Monday, May 14, 2012

Feature Car: '54 Buick Super- Out of the Stream of Commerce

 This beautiful 1954 Buick Super convertible is a rare car indeed. One of only 3,343 produced that year, it still wears its original color combination of Casino Beige with a matching top and all original interior of two shades of green. It is one sweet Buick. But the story behind it is just as sweet as the car.

In the spring of 1954, Ruth Helm bought the car off the showroom of the  Buick dealer in Hollywood. Both Ruth, who was president of the Hollywood Democratic Club, and her husband Harvey, who was the head writer for the George Burns Show, were repeat Buick customers. Ruth traded in her 1947 Buick convertible. Harvey would buy a new 1955 Century convertible the following year.

The car's current owner, retired GM interior designer Blaine Jenkins, was a student at Art Center at Pasadena when he first laid eyes on the Buick. It was 1955, and he had come west to study automotive design. His mother suggested he look up a college friend of hers that turned out to be Ruth Helm. He became good friends with the Helms, who quickly became almost like an extra set of parents to him. He also took an immediate liking to the Super, and recalls that it was the same color of his Grandfather's new 1955 Super sedan back in Kansas. He recalls driving both the 1954 and 1955 convertibles, including a trip to the VIP opening of Disneyland (George Burns was not without influence) in the 1955.

Blaine kept in touch with the Helms after college and his subsequent move to Detroit to work for General Motors, and visited them on trips to Los Angeles. He continued to communicate with Ruth after Harvey's passing in 1965, and recalls his surprise on a visit in 1968, when he saw a new Electra convertible in Ruth's garage. But sitting next to it, covered with a tarp, was the old 1954 Super. Apparently Ruth hadn't been impressed with the trade allowance the dealer had offered her, and decided to keep it instead.

Ruth's health had declined in the 1970's and one day in 1976 Blaine received a letter from the Helms' attorney advising him that she had passed away and that it was her wish that he should have the old Super. He shipped it to his home in Michigan where it was reconditioned mechanically and repainted in the original Casino Beige color.

When Blaine retired from GM in the 1990s', he moved to Palm Springs bringing the Buick along with him. Absolutely stock except for the addition of a set of accessory wire wheels, it remains in largely original condition today and is a regular visitor to classic car shows in the desert.

The garage wall alongside the Buick is adorned with photographs of the Buick through the years, including several with the Helms. One photo shows Ruth standing behind the brand new Super convertible alongside the highway in Palm Springs. The car now lives minutes away from where the picture was taken. I find it remarkable that after Ruth wrote a check to the dealer for the car brand new in 1954, it has not been resold. She kept it thirty-two years and then willed it to Blaine, who had now had it for thirty-six. Almost sixty years since it has been in the stream of commerce. And Blaine certainly has no plans to ever sell it.

Thanks to Blaine Jenkins for sharing the amazing story of his rare Buick. Hopefully we'll get to see it at the next Reynolds Buick Open House. 

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