked it up at an estate sale, with visions of doing a bit of “hot rodding” on it.

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For whatever reason (his wife?), that seems not to be in the cards now, and you can now relive my memories for yourself for a mere $2500 (or less, hints Brian). Of course, he might be happy if it didn’t sell either: honey, nobody wants the Buick; I guess I’m stuck with it…

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I don’t want to buy it; I’d just like to have a ride on that back bumper one more time, hanging on to the insides of the open rear window for dear life, wondering if that damn transmission was ever going to shift into Hi.

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