Debbie and I try to do a fast four mile one hour walk every day after she gets home from work and on week ends. Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night will stay us from these hand holding rounds, but icy sidewalks and hot, humid, temperatures sometimes do.
Walking in the dark isn’t too dangerous, but dusk can be. We both got gently knocked down a year ago by a turning Scion xA on a near-dusk evening, and that prompted us to buy high-visibility orange and yellow jackets. Of course that’s a story for another post.
I am always scanning the streets and curbs for: (A) turning Scions, and (B) the beloved shapes of curbside classics, but I was surprised when a CC from my early childhood and actual family fleet rounded a blind corner that we were approaching and confronted us with a front end from my first automotive stirrings.
Debbie knew this was an old and odd visage from the past and I was about to tell her all about it.
Few people are indifferent to the 1950 Buick grill. Some love it (like I do) and many others think of it as the essence of automotive excess, kind of like recent Acura can-opener beaks or the current Lexus and now Toyota predator maws.
Such grills seem to be an acquired taste. Like green olives, gin martinis, or 1958 Oldsmobiles.
I never drove the family’s dark green over light green 1950 Buick Rivera hardtop (no B pillar) coupe legally on the road, but I did run it up and down the driveway of our Rockville Centre Long Island home and at the less space restricted (in the winter) parking lot of the Freeport Yacht Club.
Dynaflow, no power steering, no power brakes, huge steering wheel, and a cloud like suspension made the Buick a delight in my unskilled 13 year old hands. From the outside, it sounded like an old cabin cruiser and accelerated in the same manner. Rev the engine to a set RPM and the craft would eventually get to a ground speed that matched the engine speed, eventually being the key descriptor. For faster take offs, move the short, black tipped chrome Dynaflow lever to the “L” of the P-N-D-L-R selector strip and hit the gas. The big Buick would then squat in the rear and move with alacrity, where alacrity means: “promptness in response or cheerful readiness”. Relatively speaking of course.
The nose dive on braking was as dramatic as the rear squat on acceleration.
The Buick’s motor hood opened from either side like “really” old cars. Each side had both a hinge and a latch.
This surprise CC was in the slow flow of vehicles leaving an afternoon girl’s soccer game at the Basking Ridge high school. When it appeared from around the corner my animated response was not lost on the driver, and he slowed to a stop and attempted to move closer to the curb so as to not impede the flow of soccer mom SUVs, CUVs, BMWs, and Audis. I know … I know, soccer moms are supposed to drive minivans, but these are thin on the ground at our high school. However, minivans are still plentiful at the elementary and middle school lots. I have a theory about this, perhaps in another post or, more likely, in some comments.
The driver of this beauty was a pleasant fellow named Matt and he was still in the process of doing a full on-frame restoration. The entire car, inside and out, was sprayed in an attractive dark red, including the dashboard and the uncovered interior roof panel (new headliner not yet installed). The tan upholstery was newly and neatly done, and most of the instruments and the huge original radio showed their chrome nicely against the shiny red dash. Matt told us he could channel his iPhone music through the old 6 volt tube radio.
This Buick had about 67,000 miles on the odometer.
Because the traffic flow was still heavy and the Buick was partially impeding it, we thanked Matt for his time and told him he had a beauty. He told us he was planning to give the finished vehicle to his father.
The only thing missing from this Buick was the engraved letters B_U_I_C_K E_I_G_H_T centered on the grill’s top chromed bar, some rocker panel paint, a headliner, and some trim. The big radio’s five station buttons spelled B-U-I-C-K, just as I remember from way back when.
It was odd to see what I once considered to be a giant of the road looking so small, even fragile, as modern, and to my eyes bloated, 7 passenger SUVs and CUVs squeezed past it with one tiny soccer player passenger in the right front passenger seat looking down at her (remember, girls soccer) smart phone. Of course boys do this as well. None of these young people, nor their parental chauffeurs, seemed to notice the strange and elegant red car as they passed.
As Matt drove away, I noticed the Buick leaning to the left, a sign of worn driver’s side springs that affected many cars back then, even when these vehicles were not too old. I recall installing twist-in coil spring “spacers” on the left side of my 1953 Chrysler convertible so it would ride level. They’re still available on Amazon!
Debbie said she loved the way I reacted to seeing this Buick. Sometimes we find CCs, and sometimes CCs find us. Debbie’s sharing of my excitement with this CC reminds me how lucky I am that we found each other back in 2005.
Less than a week later, Debbie’s beloved 2005 Honda Element needed a new alternator, so on a Saturday morning I followed her to the local garage in the Tacoma to drop off the Element and lo and behold, we saw another red CC nosed into a parking spot at the garage.
I am not an expert on post war Chevrolets, but the license plate frame said “1949 Chevrolet”, so I proudly strutted my stuff and said “look, a 49 fast back”. This model was also known as a Fleetline, but I did not know that until I Goggled it later. These fast back Chevrolets never appealed to me back then, but now they seem quite attractive in a 1954 Bentley R-Type Continental Fastback type of way.
This bare bones car with minimal exterior decorations was fully restored with a sharp red and white leather-like interior. The mechanic working on it said it had about 36,000 miles on the odometer. It was in for a tune up (hard starting) and to fix a driver’s door latch mechanism that had suffered metal fatigue.
Metal fatigue is an issue as time passes. When a car gets really old, the strangest things can fail. The number of times that driver’s door has been opened and closed may not be a lot, but 68 years of physical slamming and maybe a dearth of white grease, can make metal tired. That’s why most aircraft frames (especially the wings) have a clearly defined expiration date pending refurbishment.
There’s also something called mental fatigue, but I forget what I was going to say about that.
I described to Debbie how the three speed column shift worked and that it had no synchromesh on first gear. But since Debbie’s earliest cars were: (1) a Type 1 mid 60s Beetle, (2) a similar Karmann Ghia, and (3) a Simca Chambord, and (4) a Borgward Isabella coupe (all I believe to be fully synchronized), it seemed odd to her that American cars would not be so equipped. While this is a 1949 model, my 1961 Comet and my friend’s 1963 F85, also lacked a synchronized first gear. The Borgward did have four on the tree, so she knew the basic and long reaching gymnastics required for column shifting.
When we picked up the repaired Element the 49 fast back was being readied for delivery to the owner, so I was able to get better photos. Below is a photo where we first found the fast back. Talk about size differences; that red Fleetline is a full size Chevrolet way deep inside that parking spot.
Wow I thought, two red CCs in one week. Just the thought of these classics still plying the local roads, even if not as daily drivers like those found elsewhere, made me happy. Even better, these two finds were not the overly popular body styles of hardtop coupes and convertibles that one often sees at car shows. These were classics of a plainer type that were normally used up by a string of increasingly younger and less affluent owners, and then discarded when a needed but expensive repair reared its ugly head.
About one week after we saw the red Chevy fast back, while on an early beat-the-heat Saturday morning walk, we ran into red CC number three.
It was certainly not a plain old conservative grocery getting sedan.
A 1959 (or 1960 – they were quite similar) 4 speed Roman red over black interior with white coves Corvette. This was the stuff of teenage dreams in my day, and probably still is today for many. I know it was not a 1958 because there was a shelf under the passenger dash cove grab handle and there were no [fake] vents on the motor hood.
Actually, it may be a 1960 if the seats are original because the seat pleats run up and down rather than side to side as in the 1959. To be honest, I just learned this seat pleat detail from http://vettefacts.com/C1/1959.aspx as I wrote this article.
It was perfect, even if it was missing the front right wheel cover.
It did not have Powerglide and it wasn’t a three speed, so I am going to guess it had more than the base 283 cu. in. 230 hp engine. Or not. However, even a Powerglide 230 hp Corvette was much faster than most cars of its era, including a 1957 four-barrel and Torqueflite equipped Desoto Fireflite convertible. I think I heard, or read, about such a contest a long time ago, on a ocean bordering parkway far, far away.
Chevrolet’s 327 cu. in. engine did not arrive in Corvettes until the 1962 duck-tailed model, which was the last of the C1s.
The driver of this open Corvette was nowhere to be seen, so we walked around it like sharks circling a victim, took some photos, and proceeded on our way.
Half a mile later the Vet with the missing right front wheel cover cruised past us heading north and emitting a gentle V8 burble.
Just think, three red beauties from the era of my youth in about two weeks time. That may not seem unusual to some of you whippersnappers, but remember, I was born in 1944. Most of the cars of my youth only lasted 7 or 8 years and were then melted down (well maybe not the Corvette) to make the “new” 1960 models.
Debbie and I are keeping our eyes peeled for CC number 4, red or not.
These widely varying automotive relics are all dream cars to me. No thoughts in this post were wasted on their outdated driving manners, high and frequent maintenance schedules, or lack of modern safety features. Not even for one minute. Because, there’s fantasy and reality. Sometimes they come together, but often they do not. So I try to enjoy the fantasy of these rolling classics and leave their reality for someone else to handle.
Postscript on the C1:
The allure of the Corvette in the early 1960s probably had something to do with the TV drama “Route 66”. This certainly was my favorite B&W TV show and the four headlight art deco face of these C1s and Nelson Riddle’s theme music are forever etched in my mind as symbols of a free-wheeling life of fast cars and interesting people.
Years later, the following generation would discover the Grateful Dead, endless travel, and old school buses, but Martin Milner and George Maharis were there first.
Paul N. wrote up a cohort 1950 Buick piece here, and J P Cavanaugh described a 1952 Buick here
Paul N. did an article on a cohort 1949 Fleetline here, and a 1952 Styleline here.
Paul N. has a (not quite) NSFW post on the ducktail C1 and Marilyn Monroe here.
Joseph Dennis turned his quick draw and expertly handled camera onto a retro-mod ducktail C1 here.
And, Paul N. wrote about a cohort 1958 C1 in NYC here.
It is hard to think of any “full-size” Buick or Chevrolet being small, but there you are. I get that same hemmed in feeling sometimes in my Mustang, especially if I’m parked between two SUVs or pickups.
An older guy across the street (he was a senior in high school when I was a freshman) had one of those fastback Chevies. His had been modified by the installation of a 327 V8 and four speed from some wrecked Corvette. In addition it had been painted a dark shade of green and the seats covered in black vinyl; to my young eyes it really looked sharp. I got the impression that the added power from the 327 made it easy to overload the suspension and the stock brakes were marginal. Alas Larry ended up selling the car when he went away to school and I never saw it again.
I noticed the size contrast created by current sized vehicles just last weekend parking downtown at one of our local brew pubs.
Parking on the block is angled, like where the Corvette was. Last summer I bought a 1992 W124 300E and I use it on weekends just for fun. It is relatively tiny (and especially thin) and just slips in those spots, with plenty of clearance on either side. I like that but there certainly is a visibility problem backing out with a tall SUV or a F-250 on the right side.
The Fleetline is handsome to these eyes though I prefer it with fender skirts. A Fleetline always seemed to me rarer than the contemporary Chevy with a regular roofline.
Nice! I wonder if the Buick owner drove it from Vermont on I-91 or VT-22A to I-87 (the New York Thruway); the latter would’ve been a great combination of the roads the Buick was built for and the roads that were built for cars like the Buick, but the former is more likely since I’d remember it if it was in any Burlington area shows.
Well R L, I love your writing and when I get pictures of great cars it’s just a bonus.
I love those Chevy Fleetlines. I remember that a friend of the high school kids across the street drove one of these in the very early 70s. I always thought one of these would make a great high school car, although they were over 25 years old by the time I was in that demographic.
On that Buick, please make mine a 49 or a 51-52. That 50 grille was just . . . yeah. That is one of the cars I can remember seeing for the first time in a picture and wondering what they had been thinking. I missed a chance for a lunchtime ride in a Buick convertible with a Dynaflow one day about 20 years ago when I was out of the office.
A guy who works part time at the local Ace hardware, drives a 1961 Corvette to work. His is very nice and silver over red.
I knew I had some original sales material. I dug it out and gave it to him. He stated that another hardware customer gave him a 1961 Corvette owner’s manual, which he did not have. I’d rather give my old car material to someone who drives those models than to let it rot away, or to sell it on Flea Bay.
Yup, I can appreciate that Buick. And the need for reflective vests for evening walks (although I haven’t done that yet)
One of the problems we found in our last years of teenager sports was that with more and more soccer and waterpolo parents driving bigger and bigger SUVs with less and less interior space we found ourselves doing the carpool run more often. The 10 year old Caravan soldiers on because the new SUV can’t hold enough kids…
How times have changed. Back when dinosaurs walked the earth our Little League coach, Mr. Mason, would sometimes take 10-12 kids with him to practice or games. Two would ride in the cab and the rest of us would arrange ourselves in the bed as comfortably as possible. That would likely get you in very deep trouble today.
Love your writing, the cars, and the fact that you’ve found your soul mate. What a great reading to start the day!
I can relate to all three of these cars in someway.
I’ve owned a few cars that were CCs by the time I owned them. On one of my old car hunts, I went to look at a then 35 year old dark blue over light blue Buick hardtop coupe. It was a 1950 model, or possibly give or take a year. A weather beaten original, I was intimidated by the issues of supporting such an old car, and moved along. Probably very restorable, I could have had it for maybe a thousand bucks, and it would be worth how much now?
My dad’s first car was a black 1949 Chevy Deluxe two door notch sedan with fender skirts. A handsome devil that he still speaks fondly of. I never saw the car, but I’ve seen at least one picture of it.
My sister and BIL had a long time neighbor that had a red / white Corvette very similar to the car you captured in pictures. He moved a few years ago, but came back to visit the old neighborhood when we were visiting my sister this summer. He was driving his Corvette, and I got the see that beauty one more time.
Regarding the minivan comment: We are fortunate to live in a very successful moderate size suburban school district. We are on the home stretch with our kids, one in college, two in high school – a freshman and a senior. We have been very active in the schools, K-12.
We had a minivan in the early years, a 1999 Chrysler Town & County (what else in those years?). When the kids were old enough to start having opinions, they were not crazy about minivans. After some years of driving a metal box around, we were ready for something else. And, with the kids old enough for us to feel safe, we bought a boat and eventually a companion jet-ski. We do a lot of towing and have to deal with steep and slippery boat ramps, not to mention snow and no excuses work commitments during inclement weather.
We were done with the minivan before the kids were out of grade school, and have had SUVs, CUVs, and a truck ever since. Our first “car” in 22 years was a 2015 Dodge Dart we bought for our college daughter.
I see similar stories repeated throughout our neighborhood.
I love the clean lines of that ’49 Chevy. It may have been a low-end model in its time, but it’s pure art from today’s perspective.
The first generation Corvette was never a favorite of mine until a couple years ago when my other half discovered reruns of Route 66 on one of those all-vintage-all-day networks during a period of temporary unemployment. His newly discovered interest in mid-century Americana, coupled with a nearly unhealthy, but rather comical obsessive attraction to George Maharis meant that I caught quite a few episodes, like it or not. The design grew on me and changed my opinion of it through those old black and white shows, much the same way George wormed his way into someone else’s psyche.
As an aside, as a transplant from NJ, it strikes me that this particular ‘Vette isn’t wearing “QQ” plates. Makes one think it might actually be used for regular duty driving on nice days rather than being just a garage queen. Good for that owner.
I see you’re from Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Is R.L. Plaut related to L.S. Plaut, who ran a department store in Newark on Broad Street from 1870-1923? It was called “The Bee Hive.”
” Is R.L. Plaut related to L.S. Plaut …?”
Probably not. There were a lot of Plauts in Brooklyn in those days (including my father) but my branch was ejected from the fold when he married a blue eyed French blonde fashion model who was outside my grandparents religion. There is a computer consulting company in Vienna called Plaut Aktiengesellschaft, but my only connection to them is that I often wear one of their baseball hats given to me by a friend.
Always been a fan of the fastback Chevys. Still want one, with a 265 truck six.
The dad of a friend of mine in elementary school was the popular daytime DJ at the local AM station, back when that really meant something. It obviously paid pretty well, as they lived in a brand new MCM house with lots of glass overlooking the river, and he drove a ’60 Corvette, in red/white, of course. I was a bit disappointed to see it had the three speed and the base 283. Oh well, it looked great and sounded good, as he burbled by our house on the way to and from work.
Thanks RLPLAUT for sharing your wonderful finds. Everyone of my generation can remember these Vettes, but we grew up without TV in my younger years, so I’m not sure I’ve ever seen even one episode of Route 66. I associate Martin Milner with Adam12, which had its own cast of CC’s. But I did have closer encounters with this generation of Buick and Chevy. A friend of my mom’s got divorced when I was quite young, and presumably she got the family’s car – perhaps the husband decided to upgrade – but didn’t know how to drive. So my mom taught her to drive in the 1950-ish Buick, 4 door sedan, black or dark brown and very somber, while I rode in the back, hanging onto the robe sash. This was probably around 1960-61 and the car seemed pretty dated by then, it to mention hugely different than our family’s Volvo 544. As for the Chevy, was never a fan back when these were still common sights, but they’re certainly attractive now. A neighbor had one when we lived in Seattle for the summer of ’63, and washed it every weekend in their driveway. I was only 6, but “knew” that a similar vintage Ford was “better” because it had a V8. I don’t think I noticed the relationship at the time, but the Chevy does look like a stretched and lowered version of the 544.
By the way, this CC sucked me into watching an episode of Route 66 on YouTube. A CC’ers delight! One scene in Boston showed two Ramblers nose to tail and an MG Magnette in the background.
I agree with dman. Route 66 was filmed on the road, literally.
I love the Fleetline, RL, that is a beautiful find. I had a model of one when I was a kid, it got lost in some moves. Excellent writeup as always!
A few guys brought a “fastback” (I think it was actually a Oldsmobile verson) to Bonneville thinking the smooth shape would result in some nice top speeds. It turned out to produce a lot of lift, since it is really just an upside down wing. We learned a valuable aerodynamic lesson that day.
I had a ’50 Super sedan in the early 80’s as a DD, One wasn’t “supposed” to start in “L” as bad things were sure to happen to the early Dynaflows if you made a habit of such “hot rod” driving ?. Either way the stately “acceleration” wasn’t an issue as we had tolerate the infamous Parkway East (Pittsburgh) reconstruction then. If you’re stuck with being at a dead stop all morning with an occasional “burst” to about 25Mph, There’s worse placed to be than in an early 50’s GM “C” body!? To think that brand new cars of the day are now older than my ’50 was then is sobering!
“The nose dive on braking was as dramatic as the rear squat on acceleration.”
Both would be much ado about nothing.
Metal fatigue is a real issue. For the GM cars we ran as taxis, the real limit was around 600,000 km. After that it would get difficult to keep the front end in life, for example. Hinges break, hardware fails. It is a lot easier, in fact, to swap out a THM350 than rebuild a driver’s seat.
GM stuff was never that straight to begin with. Have a look at the shims to position doors, for example, and shims in the front end. After a while, it was just a waste of effort to try to fix them.
I prefer the later Buicks where the grille bars stay above the bumper. The grille above reminds me of an exoskeleton.
Wonderful memories. It really has a lot to do with who you knew (i.e., what they drove, and bought, and sold) back then, as ever. The fastback Chevy (what my college roommate from Maine called a “little Chevy”) is very nice, thank you. The almost prewar steering wheel and VW-simple dash display are a bit of a surprise.
We’ve been talking elsewhere about GM styling a the other end of the decade, and the price scale; this little (full-sized) sedan has styling issues too: the rear wheel arch was clearly designed not to match or harmonize with the front one, but to suit a desirable (horizontal) fender skirt — a mandatory “accessory” for this series ?
Great post. But the Art Dec reference is completely wrong. Look it up.
What “Art Dec” reference? Where?
Too late to edit. Art Deco.
I was able to work that out.
So where exactly does he make a reference to “Art Deco”? I’m not seeing it, but maybe I’m going blind.
When I was a young boy, cars like this red Buick and the fastback Chevy were still around. I l liked Buicks, but the grille of the fifty just didn’t look nearly as nice as the forty-nine. And, the Chevy fastbacks seemed old. When I found this car for sale, I knew right away that I was going to buy it. I always tell people that some of the cars I own are ones that no one else would want. I wanted this car because you just don’t see them anymore. Some of you guys might know what it is. I’m not going to tell all, but almost. I believe that fewer than six thousand of them were built. Like the Chevy Fleetline, it’s a ’49 and it’s a Model 76 Town Sedan. Because so many collector cars have vanity plates with the year and make on them, I thought that if I ever did get a vanity plate, mine would say U-GUESS.
The 1949 Cadillac Sedanette was the inspiration for the beautiful Bentley R-Type Continental fastback. so the Chevy resemblance is understandable.
The 1950 Buick grille teeth could be bought and replaced individually, making minor damage easy on the pocketbook.
I haven’t read the comments yet, but seeing that photo of Buz and Todd in the Corvette made me wonder – did George Maharis ever have any better luck than Kent McCord, in getting Marty Milner to let him drive?