Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Taken from the cover of the BUICK Magazine, October 1954- Happy Halloween to one and all!

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Date With Arlene

Driver and Sponsor- Arlene Hiss and Pete Reynolds

 A little while back we did an update on our Opel racing story, and on how we sponsored a driver named Arlene Hiss who not only won the SCCA Showroom Stock Championship, but also went on to be the first woman to race an Indy car and then successfully raced on the USAC Circuit. All in all an interesting part of the Reynolds racing story.

So when we happened to find that she was living in Lake Elsinore, we thought it would be more than a little bit of fun to go down and take her to lunch. So with retired dealer Pete Reynolds, his son Don who is now in charge of all day to day activities, and retired Sales Manager Spence Lyon who recalls her from back in the day, we did exactly that. We wanted to fill in some of the background of the story.

We found out that Arlene wasn't just a lady who decided to race her daily driver, but that she began racing Austin Healey Sprites in SCCA right after college around 1962. She had gotten interested when she had a boyfriend who raced SCCA, and the racing bug outlasted that relationship. Although she became a teacher, it probably wasn't random that she married a race driver, and it wasn't random that she came in and bought that white Opel 1900. She thought it was the best performing car in the Showroom Stock class and that's how we came to meet her- on our showroom floor, where we've met so many friends over the years.

It was only after she bought the car that she saw our name on the sides of other Opels and asked Pete Reynolds if he would sponsor her- he readily agreed. It was primarily a monetary donation, although there was one race day when she rolled across the service drive in full race attire for a quick repair. It must have gone well, because she did win the SCCA Showroom Stock Championship that year.

The little German Opel that had done so well in SCCA Showroom Stock was replaced in 1976 by a Japanese made product, and our Opel racing story came to a close. Arlene went on that year to be the first woman to drive an Indy Car in a USAC race, the Jimmy Bryan 150 USAC National Championship Race in Phoenix, on March 14, 1976. Although she did finish the race, she didn't find the open wheel racer to her liking and switched to more conventional USAC Stock Cars for the remainder of the season.

Arlene switched gears again after the 1976 season, and parked the racing cars in order to pursue an acting career. She later built a recording studio in Lake Elsinore and played in Bluegrass and Dixieland bands. Today she teaches for online colleges and remembers her racing days fondly. It was a great pleasure to spend the afternoon with her and  relive another chapter of Reynolds' racing history.

Pete Reynolds, Arlene Hiss, and Don Reynolds

Arlene Hiss with her SCCA Champion Reynolds Opel, circa 1975

Arlene Hiss in her Indy Car , 1976

Arlene behind the wheel of a USAC racer, 1976

Monday, October 22, 2012

Buick's a Beauty at the Casual Concours

There were lots of beautiful Buicks on display at the Casual Concours Car Show in Palm Springs last Sunday. They spanned the era from a 1938 Century to a 1990 Reatta, and included a bevy of Rivieras, an 1961 Electra 225, a 1965 Wildcat, a stunning 1955 Roadmaster coupe with factory air and wire wheels,  and even a rare 1962 Invicta Custom convertible with leather bucket seats. The Buick woody fans were treated to a lovely 1947 Estate Wagon, and even a limited production 1990 Reatta convertible took the field.

Held at the Desert Princess Resort, there were over 125 classic and special interest autos on display, and the level of quality was quite high. All in all a great day and a great show that benefitted the Friends of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter. Take a look at some of the beautiful Buicks at the Casual Concours:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Reynolds Raced Opels, Too

The drag racing days of Reynolds Buick came to and end after the 1972 season due to a number of events coming together- first, the decision by GM to reduce compression in order to burn unleaded fuels effectively ended the Factory's interest in racing. Second, the gasoline shortage of the early 1970's made performance cars temporarily out of fashion, and third the retirement of Lennie "Pop" Kennedy left the effort without a car, a purpose, or a driver. Racing had been good for Reynolds, but the landscape had changed. So clearly it was time to rethink.

It was around this time that the Sports Car Club of America introduced a new "Showroom Stock" class of road racing, and it turned out that some of the most competitive cars turned out to be the Opel 1900 and Manta. Reynolds happened to have a lot full of them, so it wasn't long before the boys were back at the races.

Exept this time, there was a girl as well. Arlene Hiss was a schoolteacher who was not only married to a racing driver- Indy car racer Mike Hiss, but was a driver herself, and a darned good one at that. She bought a new Opel 1900 to drive to school during the week and race on weekends. She recalls that she took the numbers off the sides for commuting, but left the roll cage and five point harness in place. In time she was introduced to Pete Reynolds and he agreed to assist her with a sponsorship. Reynolds also sponsored racers John Hall, Bill Johnson and Fred Tervet in the 1972-75 SCCA seasons.

Arlene was the standout of the bunch. She won the SCCA Showroom Stock Championship with her white Opel 1900 and then moved up to a red Reynolds Opel Manta in 1974 and won with that as well. Some say she was so successful that the SCCA disqualified the Manta the following year, although the rising prices of German made cars in the mid-1970s might also be culpable. She was forced to step down to a 1.9 litre sedan, which she still campaigned quite successfully before losing the championship to Ron Smaldone in a Mustang II.

The following year Arlene herself moved on to USAC Indy Car racing and became the first woman to compete in an Indy Car race, finishing 14th in the Jimmy Bryan 150 USAC National Championship race on March 14, 1976. She didn't really care for open wheeled Indy cars and switched to USAC Stock Cars for the remainder of the season, driving a Charger, a Chevelle, and Camaros for the rest of the season.

The fast little Opel was replaced in 1976 with an Isuzu designed model from Japan, and Reynolds discontinued their efforts in SCCA racing. But it was a fun chapter in their long history and is a story well worth remembering. Although known for the big ones, Reynolds raced the little ones too.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Reynolds Buick Hosts Their 95th Hi-Perfromance Anniversary

As seen in The GSX-TRA, National Publication of the GS Club of America:

From the late 50's through the mid-seventies, Reynolds Buick-GMC of West Covina, CA was literally the "Fastest Buick Dealer on Earth." In the early postwar years in Southern California, the drag strip was the place to be. Young men with octane in their veins broke away from their weekday jobs to race on the weekends.  As it happened, a chance conversation with a Buick Factory Representative inspired what ultimately became a very successful partnership between Buick dealer Pete Reynolds, engine builder James Bell, and legendary racing driver Lennie "Pop" Kennedy. 

Together, and with the cooperation of the factory, they created a series of Buick drag racing cars that won many races, set records, and not only became part of the racing lore of Southern California, but also helped Buick to create some of its finest cars of all time. 

Irven Reynolds Jr, known to all as "Pete" joined the family dealership in 1950 upon graduation from the University of California-Berkeley. Pete assumed the helm as dealer in 1958 and steered the course of guiding the dealership through the postwar era. It was Pete whose friendship with Buick's Bill Trevor led to an association with Lennie "Pop" Kennedy and legendary engine builder Jim Bell that created some of the finest Buick racing cars of all time. Bill knew "Pop" from racing against him and told Pete that if we wanted to sponsor a car, that he knew just the man to drive it.

Starting with a virtually stock bright red 1959 Invicta, known in lore as the "winningest Buick of all time", the Reynolds-Kenne-Bell association was instrumental in establishing the reputation of the Buick nailhead engine as a performance powerplant and were so influential that Buick Headquarters not only touted their successes, they supplied prototype parts to Reynolds for evaluation. This partnership fielded several cars- the 1959 Invicta, a nearly identical 1961 Invicta, a very early 1965 Gran Sport (which was rolled and replaced with second '65), 1967 and 1968 GS 400 coupes, and the most famous Reynolds Buick racer of all, a white 1970 Gran Sport 455 Stage 2 which survives to this day in the collection of Guy Parquette. 

In the fall of 2010. Reynolds Buick-GMC-Isuzu celebrated its 95th Anniversary with a very special Open House featuring entertainment, prizes, burgers, and two legendary Reynolds Buick race cars which traveled across the country for the event. It was an opportunity for our employees and our customers to come together with their families and share food, fellowship, and some rare glimpses into Reynolds Racing lore.

We won't pretend that we didn't have our doubts early in the day. It drizzled. It rained. It poured at times. And then, in the early afternoon, it stopped. The skies cleared and our hearts lifted. It was going to be a beautiful evening for the Open House. As the parking lot dried, an army descended to set up the event. By early evening, guests were arriving and everything was exactly as we had hoped it would be.

As has become a Reynolds tradition, guests were serenaded by the Michael Peters combo. Some even got up and danced under the moonlight sky. Dinner  was provided by the legendary In-n-Out truck, whose annual visit is always eagerly welcomed. After dinner, door prizes were awarded. The showroom and lot were full of employees, customers, their families, and guests.

Some very special guests this year arrived by trailer- two very special Buick drag racing cars that were very successful for Reynolds Buick were remembered this year with a very special display.
Jack Mancini of North Kingstown, Rhode Island brought his specially prepared 1965 Reynolds Buick Gran Sport Tribute Car. This beautiful racer is a recreation of our second 1965 Gran Sport that Pop Kennedy raced so successfully, and is an exact replica in every way of the actual car - right down to the correct vintage tachometer on the steering column. It was created by Mancini's shop, American Muscle Car Restorations, and stands as a three dimensional tribute to Reynolds Buick and their rich racing legend. Jack and his wife Karen attended the event along with renowned Buick GS expert Jimmy Shiels who assisted in the restoration of the car.

Another very special guest was the actual 1970 Reynolds Buick GS 455 Stage 2 race car that was well known all over Southern California dragstrips. We were fortunate to have not a recreation, but the actual car, which has been restored by owner Guy Parquette of Mosinee, Wisconsin to the exact specifications of when Pop Kennedy ran 10.89 at 126.85 MPH. There were more than a few goosebumps when the car was unloaded from the trailer and fired up in our back lot, almost 40 years from the day since it first arrived here. We were thrilled to have the car home for a visit and would like to sincerely thank Guy and his wife Colleen for bringing it.

As our 100th Anniversary approaches in 2015, we're looking forward to hosting an even grander event for Gran Sport and Buick performance fans. You can follow us on Facebook  or visit Reynolds Buick Racing  for the latest information.