Monday, January 30, 2012

Quince Buicks de Cuba

They're called Yank Tanks by the locals, giant American cars that were imported into Cuba during the waning hours of the Batista regime of the 1950's- and Buick was an especially popular make a that time.  Castro's rise to power in 1959 marked the end of private car ownership, but those who already owned cars were allowed to keep them. The total cessation of trade with the United States made replacement parts all but impossible.

Nonetheless American cars of the fifties are everywhere in Cuba. Brightly colored, in a wide range of conditions, kept on the road with a mixture of Cuban ingenuity and Russian parts. Many of them work as Taxis and are preferred by the tourists over the newer, duller cabs, none of which are privately owned.

A scholar I know describes them as "Frankenstein Cars."- sewn together out of discarded parts. I prefer Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors" as a theme. But either way, they are a very colorful part of Cuba today.

So just for fun, here are fifteen colorful examples of Fifties Buicks on the streets of Cuba today- "Quince Buicks de Cuba", if you will:
A 1957 Buick  speeds along a Cuban highway

A 1952 Buick rolls along ahead of a modern Taxi. 

A rare 1958 Opel, sold by Buick dealers.

This 1950 Buick Super is brightly painted.

A 1953 Buick Special Sedan appears intact.

Another 1953 Buick Special Sedan

A 1951 Buick on a rural highway

A 1958 Buick Special Sedan

This 1951 Buick is lovingly maintained

A 1958 Buick Special lost in thought

A 1956 Buick Century in a seaside setting

A colorful 1955 Special

A 1951 Buick in daily service as a Taxi

A 1959 Buick with the Sports Roof alongside the boardwalk in Havana

Friday, January 27, 2012

Red and Ready: Our 1959 Invicta

We wrote about this one in some detail last November. Our 1959 Tampico Red Invicta, the first of the Reynolds Racers and the one that started it all. Called "The Winningest Buick of All Time," this car accumulated an astonishing 132 trophies in its career before being retired in 1961. On its first run, the Tampico Red finned beauty turned a 15.0 at 90 mph. With milled heads and a 4.44 rear end, the time dropped to 14.70 at 93 mph.

The car that we regret we were so busy making history, we didn't do a good job of recording it. Before this picture arrived this week, we'd never even seen it in color before. But here it is indeed, brand new and bright red, at Pomona Dragway in early 1959.

The young fellow crouched beside the car is legendary tuner and Reynolds Buick's longtime friend Jim Bell. Behind the wheel is the legendary Pop Kennedy. One wonders how many of the 132 trophies they accumulated that weekend. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Buicks with the Barris Touch

It's no secret that King of the Kustomizers George Barris' first car was a Buick, a 1925 Buick roadster passed down from family when he was just a teenager. But it would be a few years later when his touch would create some very special ones. This 1941 Buick convertible featured flow through fenders and a Cadillac grille. It helped young Barris get noticed, in fact he featured it on his business card. Many chopped and channeled "Kustoms" followed.

After the era of the chopped and channeled "lead sleds", Barris made quite a few customs for movies. This caught the attention of Buick Motor Division itself, who provided him with a new 1963 Riviera to customize. The result was the "Villa Riviera", a frost white custom which was used in the movie "For Those Who Think Young", featuring a young Nancy Sinatra.

After the movie was completed, Barris changed the color to Translucent Cherry. It seems much sportier in the red hue. But Barris wasn't completely satisfied and kept experimenting. Note the open roof section and the extended fenders. The headlamps are concealed behind the fender ends.

Here's the Villa Riviera again, this time wearing a Cherry and White scalloped paint treatment. The wheels have also been changed. It may have been more successful in solid Cherry.

Speaking of successful, AMT was so impressed with the Villa Riviera that they featured it as a build option for their 1963 Riviera 1/25 Scale Model. Note the groovy 1960's graphics.

The Buick Wildcat Mystique began as a 1965 Wildcat hardtop. The roof is chopped, the hood and front fenders are stretched, the rear deck is lengthened, and the bumpers are replaced by rolled pans. The hand made bar grilles front and rear complete the custom effect.

Note the rear grille effect, the W shape, and the lowered roofline. The styling accentuates the original Buick lines to their dramatic pinnacle. The interior is basically stock with some wood trim and upgraded audio added.

The color is pretty attention-getting too. It's finished in 40 coats of Apricot Pearl, and these Tangerine scallops were added shortly after completion. It was reportedly made for a movie actor, although that had not been confirmed and Barris' book makes no mention of the client.

And this is a great shot- George Barris, wife Shirley and children Joji and Brett pose in the driveway of their Lake Encino home with a very special 1966 Riviera. Built again for Buick, the car is painted in Gold Tangerine Murano Pearl and features an ASC Sun Roof, special wheels, and red line tires. It was used promotionally and helped Buick dealers such as Reynolds popularize the Sun Roof.

Of course, George Barris built many interesting custom and movie cars over the years, including the Batmobile, the Monkeemobile and other truly legendary cars, but we think its interesting that he got his reputation going with Buicks, and he certainly did some great custom Buicks in the sixties.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fast Friday: The Machines: 1967 GS-340 and GS-400

Last week we took at look at the Deluxe Buick Brochure for 1967, which was a grandly over-the-top production featuring supermodels, sports legends, Hollywood celebrities and a very unusual format for showcasing the 1967 Buick models. But aside from Riviera, which had its own section, the magazine didn't do a good job of presenting each model. That may be why this unique format was never used again, and why a special Gran Sport Brochure was quickly rushed to Buick dealers.

When we say rushed, we meant it. Buick had a brand new entry in the performance segment- the GS-340. It had all of the sportiness of the Gran Sport, but was based on the 340 engine instead of the 400. That made it more affordable and brought it into the range of a more budget minded class of buyer who liked the sporty looks and image but wasn't looking to come up against Pop Kennedy on a Saturday. The unusual thing about the brochure is that the copy above the GS-340 refers instead to the GS-400. Snob appeal? Copywriter pass out at his desk? Out and out mistake? An interesting mystery, to say the least.

Back to the car for a moment, the distinctive red side stripe was GS-340 only, as were the red wheels. Body color was limited to White or Platinum Mist. Buick wisely maintained a visual distinction with between the big and little brothers.

What had been the Gran Sport was now the GS-400. It's 400 cubic inch engine produced 340 horsepower and was offered with a three speed manual, four speed manual, or Super Turbine. Unlike the GS-340, it was available in three body styles- the pillared coupe, two-door hardtop, or this sexy convertible. Now we see that the copy above the GS-400 does note the introduction of the GS-340, so the whole thing might be deliberate. But it still seems like an error in layout to us.

Now some of the details on GS-340. It came with the 4 bbl version of the 240 engine, so it had 260 HP instead of the base 220. It offers the 3 speed manual or Two Speed Automatic transmission, no 4 speed stick here. And while it has some of the GS-400 chassis mods, such as the front stabilizer bar and firmer shocks and spring rates, to get the full GS suspension effect, there was the optional Sport Pak which included rear stabilizer, quicker steering, and even heavier duty springs and shocks.

The GS-400 was all GO. The new 400 cubic inch engine featured a 4 bbl carburetor and Buick's awesome "Star Wars" air cleaner with dual intakes. The three speed transmission is standard, a four speed manual is offered as well as a three speed automatic. All GS-400 models feature beefed up suspension, quick ratio steering, stabilizer bars and bigger brakes.

The interiors reflected the cars' character as well. The GS-340 offered a practical all vinyl bench seat interior in black only. The standard GS-400 had a vinyl bench as well, but with more elaborate seat styling and richer door panels in a choice of black or dove.

And here we see the optional bucket seat interior with the also optional operating console. A very handsome interior, it was offred in the pillared coupe and coupe in black, dove, blue, yellow, or aqua. In the GS-400 convertible, it came in black, blue, red, or yellow. Very stylish and sporty, indeed, especially with the console.

And here we have the back cover. All of the '67 back covers were exceptionally clean, with just a modified version of Buick's legendary slogan. For 1967, they added "Still true"to the tagline. It was.

So there was have the Gran Sport Story for 1967. Or do we? next time we'll take a look at a treat for the Golden State only.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Secrets of the Buick Bible

There are almost fifty years worth of history in this worn ledger. It was used to keep track of the Buick Company Owned cars in service, which means that every time the Los Angeles Zone put a company owned vehicle on the road, it is recorded in this book. Most of the entries were made by Phil Vogel, Buick's longtime Company Car Coordiantor. Phil called the notebook his "Buick Bible", and never let it out of his sight.

Inside the front page were telephone numbers for everyone at the Buick Zone office- even the IBM computer room. When this log was began in 1962, the Zone was located in the Miracle Mile on Wilshire. Phil was based nearby at Gunther-Langer Buick. All the company cars were shipped there. After they were used, they would be sold through local dealers. Reynolds Buick handled many such sales.

Each car was logged by model, color, trim, key numbers, license number, delivery date and driver. A glance above shows some of the drivers that Buick provided cars for. Jack Entratter owned the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. Dick Van Dyke you've probably already heard of.

Here's where we start to unravel last week's mystery of the celebrities in the 1967 Buick interiors- company car entries for Robert Lansing and Charleton Heston. Lansing was given an Electra convertible, Heston a Riviera. Both cars were hard plated as opposed to sporting Manufacturers plates.

And here it starts to add up. Cliff Robertson and Van Heflin both got Sportwagons. Fess Parker got a Riviera and David Janssen must have looked great in an Electra Convertible.

Bill Bixby and Lloyd Bridges were both furnished with new Rivieras. And now we understand- every celebrity that appeared in the brochure sitting inside a new Buick was given a brand new Buick. By today's standards, it was a pretty inexpensive way to obtain endorsements. But I'd love to see who approved the budget.

There are more fascinating entries in the Buick Bible. Who was furnished with the most Buick courtesy vehicles? None other than Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. Electra Limiteds for himself, and Sportwagons when he owned the Cal-Neva Resort, all on Manufacturer plates. Mr. Sinatra and Buick were close friends in the sixties.

The entries end in June, 1998, when Phil Vogel was hospitalized for surgery. He had a stroke shortly after and died. The Buick Bible was returned to Buick by his family and has been preserved for history. It's a treasure of information and an interesting insight into how the automobile business was conducted in Tinseltown in an era gone by.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fast Friday: Three Reynolds Racers

A fun photo for Fast Friday, recently sent to us by none less than legendary tuner and long time friend, Jim Bell.

The photo is faded from the many years it hung on the wall at Kenne-Bell racing, but the subjects are easily discerned. In the photo are fourteen trophies and four champions.

To the left is the 1967 Reynolds Buick GS400 with the 430 engine. It raced for only one season, and is very seldom seen in photos. To date, we have discovered only three. Jim Bell recalls that all of the teething pains of the new 430 engine came to light on this car when placed under the stresses of drag racing. This one, he would say, accomplished more for the factory than the Reynolds Kenne-Bell team. It raced only one season because of the dramatic restyle of the 1968 models, which caused Pete Reynolds to replace it for the 1968 season.

In the middle is the retired 1965 Gran Sport Racer number Two, the one acquired quickly after the premature demise of the first one. It had to be quickly repainted in Tiger Gold, and in this picture wears a black top that was added by its second owner, one Lennie Kennedy of Pomona, CA. That name may be familiar.

The car on the right is the 1968 GS400 racer, newly arrived at the dealership. Records show the car came in in January of 1968, so this picture would have been taken during the short window after the '68 arrived but before the '67 was sold. The new 1968 Buicks and Opels in the background help confirm the time frame of the picture- the first quarter of 1968.

And the gentleman in the photo? He's the current owner of the car in the middle, a certain Lennie Kennedy of Pomona, But we always called him "Pop."

(Thanks to Jim Bell for the remarkable photo.)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Buick '67: For the In Crowd

Reynolds Buick have passed out a lot of brochures in their 97 year history, but we can honestly say that few automotive brochures in history can come close to the Buick Deluxe 1967 brochure. It was an outstanding offering at the time, and remains a singular effort today.

It wasn't just that the 1967 Buick models were singularly exciting, although they were- it was that such effort went into the piece to make it outstanding and memorable. It was billed as "The Magazine for the In Crowd," and was produced in the style of a magazine, with features and articles.

Here is the table of contents. Instead of being arranged by model, it is organized into articles about each body style. There's an article about convertibles, using renderings done in an interpretation of a turn of the century Art Nouveau style of rendering that was popular in the day.

The next article reviews all of the two door offerings, as seen with six of the major fashion models of the day. The Wildcat is shown with the glamorous Wilhelmina.

The Skylark Sport Coupe is shown with Delores Wettach

And the Electra 225 Coupe is paired with none other than Suzy Parker. She was the first supermodel and this was a big coup for Buick. Other fashion models shown in the brochure were Dolores Hawkins, Jean Shrimpton and Penny Ashton. It's worth noting that each of the models were identified by name, something that was highly unusual in the day.

Next the wagons are pictured in a setting that resembles a family photo album. Very charmingly done.

Note how the photos have "handwritten" captions (SportWagon shown)

Next article features the four door hardtops. In this section, each of the cars is shown with a sports legend- Buick called it the Sports Hall of Fame. It features Sam Snead, Joe Schmidt, Ted Lindsay, Bob Cousy, Frank Crosetti and Rocky Marciano each alongside a new Buick four door.

Here's Ted Lindsay of the Detroit Red Wings on the ice with a new 1967 Buick LeSabre.

But Buick saved the best for last- they went all out on their giant Interiors section. Hosted by movie Actress Diana Lynn, Buick showed each interior with a Hollywood celebrity behind the wheel.

Diana Lynn steps out of the new Riviera

Robert Taylor shows off the Riviera Custom Interior.

Cornell Wilde is forced to make do with the standard Riviera.

Charleton Heston looks comfortable in the Electra 225 Custom.

Cliff Robertson tries on the brocade seats in the brand new Electra 225 Limited Sedan.

Gardner Mc Kay looks good in the Electra 225 with base trim.

Bill Bixby looks great in the Wildcat Custom Convertible.

Stuart Whitman relaxes in the Wildcat 4 Door Hardtop.

Tony Franciosa smiles behind the wheel of the Le Sabre.

And Fess Parker does his best Daniel Boone in the western themed Sportwagon.

Van Heflin had just made a movie called "Stagecoach", so the Special Deluxe wagon was a good fit.

Bob Cummings smiles in a GS400- who wouldn't?

Lloyd Bridges picked the wrong week to give up Skylark. (Think about it, Airplane! fans)

Robert Lansing chose the Special Deluxe- pretty snazzy.

And David Janssen got the Special Deluxe. I wonder if he felt like a Fugitive.

The a special section showed colors and options, again grouping all the models together.

And finally a section on powertrains including a glamour shot of the 1967 430-4 bbl V8 in 360 HP tune.

And the back cover with the classic slogan:

So there's the revolutionary 1967 brochure- an unforgettable 60 page full color spectacular featuring just about every graphic style of the day in a shockingly different format, featuring the top sports figures, fashion models, and Hollywood Celebrities of the day. A classic from the first day.

One question remains- how did they get all of those celebrities into the interiors?

We'll save that one for next time. It's a great story.