Saturday, September 8, 2007
1978 - I'm a 14-year old paperboy, which is something that I did for far too long. Being a long time car nut and already subscribing to Car Craft Magazine, I was on the lookout for that special car. You know the one: Free or Near Free. I was not afraid to get dirty or work on something that wasn't necessarily running. Initially I made a deal for a 1958 Chevy Bel Air owned by one of my paper customers, but somehow the deal fell through and she had sold it when I went to pick it up. Eventually my first car was found sitting for the better part of seven years, in the front of house 5 blocks from my own.
This 1960 Buick LeSabre 2-door hardtop had been purchased as a parts car for restoring a 1960 Buick Invicta. It had a 364 "Nailhead" V8 with a two-barrel carburetor - known in the contemporary circles as "the economy engine" - and a "Twin Turbine Dynaflow" transmission. The Invicta's restoration was never done and the car was eventually sold to my buddy Curt (he still has the car from what I'm told). LeSabre simply sat. Fifty dollars later it was mine. My dad insisted that I pay for it myself; to this day I'm glad he did, because it truly instilled a sense of value in me. We hauled it home on the end of a rope tied to our station wagon; thankfully we didn't have to go far because I couldn't imaging hauling it any farther than that. Two hours later it was coughing to life. Now the real work started.
The car needed a number of things (hey, it was fifty bucks -- what DIDN'T it need?). The muffler was blown out, the intake manifold had a huge leak, the tires were bald, and the interior looked like threadbare turmoil. But the doggone thing ran, and it ran pretty well. My memory says the car only had about 100,000 miles on it. The bumpers were straight and the trim, with the exception of the driver's side spear, was also decent.
Within a couple of months, my measly paperboy income was getting the Buick closer to being a dependable car. I was still to young to drive, even on a Washington Learner's Permit, so my Dad was happy enough to drive it to work. I think he liked the car more than I did. Together, we discovered in many ways that this was an unusual car. In 1978, unless you were looking for tune-up parts, replacement stuff for `60 Buicks was near impossible to find. I can't imagine restoring one of these today; it would have to be true and pricey devotion!
Once I got my driver's license, I was in heaven. All the time and effort I had put into repairing things, tracking down parts, and bartering goods & services had finally shown its value. I put a bunch of miles on the car and it really was dependable. The engine always purred and its road manners were wonderful. It just cruised! It also leaked transmission fluid out of the front seal.
This car had a transmission called a Twin Turbine Dynaflow; it had two forward gears but used only one in regular driving. The torque converter had two stall speeds, and used them depending on how much throttle was applied. Essentially it was a 4-speed automatic if you put the right mix of throttle and shifter together. Pretty slick, but also pretty old, pretty heavy, and pretty wet from a dried up front seal.
Add to the dilemma the fact that the driveline was encased in a Safety Tube from the back of the trans to the differential. My Dad and I had neither the ability or the place to remove a 600-pound transmission plus encased driveline. So I sold it in 1981 to get a car that I could work on -- a `65 Chevy. That Chevy ended up needing more repairs than the Buick ever did. Oh well; you live and learn.
And I still miss my Buick.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Classic movie lovers may already recognize this car. A young couple gets pounced and pounded in the original Mad Max movie while driving their `59 Chevy four-door sedan through The Outback. The car was essentially turned to scrap while the cameras rolled. I own this movie on both laser disc and DVD. It's hard to watch when you love a `59 like I do. Mad Max Movies states that the car "was on the way to ruin" at the time of filming. For years I have accepted that this `59 was a goner no matter what...until I received an email from Ken James, a previous owner of this very car.
As he tells it, this `59 was actually a decent ride:
"Back in 1977, after catching a train from Melbourne to Sydney to visit my parents, I quickly grew to hate trains and intended to buy a car to make the trip back to Melbourne. A very quick look in the newspaper and I found a Chevrolet advertised for sale on that weekend only. I telephoned the owner who informed me that the car was too big for him in the city and he wants to get rid of it. 2 hours later I was standing there looking at a '59 Impala 4-Door. It was the original Grey in colour and appeared to be in immaculate condition. A deal was struck and I purchased the car on the spot for $120.Truly sad. If we put this into context with time, it's no surprise that it was destroyed since `59s weren't as well loved as they are now. Incidentally I created a t-shirt based on a screen capture of this car. It's available through the Chevy59.com Store.
Back in Melbourne I soon realised the enormous cost of fuel to keep this beast running! Even though I really loved the Chev, I decided it was time to get a more economical car and traded it in on a Holden. I was given $250 for the trade-in. It wasn't until a week later when friends told me I could have sold the Chev for at least $1000 as they are rare in Australia. I returned to the car yard to purchase the Chev back again only to be told that a Movie production company had bought it. Because I worked in television at the time it wasn't hard for me to find out who was making a movie with a '59 Chev in it. I contacted the company only to be told the car had been destroyed! It was used in the movie 'Mad Max' and had been painted in a flame job and was chopped up by axe wielding Bikers!!!
And contrary to reports, the car was in very good condition when I traded it in. A sad ending for a beautiful car, but at least it's demise has been immortalised on film for the world to see."
Monday, September 3, 2007
The `59 Chevy & boat connection is back in this scenic ad! Color Code is 989 - Satin Beige / Cameo Coral two-tone. Small "V" on the hood denotes the 283 V8. I don't see a life preserver in sight for any of the five family members. Glad to see however that Mom thought of scarves for her and little Greta. Surely Dad and Mom will save all three children when their overloaded canoe flips in the middle of the water!