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Born Again Buick - Suddenly it was 1956 again! -



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Born Again Buick - Suddenly it was 1956 again!

Bruce Kunz


Buick Super Trivia Question of the Week: 1. A 1956 Buick Super Riviera What was the name of Buick's smooth, shift-free sedan. ( automatic transmission? 2. Born January 20, 1956, this stand up comic, author and TV host is known for his political satire and sociopolitical commentary. Who is he? Hint: He once hosted a late-night talk show called Politically Incorrect on Comedy Central and later on ABC. 3. Name the 2-time heavyweight boxing champion who took the title away from Rocky Marciano on November 30, 1956 upon Marciano's retirement. 4. Marking Bob Barker's television debut on December 31, 1956, this American quiz show, originally hosted on NBC radio by Ralph Edwards, was a mixture of game show quiz and wacky stunts. Contestants had to answer a trivia question, usually one to which no one would know the answer... and upon their failing to produce the correct answer, `Beulah the Buzzer' would sound. Name this classic TV game show. 5. What popular male vocalist took his 1956 hit song, Memories Are Made of This, to the top of the charts on January 14, 1956? 6. And, while we're on the subject of top hit songs, three of Elvis Presley's pop tunes made it to the number one slot on Billboard Magazine's Top 100 in the year 1956. Can you name all three? 7. The Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of The Year in 1956 went to this movie: Around the World in ___ ____. (Fill in the blanks.) 8. The price of a first class U.S. postage stamp in 1956 was: A. one cent; B. three cents; C. six cents or D. ten cents? For answers to this week's trivia questions, PLUS more on the 1956 Buick, visit the FIN MAN's web site at You can e-mail The FIN MAN at mailto://[email protected] Contact The FIN MAN with your memories of cars from your past and story suggestions. NOTE: Trivia answers, story and additional photos may not post until Tuesday. We are working on the timing of these components and apologize for the inconvenience. The Super series Buicks were just what the name implied... but I suppose you could also say they were `special' in many ways, for the Super, one of four Buick series for 1956, epitomized what mid-twentieth century Buicks

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Born Again Buick - Suddenly it was 1956 again! -

were all about... BIG, BOLD and beautiful. One test drive was all it took, and before you knew it, the salesman was asking, "Wouldn't you really rather have a Buick?" Buick's nearest relative in the GM lineup was Oldsmobile. During this period, Oldsmobiles were offered in three basic series (88, Super 88 and NinetyEight), but Buick did Olds one better by offering four. The entry level Buick was the Special. Now remember... there was no such thing as a `compact' car yet, at least in the so-called `big 3' American auto makers. (The compact Buick Special would not arrive until five years down the road.) Many makes, however, offered slightly stretched versions of their full-sized platforms for those demanding a bit more in terms of size and power. Buick's entry level series was the Special. The Special `Riviera' four door hardtop rode on a chassis with a 122" wheelbase; weighed in at 3,680 pounds; was powered by a 322 cube, 220 horsepower V-8 and had a base factory price of $2,528.00. The next series in line was the Century. Built on the same, smaller chassis as the Special, it had the same engine, but with a power rating of 255 horsepower. The Century came at a premium of approximately $500.00 over the Special. Third up the ladder was the Super. The Super rode a five inch longer wheelbase (as did the top -of-the-line Roadmaster) which resulted in added inches in the back seat and trunk areas. It also had the higher output engine of the Roadmaster and cost another $300.00 over and above the Century. The five inches of extra wheelbase and heavier body resulted in a more comfortable boulevard ride. Buyers with a `cost is no object' attitude usually chose the Roadmaster as it was the finest, and costliest, Buick made. Roadmaster's base price was a full eleven hundred dollars more than the comparable body style Special... a 46% premium! So it followed that consumers who really would rather have a Buick, but were stretching their budget to join the club, usually came in at the Special level. Buyers with a taste for speed and performance chose the slightly higher priced Century as it was the smaller, lighter chassis car with the bigger engine. Supers found homes with families who weren't quite as concerned about saving a buck or two here and there... wanted a roomier car with better interior appointments, but weren't concerned with having the best of the breed. The Jones were the people who chose the Roadmasters. (You do know the Jones, don't you? They're the ones I've been trying to `keep up with' for most of my adult life!) Just one step down from the Roadmaster, the Super shared the flagship model's higher output V-8 and longer, 127 inch wheelbase. Comfort and convenience options were plentiful for 1956 Buicks... after all, this was GM's top car line next to Cadillac. Power steering was standard equipment on 50 and 70 series Buicks (Super and Roadmaster)... and well it should have been for these cars weighed in at well over two tons, and that was with an empty tank! The option was also popular on Specials and Centurys even though it was an extra $108.00. Buyers of Specials and Centurys also found out that a three-speed manual transmission with column mounted shifter was standard fare for the lower models. Those wanting Buick's silky-smooth Dynaflow automatic had to fork over another $204.00. Air conditioning was still considered a luxury in 1956 and wasn't included as standard equipment even on Supers and Roadmasters. Buyers who wanted to maintain their cool in the summer months had to pay an additional 403.00 to do so. Power windows were standard on Century and Super convertibles and Roadmaster convertible and 2-door hardtop models, and available as an extra cost option on others. Other popular options included a six-way power front seat; tissue dispenser; visor vanity mirror; Sonomatic and Selectronic AM radios and a variety of chrome dress-up accessories for exhaust tips, gas cap doors and such. Buick's palette for 1956, like most makes of the day, consisted of a colorful range of hues which included many of the soft pastels we associate with the fifties. Buick's marketing experts applied enticing names such as Castle Gray; Electric Blue; Laurel Green; Foam Green; Seminole Red; Bedford Blue; Glacier Green; Claret Red; Cambridge Blue; Tahiti Coral; Harvest Yellow; Cadet Blue; Colonial Blue; Spruce Green; Nile Green; Mist Green; Carlsbad Black; Dover

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Born Again Buick - Suddenly it was 1956 again! -

White and Cameo Beige. Many Buick devotees consider the Super the `best of the best'. I had the chance to see one such Buick Super in the process of being re-born and learn the story behind the car, on a recent road trip to the Missouri Ozarks. A month or so ago, I received an invitation to visit Classic Autoworks, a full-service auto restoration facility, just outside Rolla, Missouri. Cruising the scenic, Ozark highway, I had no idea what to expect when I got there. Had I not been giving specific directions, I could have easily passed up the unimposing, steel-gated entrance which had not a single sign identifying the business. As I made my way up the gravel lane, through a stand of cedars, past a fantasy village of miniature buildings including a church, blacksmith shop and others, I came upon a modern structure that housed Classic Autoworks. It was in this big, red steel building that I would discover the handsome 1956 Buick Super Riviera sedan, midway through the process of a complete restoration. C.A. prez, Shane Hieronymous, along with his partner Kent Boyer and a staff of a dozen or so dedicated automotive restoration artisans, turn decaying relics into show quality vehicles on a regular basis. The 1956 Buick Super Riviera sedan, one that Shane and his crew are restoring to its original grandeur, is one of about thirty project cars presently on hand. This particular Buick has been owned by just ONE family since the day it rolled off the showroom floor in Downey, California back in 1956. At the wheel was Lawrence Bradley. Long story short, the beautiful Super hardtop sedan was passed through two subsequent generations of Bradleys, ending up in the hands of Larry's grandson Leo of Yukon, Oklahoma­ the present owner who received it from his mother in 1971. The car has been repainted in its original two-tone combination of Dover White and a gorgeous tone, best described as a metallic `rosy-copper'. The latter is one of the most beautiful colors I have even seen and Leo says it's an original selection from the 1956 Buick color charts... and although I have seen photos of other 1956 Buicks in what appears to be the same color, I was unable to find a similar color in any of the charts in my files. I'm going to have to research this a bit further with some of my Buick club friends. When I was at Classic Autoworks, for my all-too-short visit, Leo's Buick was painted, but needed to have all the trim (which was being refinished) put back on. Two workers had just carried the short block into the garage, placing it on the floor before the eagerly awaiting Super. (I don't know who's more eager to see this beautiful Buick put back together again... me or Leo!) Whether you just want to have those rusted out floor pans replaced on your `68 Mustang project car, or you're bent on a concours class, full restoration of that 1955 Corvette that's been sitting in the garage for the past twenty years (true story- a CA work in progress), the team at Classic Autoworks can do as little or as much as your budget will allow. You can contact the good folks at Classic Autoworks to discuss your project by calling them at 1-866-930-7742. Secretary/receptionist Judy Light will direct you to someone who can answer all your questions. That person will more than likely be operations manager Rich Lotzer. You can also send them an email at [email protected] Be sure to tell them you learned about them from The FIN MAN. I'd like to thank all the wonderful people at Classic Autoworks, including Shane, Kent, Rich, Gene Rowden (shop superintendent) and Judy for showing me around and making me feel right at home. For a slide show of the Classic Autoworks facility, visit my web site at I would also like to thank my new friend, Jag man Ron Henry for inviting me to participate in the recent Jaguar Club of St. Louis' birthday party at Glen Echo Country Club. The event was a real treat and the people I met at the

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party were very cordial. The lawn full of old and new Jaguars was a highlight as well. I had a great time at the meeting/party and the food and friendship was wonderful. (Sorry about the tie Gary!) I'm looking forward to participating in the club's `concours' event in Clayton, Missouri in October. More details to follow. PRESENT DAY VALUES: If you're thinking of catching a Chuck-A-Burger Cruise Night and want to do it right in a `56 Buick Super Riviera Sedan, expect to pay between twenty-five and thirty thousand dollars for the privilege­ so says the current issue of the Old Cars Price Guide... Krause Publication's monthly price guide which many consider the `bible' of old car values. That number should garner a number one example that not only would make you look good for the cruise, but should produce first place trophies on a regular basis. You say you prefer a 2-door Super Riviera hardtop? That will cost you another five g's or so... and if nothing short of a convertible will satisfy... are you sitting down? Expect to pay upwards of fifty grand if you want truly open air cruising. For the full range of six price categories based on condition and other Buick models for 1956, pick up a copy of the Old Cars Price Guide at your local news stand, book store or classic car dealer. Cruising the July issue of Auto Trader's Classic Cars & Parts magazine, I found but one 1956 Buick. The photo showed a bright green metallic Buick `convertible' that the seller claimed "runs and drives great", and the price was only $6,500.00. That's the GOOD news. The BAD news is, this car was `made' from a hardtop. Yes, that's right. Some creative person took a saber saw, or maybe an air chisel, and whacked off the top. This practice is more common than you may think and this butchered Buick will probably find a place in someone's garage. They can be fun for cruising, and may be a hit at the local parade... but don't expect to get rave reviews from a die hard collector of original, stock cars. And whatever you do, don't pay a big pot of cash for one. Like most cars of this type, this Buick does not have a top. These home made conversions can be found in any monthly issue of a classified collector car magazine and the old `buyer beware' rule should definitely figure into the negotiation process when looking at one of these `whack' jobs. But, on the plus side, you must remember that a stock `56 Buick convertible, even in a number three condition could run upwards of $20,000.00, well maybe this isn't such a bad deal after all. Just don't get caught cruisin' in a downpour! If my cautionary advice has not deterred your interest, you can look this car up at SCALE MODEL AVAILABILITY: It's no secret... times are tough. If a REAL 1956 Buick isn't in your fiscal 2009 budget, perhaps you could start out with a scale model replica. Gasoline Alley Antiques, a really cool web site, has a 1:25 scale, plastic 1956 BUICK CENTURY available for just twenty-five bucks. This AMT model was originally molded in blue, but has been painted in white. The `project car' started life as a convertible dealer promo. The previous owner fitted it with a hard top. (What is it with these guys?!?!? Everybody wants a different top!) The interior has been fitted with `after market' bucket seats and a donor chassis with wheels and hubcaps was used in the makeover. The front and rear bumper are chromed die cast metal. Visit for more. As far as I know, no one has ever produced a 1/18 scale, die-cast model of a 1956 Buick. About the closest you can get is 1958 and 1959. You can see these very nice models from Kevin's Hobbies, at If you're a model aficionado and have never been to `scale18' , you don't know what you've been missing. Check it out. `FIN MAN Detailing Tip of the Week': Now that we are deep into the summer and hand washing our cars, here's a detailing tip from The FIN MAN, to give your car the finishing touch. After completing the washing process, when you are wiping down the car, roll

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your windows down a few inches and with window cleaner, or just a damp rag, wipe the top edge of the glass both inside and out. This half inch, or so, section of glass is usually hidden in the window seal and is a collector of dirt and dust. This may sound like a trivial detail, but you will notice it the next time you crack your windows for a bit of fresh air. And, if you're cleaning up your ride for resale, this little extra touch will provide a subliminal message, to the prospective buyer, that you are meticulous and keep a well maintained automobile. `The FIN MAN'TM is available for your group's special occasions. In addition to his seminar schedule, he has been a guest speaker at group meetings including car clubs, engineering clubs and other professional associations. He has also acted as host or emcee at a number of special events including trivia parties, holiday parties, social and professional club events, benefits and fund raisers. During his appearances, he presents an overview of the collector car hobby plus a detailed look at American cars from the fifties and sixties. His program includes a fascinating Power Point presentation with images of collectible automobiles and various associated nostalgia and Americana. Guests also have the opportunity to play "FINS for FUN," the video game he produced in 1987 which inspired his nickname, in which players compete to identify the year, make and model of cars from tightly cropped photos of fins and taillights. Those who score the highest win auto-related prizes donated by supporting Fin Man sponsors. For more information, go to We are currently accepting bookings for the remainder of calendar year 2009 and 2010. The FIN MANTM is a member of the Society of Automotive Historians and the St. Louis Chapter of the Buick Club of America. He is currently a member of the Lincoln and Continental Owners Club, and the Gateway Buick Club. Past club memberships include the Cadillac-LaSalle Club, the DeSoto Club, the Imperial Owners Club, the Vintage Thunderbird Club of America and the Edsel Club of America. He welcomes your questions, comments and suggestions regarding the column or old cars in general. You can e-mail The FIN MANtm at mailto:// Visit his web site at See you at Bobby's F.C.

Bruce Kunz - a.k.a. "The FIN MAN"

Others may talk about the golden age of American automobiles... The FIN MAN lived it!

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