This story about a Barris Kustom featured in a Hemmings listing was all over the web a few weeks ago. No matter what you think of the car, it makes a statement about a specific time in American culture. Here is the Hemmings listing:
From the Hemmings listing:
1972 LINCOLN BUGAZZI
Finished in stunning 30 coats of custom, hand-rubbed Pearl lacquer with 24-carat gold leaf hand laid pin striping. Interior features include: Gold suede upholstery, Persian rugs, Italian marble, television, wet bar, and more! This Barris creation was sold new for $29,500 – nearly 3 times the cost of a Lincoln, and $10,000 more than a Rolls-Royce. It was marketed as the finest motorcar in the world to select celebrities such as Danny Thomas, Pia Maria, Enzo Stuarti, and Jack Hennesey just to name a few! With only 12 built, this unique Bugazzi is among one of the most sought after collectible motorcars of modern times. We are proud to offer this piece of motoring history to the most astute collector, investor, enthusiast, or museum who truly desires one of the greatest motorcars of all time. Buy with confidence—you will not be disappointed in this truly magnificent Barris creation!
We’ve wallowed in Bobcat inspired seventies nostalgia (or nausea), but that was just a little turd. If you really want to know what the seventies were all about you have to experience a taste of the huge wave of fine original artistic coach-crafted cars that enticed us. Perhaps the grandest (and most originally named) of them all was the Bugazzi, which contrary to a subversive and vicious rumor, had no connection whatsoever with a mere 1972 Lincoln Mark IV. And it can now be yours! The seller promises: “you will not be disappointed in this truly magnificent Barris creation!” All the gory details and pictures of its fine interior appointments follow:
By Brian Earnest
The “wow” factor is what attracted Dennis Statz to his huge, blue Pontiac ambulance in the first place three decades ago. And it’s that same attention-grabbing quality that makes the big rescue rig such an adventure to drive even today.
“One thing I learned long ago is that, on the highway, you have to drive pretty much as fast as all the other traffic is going, because it is such a curious vehicle,” noted Statz, a resident of Sturgeon Bay, Wis. “So many people tend to gather around it, it gets dangerous, literally. There gets to be a bottleneck.
“It’s just a very unique vehicle.” And it’s our OldCarsReport.com “Car of the Week.”
Certainly, as 1957 Pontiacs go, it would be hard to find one much more unique than this eye-popping rescue rig. Not only is the car big and beautiful, it is a very low-mileage survivor, with a meager 13,500 ticks showing on the speedometer. The car started out life as a Star Chief four-door sedan and was turned into an ambulance by Superior Coachworks. It was ordered by the Detroit Diesel Allison Division to be a company ambulance, but it rarely saw use, and was eventually sold to an Indianapolis man in 1973 with only about 1,800 miles of use.
That owner had the car until 1979, when Statz spotted it for sale along the road during one of his frequent work trips between Indianapolis, where he lived at the time, and Louisville. “I saw it out of the corner of my eye sitting in a cul de sac as I was heading to Louisville,” Statz said. “It was this big, blue Pontiac, and I thought, ‘Wow, what’s this thing doing out here?’
“I had some time that day, so I drove around to look at it and saw 6,043 miles when I looked through the window. I was thinking to myself, ‘Why would anybody restore it with 106,043 miles? Somebody really put a lot of work into this car.”
Turns out the car wasn’t restored at all, just underused during its working days. “The way the story was told to me from some folks at the [Detroit Allison] plant at the time is that they needed to buy an ambulance as a backup — they had already had Cadillac at the time, but couldn’t buy another one, because 1957 was sort of the start of a recession, and they had to cut costs… Well, the guy who ordered it wanted a Cadillac, and wasn’t allowed to get one, so he really loaded this one up. It cost almost $7,800 new, which was a boatload of money back then.”
Statz said he wasn’t even shopping for a hobby car when he first spotted the ambulance, but as a Pontiac buff, he couldn’t help himself. “I chatted with the guy who owned it, but I wasn’t interested in buying it at first,” he said. “But I talked to my wife about it and we went and looked at it and decided to buy it, and it’s just been a hoot.”
There was a lot to like about 1957 Pontiacs, even without the unique ambulance accouterments. Pontiac introduced new “Star Flight” styling for that model year that included missile-shaped side trim, flatter tailfins, extended rear fenders with V-shaped tips, lower hoods, a more massive bumper grille, longer horizontal taillights and 14-inch wheels.
Star Chiefs were identified by front fender scripts, four stars on the rear fenders, chrome semi-cylindrical trim at the back of missile-shaped inserts and full wheel discs.
Under the hood was a 244-horsepower, 347-cubic inch V-8 fed by a four-barrel Rochester carburetor.
To accommodate the ambulance’s size and weight, Superior Coachworks replaced the standard 1957 14-inch wheels with 15-inchers, which had actually been standard up through 1956. The wheel covers are also 1956 issue, which Statz says can confuse people trying to peg the car’s birth year.
Statz’s car got a 30-inch stretch from Superior and was fitted with bigger doors. “It’s really just like a big four-door station wagon,” he said. Above the windshield, the car was fitted with a federal C6-B siren that has a light that revolves, called a Propello Ray Light. The light is controlled by a dash switch and the siren has an interior button with a brake to squelch the sound quickly. There is no radio, but the rest of the cockpit area has standard Star Chief amenities.
In the back are two small jump seats for emergency personnel, and a large flat space for a gurney, which could be held in place by aluminum hardware. Statz noted that the Detroit Diesel factory had to remove both the siren and gurney equipment before the car could be sold, but he has since found replacements.
Throw in the privacy curtains in back, stunning two-tone paint scheme, etched glass in the back side windows, two big spotlights and four huge corner lights on the roof, and you have an impressive and unusual rig that Statz has been able to keep largely intact. He did repaint the roof about 10 years ago when the paint began to deteriorate around the tunnel lights. “The quality of the paint and finish back then just wasn’t that good,” he said. “It was cracking so badly that I just thought, ‘This is ridiculous,’ so I basically took everything off the roof and had it painted and now the top just looks fabulous.
“There is a spot in the back on the wall that I think was for a medical kit, and I’ve never found one of those,” he added. “Other than that, the only thing that I’ve really ever done to it is replace the exhaust system — it’s a really long exhaust system. And I’ve put correct original tires back on it.”
Statz said he has had a lot of Pontiacs come and go from his garage over the years, but has never been tempted to part with his beautiful blue ambulance. He has a splendid red and black ’56 Pontiac convertible that he also babies, and two restoration candidates — a ’55 two-door station wagon and ’56 Safari — but none of them have stolen any affection for the ambulance.
“I’ve had a number of people over the years ask me about it, and I’ve had some pretty healthy offers on it,” Statz said. “It’s just a real nifty vehicle and a lot of fun. It would be hard to part with … and both my kids, who will be getting out of high school soon, have said, ‘Dad don’t sell that thing!’
“I’m going to do everything I can to hang onto it.”
Buggy with new owner, Gary Hillman (r), and creator, George Barris (l)!
George Barris worshipping, I mean autographing the Buggy!
Seen in public for the first time since being sold at auction in 1983, the Bugaloo
Buggy is pictured above featured in a car show in Sweden, April 10-12. George
Barris attended and signed the Buggy!
“George loved it and done a piece on TV about the car. I also built some new wings
and got them fully working as well. It really did look like it came alive when they
started flapping!” – Gary Hillman
How fantastic is that!
The Bugaloo Buggy has been found – AGAIN!
The last we knew of the whereabouts of the Buggy was in France in dark, underground storage.
Well, I am happy to say the Buggy is back in the light and has a new owner, Gary Hillman!
The Buggy is now in London and in the process of being fully restored. In fact, the Buggy will
be shown for the first time in over 30 years in a car show in Sweden in April. George Barris
is also scheduled to attend – what a reunion! I will provide details and pics of the show when
available. For now, enjoy the newest Buggy photos!!
I’m so happy I could fly!!!
the Bugaloos Buggy, featured on “The Bugaloos” television series. Since the concept of the show, starring Martha Raye and the four Bugaloos, showed the group with wings enabling them to fly, it was determined logical for the car to “fly” and to “ride” on water. The buggy was equipped with two large flapping butterfly wings, and twin screws installed under the rear body for high-powered water sporting. Oversized headlights looked like the eyes of a bug, while the taillights were tunneled portholes that illuminate at night. Wide oval Firestone tires were installed on Ansen one-piece sprint wheels. The interior was individualized for each Bugaloo – each star having his/her own telephone system and Muntz stereo tape system with individual earphones. The buggy was painted in a green, yellow and orange butterfly theme with orange and purple pinstripes.
– Cars of the Stars, ©1974
The Bugaloos buggy was another television show car constructed especially at the Barris Kustom shop for Krofft Productions. The producers desired a small, wild-looking, fun buggy to incorporate into their new NBC-TV series. To supply an automotive interest for the series, Barris built the buggy in late 1969 to be used in the 1970-71 TV season. His motivation: the vehicle was to possess all of the fun characteristics that made the Meyers Manx dune buggy famous – yet push the concept beyond the envelope with attention-getting color and design elements. The goal was a completely different and vibrant look. Using a four-passenger body mounted on a Volkswagen floorpan, the buggy actually looked just like a bug – mixing well with the show characters who could fly and walk on water like little flying insects. The design featured a T-shaped rollbar set over the rear wheels with a pair of “wings” that gave the effect of an airborne bug yet allowed plenty of space for television camera maneuvers. The chassis rolled on Ansen Spring alloy wheels, highlighted with orange spoked centers. The fully fendered four-wheeler featured oversized headlights that looked just like bug eyes. On the outside, the paint scheme was a wild combination of green, yellow and orange applied to copy the markings found on a butterfly’s wing. There was much more. The interior was fitted with four custom bucket seats with leaf-like design elements that continued the buggy’s nature theme. Four Capitol Communications telephones and four Muntz stereo tape cartridge players were also installed. A four-tone horn was on board as well, offering a distinct tone for each one of the characters. Fully street legal, The Bugaloos buggy was used extensively in the show. When the series was introduced to the airwaves, Barris contracted with model kit manufacturer MPC to design a plastic model kit based on the program vehicle (which never saw production. See MCP catalog in Collectibles).
Thanks to the great writers and researchers over at Hemmings Auto Blog for Part Two of the “Save these Cars – Hollywood, California.” A lot of information on what seemed to be some long lost but keenly remembers TV and movie cars. Great photos, too. Head over to Hemmings Auto Blog for the rest of the series.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which turned up here last week, was on a vast list of cars that developed after we posted updates on finding the Better off Dead Camaro, Risky Business Porsche and other iconic movie cars. Since then, we’ve both found some more and had suggestions for literally dozens of others that should be preserved for posterity (if your definition of posterity includes pointing and laughing), but we’ll start with one from the original list: The ‘61 Ferrari California Spyder (250 GT) from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
As we’ve mentioned before, it was a replica, built by our good friend Mark Goyette. Mark says there were three used in the film:
The Hero car. Built by Mark and leased to Paramount for the filming. It’s the one that jumps over the camera, and is used in almost every shot. At the end of filming, Paramount returned it to Mark, with the exhaust crushed and cracks in the body. “There was quite a bit of superficial damage, but it held up amazingly well,” he said. He rebuilt it, and sold it to a young couple in California. The husband later ran it off the road, and Mark rebuilt the front end for him. That owner sold it in the mid-90s, and it turned up again around 2000, but hasn’t emerged since.
Sold to Paramount as a kit for them to assemble as their stunt car, they did such a poor job that it was basically unusable, aside from going backwards out the window of Cameron’s house. Rebuilt, it ended up at Planet Hollywood in Minneapolis, but dropped off the map along with Planet Hollywood Minneapolis.
Another kit, supposed to be built as a shell for the out the window scene, it was never completed at all, and disappeared after the film was completed. Mark thinks he once heard it was eventually completed and sold off, but it could also still be in a back lot at Paramount.
Before we get to the rest of the list, commenters did come up with a few answers:
The 1974 Dodge Monaco Bluesmobile from Blues Brothers. There were a whole mess of them, most destroyed during filming, and replicas have been built almost since then. We can’t come up with anything definitive on the ‘74 Monaco that Jake and Elwood drove, but some of the Mount Prospect chase cars have survived. Allpar reports that of 13 used, eight were destroyed, and three of the remainder are accounted for, on in private hands, one at Disney’s “House of Blues,” and one at Universal’s Famous Fast Cars.
The Landmaster from Damnation Alley is still at home at Dean Jeffries Automotive, near Universal Studios, and has been restored. Dean shows it from time to time.
Rick’s Power Wagon from Simon & Simon has been spotted at a Universal Studios back lot.
The ‘Cuda from Mannix is around; Dan saw it at Mopar Nats a couple of years ago. We also recently featured the Mannix ‘68 Dart in Muscle Machines.
The National Lampoon Family Truckster has been auctioned several times in the last two years. There are a ton of replicas, as well.
But for every car we found, about 15 more turned up. I want to find:
Several Jeeps appeared in Airwolf. Stringfellow Hawke had a blue CJ-7 Renegade that appeared briefly, but there was a Stars-and-Stripes CJ-7 with “Santini Air” script in more episodes. Same Jeep?
I’ve wondered about the Ford F350 Jet Car from Buckaroo Banzai for a while, and have turned up some information on it. It was designed and built by production designer Michael Riva, art director Stephen Dane and Thrust Racing owners Jerry Segal and George Haddebeck; Segal was also the stunt driver. Segal swapped in a Grand National–that’s NASCAR, not Buick–front end, a nitrous-boosted Ford big block and jet thrusters. According to the BB Press Kit, “The jet engine is massive,” says Dane. “It puts out smoke and flame that goes back twenty or thirty feet. That’s what it’s primarily set up for, but it does develop 3,000-4,000 lbs. of thrust which, in real life, gets the thing going up to around 200 mph.” ‘Sure doesn’t sound like something that’d be scrapped. Another back lot denizen?
The Porsche 356 and later ‘84 Corvette that Bruce Boxleitner drove in Scarecrow & Mrs. King.
Dan wondered about:
The yellow Chevette from The Wedding Singer.
The Cherokee from The Goonies. (1984?–ed.)
The Rambler (Rebel Cross Country) from Mystery Men (on the Ben Stiller theme, a Bronco roadster was blown up in the Zoolander gas fight scene. It must have been a model, so where’s the one they drove around?–ed).
The 1974 Nova from Pulp Fiction. (Interestingly, a ‘74 Nova is specified in the script, and the Tarantino Archives mentions he uses a Nova in Reservoir Dogs and Death Proof, too. Vincent has a ‘60 Malibu. Related: The Oldsmobile as an analogue for despair in John Singleton’s “Four Brothers”–ed)
The Taxi from The Fifth Element. (2178 “Globe Fish” Checker Marathon. ‘Just possible it wasn’t a real flying car, Dan, but there’s a model if you want one.)
1972 Matadors from Adam-12. (It sounds like they only had one single Hero car for the whole series, and there’s a report it was later used on Columbo. None are known to survive–ed.)
And from our comments, regular commenter Jeff Reeves wants to see:
AJ’s targa-top Camaro (there were two–a ‘68 RS and custom Z28) or Mrs. Simon’s Mercedes from Simon & Simon. (There was also a ‘57 Bel Air at some point.–ed)
(Scarecrow and) Mrs. King’s LTD station wagon or later Cutlass Ciera wagon (Wasn’t it an Olds?–ed).
Cody Allen’s customized GMC S-15 Jimmy from Riptide. (Also a 1960 Corvette. The Jimmy was built by Unique, who have quite built countless cars and own 450, see appendix–ed.)
An original A-team Chevy Van. (ibid.)
Wylie is looking for some real softballs. Happy to help!
Colombo’s Peugeot 403 (Supposedly accounted for–ed).
Roger Moore’s Volvo P1800 from The Saint (We’ve seen it–ed).
James Garner’s gold Firebird from Rockford Files (see Nelson’s Garage, below–ed).
The ‘77 Special Edition Trans Am from the original Smokey and the Bandit (One remains, owned by Year One–ed, and there are innumerable replicas of varying provenance), and the 18-wheeler that Snowman drove.
straight6 wonders about
Melba Toast’s ‘70 Chevelle, Bannon’s primered Duster,and the rest of the dazed’n’confused car cast.
The 1976 Lancia Scorpion (Giselle) that Herbie the Love Bug fell in love with in Monte Carlo. (Restored, now in Texas–ed).
Kathy Bates’ Wagoneer from Misery. “It had those cool slotted rims.” (There was a Blazer, a Bronco and a Cherokee, but no Wagoneer–ed).
Stjohn asks about:
“The Car” from the movie of the same name, 1977. A 1971 Lincoln Mk III, customized by George Barris. (A car matching this description was consigned to RM’s Hershey auction, but doesn’t seem to have appeared at the sale–ed).
The Countach from Automan. (Me too–ed)
The Ultimate Police Car, from an episode of BJ and the Bear. A Plymouth Fury, late 70s.
The Black Moon from Black Moon Rising. (Never mind the disturbing sex scene with Linda Hamilton and Tommy Lee Jones.)
1973 Plymouth Satellite four-door that Frank Drebin would hit trash cans with in Police Squad.
Going deep into the obscure file, Randy H would like to see:
The mobile command truck (s) from Universal Soldier.
Saluting the Adam-12 post, vehicles from Emergency!
emacs wants to know where everything is:
The 1964 Malibu from Repo Man. (probably junked, but Jalopnik has everything you ever wanted to know about casting the cars.–ed).
The car (1975 Mercury Marquis Brougham) from Uncle Buck.
The ‘vette from Corvette Summer (a recurring question).
The ‘vette from Sting Ray (Nick Mancuso).
The Schlepcar from Wonderbug.
The convertible classic from Porky’s.
The Firebird Trans AM from Fast Times (”first he’s gonna kill us, then he’s gonna …”). (Camaro Z28–ed).
The 1965 Lincoln Continental from The Matrix.
Stallone’s Cobra car. (1950 Mercury street rod, auctioned by Mecum this summer. Also see Stallone’s former CSX3127, in private hands–ed).
Maxwell Smart’s Alfa Romeo.
Reggie Hammond’s Porsche Targa and Nick Nolte’s GTO convertible from 48 Hours.
Mad Max’s Interceptor.
All Batmobiles, and didn’t Green Lantern have a cool ride?
Fred MacMurry’s car from Absent Minded Professor.
I saw no mention of Christine (58 Fury), the car from the Stephen “the hack” King’s movie of the same name.
What about Greased Lightning from Grease?
Where is the hood from the Corvette Summer Corvette?
And the rest:
Magnum P.I. cars–Ferrari 308s and 328s–came up a lot. Jason W said, “I did some interior restoration work on one of the Magnum P.I. 328s when I worked at FAF in Atlanta in 1988,” but doesn’t know where it is. We heard that Larry “Rick” Manetti owns one, and Magnum Mania reports that as well. However, there may be confusion, as he did own a black ‘84 Mondial. According to Mania,
All of the original Magnum P.I. Ferraris were auctioned off when the series ended in 1988. Larry Manetti bought one of the early GTSs. He reportedly still owns it. One of the cars, a ‘78 308 GTS, is on display at the Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in Keswich, Cumbria, England. Also, an ‘84 308 QV is on display at Universal Studios Hollywood, as part of the Famous Fast Cars attraction.
I recall one of the 308s turning up on eBay about five years ago, and Nelson’s Garage in Deadwood claims to have one, along with the Rockford Files Firebird and others.
The Mercedes 560SL from Heart to Heart. Srsly?
Kojak’s Buick. (1973 Regal?–ed).
Wayne’s AMC Pacer from the Wayne’s World. (Sold by Volo in 2004, not sure where it ended up. There are some prop cars around as well.–ed).
“Being a Toyota Landcruiser fan, I’ve always wondered about that red and white Fj55 in The Lost Boys.”
California speedster and Vette coupe from King of the Mountain.
Dan Tanna’s 1957 T-Bird 1957 in Vega$. (Reportedly painted blue for Richard Gere’s Breathless–ed).
What about the Torino from Starsky and Hutch?
1983 Porsche 944s from Sixteen Candles. Film lore says there were two. One auto and one stick. (There was also a Rolls Corniche that figured prominently. The Porsce was on the original list.–ed)
It’s a big list, people. Lets find some cars.
Many images found at Internet Movie Cars Database.
Appendix: Cars built by Unique:
A Few Good Men
Back To the Future
Bill and Ted #2
Cannon Ball Run
Elvis and Me
Family of Spies
Fools Rush In
The Hollywood Knights
Homer and Eddie
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom
Last Action Hero
Late for Dinner
Men at Work
Show Down In Little Tokyo
Smokey and the Bandit
Stop or My Mom Will Shoot
Tango and Cash
The Big Picture
The Human Target
Vampire in Brooklyn
Wild at Heart
BJ and the Bear
Bring’em Back Alive
Hardcastle and McCormick
Hart to Hart
Simon and Simon
The A Team
The Wonder Years
Brian Earnest of Old Cars Weekly posted this “before and after” story about a 1938 Chevy Coupe barn find.
The “before and after” versions of Richard Thomas’ 1938 Chevy
coupe. The car had sat for more than 20 years in a shed before
Thomas bought it from an old friend in 2004.
Richard Thomas waited a long time to land his “Sweetie.” More than four decades in fact. And when opportunity finally knocked, even at the least-expected time and most unlikely place, he didn’t hesitate.
Thomas had known about his 1938 Chevrolet Master Business Coupe, this weeks’ Old Cars Report “Car of the Week,” since he and the car’s owner were childhood friends back in the 1960s. Even though he didn’t own other collector cars and wasn’t active in the car hobby, Thomas had always told his friend, Mike Webb, that he’d like to buy his car someday. He was always rebuffed, until his luck finally began to change in late 2003. The two man bumped into each other at a garage sale after not seeing much of each other for many years, and Thomas again gave Webb his sales pitch. A year later, Thomas called him on the phone, still pining for the car. Then, finally, in December of 2004, the pair saw each other at another garage sale, and this time, Webb’s tune had changed.
“I think he had hoped and hoped that he’d get around to restoring it, but his health was getting bad,” said Thomas, a resident of Arkansas City, Kansas. “Life isn’t always fair, and it wasn’t fair to him. He was having some hard times.
“But I was very surprised that he agreed to sell it to me. I could hardly believe it.”
It hardly seems a surprise that Webb would have trouble parting with the car he had owned for so many years. He had gotten the car from the original owner, Elijah Ham, who had purchased the car new from a fledgling dealership in Arkansas City. Ham, a friend of the Webb family, apparently drove the car very little, and during his retirement years decided to give the car to Mike Webb, who was just 14 at the time. Thomas says the other boys didn’t know Webb even had such a car, but he remembers the day everyone found out!
“The first first time I saw it just a bunch of us guys 17, 18 years old, right in that area, we were just hanging out and doing what teenagers did in the ‘60s,” he said. “I didn’t even know he had it. I about died when I saw it. It was just a cool old car. Of course, we didn’t really know much about it, I just thought it was cool.
“He let us all drool, then took it back to the house. He’d get it out on occasion. But he eventually had a little problem with the brakes — the positive battery cable rubbed a hole in the brake line. And one day he popped the brakes and ran into the back of a flatbed truck and put a nice crease in the grille. After that he rolled her into the barn and there she sat …
“It just stayed in the barn and as time went on we both went our own ways and didn’t see much of each other. … Every once in a while we’d pass ways and I’d kind of half-heartedly say, ‘Hey, want to sell me that car yet?'”
By the time Thomas got his chance to own the car, which he calls his “Sweetie,” it had sat for more than 20 years. The gas had turned “to varnish” and the neglected Chevy was covered with a thick layer of dust. It had also become home to generations of unidentified varmints and various other creatures. It was a long way from the impressive, shiny coupe that Thomas remembered from his teenage years.
“I was kind of hoping it would be in kind of shape where it had been setting for a while, but wasn’t let go as much as it had been,” he said. “I was hoping to change the oil, put a fresh battery in it and go for a ride. But that was not the case.”
But underneath all its dirt and imperfections, Thomas could still see a beautiful car. Chevrolet’s “diamond crown” styling changes were introduced for the 1937 models and carried over into 1938. The changes included safety glass in all the windows and fenders that were straight on the sides. The ’38s had a new grille that alternated narrow and wide horizontal bars with a center molding down the middle. There were a few other styling tweaks for the ’38s, but the body shells and running boards were the same on the ’37s and ’38s.
The hoods had ventilators with three chrome horizontal moldings. The headlights were bullet-shaped and mounted close to the grille. Master series cars — there was also a higher-end Master Deluxe series — hand single tail lamps.
Under the hood was the familiar Chevy inline six, displacing 216.5 cid and producing a modest 85 hp. A three-speed manual transmission with the stick on the floor was standard on all the bowtie ’38s.
There were a total of 12 different Chevrolets available in 1938 — six each in both the Master and Master Deluxe lineups. The two-door town sedans were the most popular by far with 95,050 built, but coupes were also good sellers. A total of 39,793 coupes like Thomas’ rolled off Chevy assembly lines carrying base prices of $648, which was the lowest MSRP on the Chevy menu.
Thomas began to bring his Sweetie back to life soon after he got it home. He started by fixing the starter and fuel pump, but then made a costly mistake when he started the car without cleaning out the old gas tank.
“I finally did get it started. It ran — it was a little rough — but it did run,” he recalls. “Well, after I got done bouncing off the walls with excitement, I took a couple of pictures of it running, then I shut it off and went inside. The next day I went out to start it again, just went [insert loud engine noise sounds]! Come to find out the fresh gas I had put in it had melted some of the varnish and the varnish had gotten up into the engine and stuck the valves shut. Overnight it had crystallized right in the engine. I had to buy a whole new set of push rods and whole set of lifters … Now I preach that hard, hard: If you ever buy a car that hasn’t started in a long time, before you start it, pull the tank on it and clean it all out. You’ll save yourself a lot of problems.”
The next big step in what Thomas termed “a rolling restoration” was to replace much of the interior “so it didn’t smell like a bathroom,” he said. “I drove it that way for a while and actually took it to some shows. It was all pretty much original, except for the interior.
“Most of the paint had popped off it. It had a lot of bare spots and a lot of surface rust. I still had fun driving it and darn sure didn’t have to worry about polishing it before I went to a show.”
Thomas kept messaging the old ’38 a little at a time, fixing and replacing a few body panels, then priming the back half of the car and re-chroming the rear bumper. “From the side it looked kind of funny,” he said. “The back half looked good and the front half was all original.”
Thomas eventually primed the front half of the car, too, and got the rest of the chrome done. “It had aftermarket fender shirts on it so it looked like a low-rider. It really looked cool!” he said.
The finishing touch finally came last winter when the car got a shiny new suit of black paint. “I decided to bite the bullet,” Thomas said. The car is now arguably better than new, with options like fender skirts, heater, defroster, clock and ashtray that were not in the car when it was ordered new.
After waiting all these years, Thomas has no problems putting some miles on his Chevy, often with his wife Peggy riding shotgun. “She loves it and loves to go for rides,” Thomas said. The coupe’s odometer now reads 54,000-plus miles, and Thomas has accounted for about 6,000 of those. The Chevy’s days of sitting sedentary in a barn appear to be long gone.
“It runs fine, it just doesn’t run real fast,” Thomas joked. “It’s the old babbit-beater engine. It’s basically the old oil-splash system. It will run for ever as long as you don’t over-rap it.
“I get it out when the weather is good. I try to drive it at least once a week. I run across people who’ll see the car and say, ‘Hey, I remember when Mike’s mom used to drive that car.’ Some of the old-timers around here remember it.”
Here is a great article about an experimental Eldorado made by Cadillac in 1965. Thanks to Angelo Van Bogart and Old Cars Weekly with materials supplied by John Hambrock.
After long being a leader in design, Cadillac had a little catching up to do after the 1961 Lincoln Continentals made their debut.
Close inspection shows this isn’t an ordinary 1965 Cadillac
Fleetwood Eldorado convertible. Note the flush-fitting convertible
top lid in the down position, wire wheels and 1966-style cornering
lamps, all features not found on production 1965 Eldorados.
The restrained elegance of the slab-sided Lincolns was a styling sensation and carried Lincoln production through significant production gains throughout the 1960s.
As a result of Lincoln’s styling challenge, Cadillac released a clean, slab-sided car of its own in 1965 that elegantly retained traditional Cadillac features. Yet, through the redesigned 1965 and similar-appearing 1966 models, Cadillac convertible coupes retained a bulky folded convertible top when the top was in the lowered position. The 1961-and-later Lincoln Continental convertible sedans, however, featured a folded convertible top hidden under a cover flush with the sheet metal around it. In 1965, General Motors worked to match Lincoln’s appealing flush top-cover styling element on a special Eldorado.
The project to give this Eldorado a fully automatic top and
flush-fitting top compartment lid earned the special project
car the name “XP-850.”
A 1966 General Motors Project Report of the “XP-850 Cadillac Convertible Running Car” details work by the General Motors Styling Staff and Fisher to build “a completely automatic convertible top on a 1965 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible.”
The report, submitted by J.H. Gilson and approved by A.A. Limberg in January 1966, addresses the special design features of the unique project Eldorado.
“The design features of the Cadillac Eldorado Convertible, XP-850 are the Fisher ‘Infora’ convertible top and the Styling features which were added to make it fully automatic,” the GM report said. “These were a powered retractable glass window, powered flush top compartment lids and a powered convertible top header latch. The Fisher ‘Infora’ convertible top bows and tacking strip were altered to accept the flush lid design. The deck lid was retained, but the hinging was replaced with hood hinges.”
Details of the Infora top are not included in the report, but the photos accompanying the report made it appear to be a more finished-appearing top on the inside, and without the intrusion of exposed convertible top bows. XP-850 was one of 10 1965 Cadillac Eldorado convertibles fitted with the Fisher Infora convertible top early in 1965, and it was the only car scheduled for evaluation by the General Motors Styling Staff. As a result, it was likely the only such 1965 Eldorado given the special styling alterations by General Motors Styling Staff.
According to the report, “Styling, at this time, decided to install flush convertible top compartment lids and add electric header latches as well as a powered rear glass window to provide a completely automatic top; a top that any woman could operate with ease.
“The advanced design should be cheaper, more positive in operation and feasible for production.”
Engineering these styling alterations by the General Motors Styling Staff commenced Feb. 1, 1965, but the design staff’s heavy workload caused many holdups. On Oct. 11, 1965, the conversion work on the Eldorado was completed by the fabrication department and the top was demonstrated to management and car division representatives. Nine days later, on Oct. 20, 1965, the accompanying photos were taken. “All agreed that the design has production possibilities,” indicated the Project Report.
The Eldorado was then delivered to the GM garage for use by an unnamed corporation executive. While being demonstrated, the circuit breaker for the top circuit protection kept opening, shutting off power to the top.
“It was suggested [by the executive] that before it was delivered to him again, the top be cycled 2,000 times to make sure of its dependability,” the report said. “This, he felt, would be necessary before demonstrating it to other corporation executives.”
At this point, the car was returned to Styling and the recommended cycling test began. During the cycle tests, the top began moving slower with each test. The top finally stalled after 250 cycles, even with electric fans cooling the drive motor, “because of the circuit breaker opening,” stated the report.
The cause of the failure was determined to be a damaged spur gear and thrust bearings in the main drive gear boxes. Tenstedt Division had designed these Dura-built assemblies and inspected them and found the spur gear had not been hardened, causing the thrust bearing to fail, the report stated.
After the damaged parts were replaced, Fisher was called in to adjust XP-850’s top. When the top would not stack properly, it was determined that the main pivot-torail frame was bent by 1/4 inch. The rail’s thickness was increased 1/4 inch and its design was further corrected using a fixture to relocate it. The top was then reassembled and adjusted so that it stacked in the proper position.
By the time of these adjustments, automobile production was in the 1966 model season, so XP-850 was updated to the 1966 configuration. It is pictured here in Oct. 20, 1965, before the facelift was undertaken, and retains the standard 1965 Fleetwood Eldorado side trim, as well as the front grille and rear bumper found on all 1965 Cadillac models that year. However, there are a few unique elements on XP-850. Wire wheels not found on any other production Cadillac appear in these October photographs. During the 1950s, some design-study Cadillacs have appeared with wheels by Borrani, the company that may have sourced the three-bar spinner wire wheels on XP-850. These wheels do not appear to be the same wire wheels found on the 1964 Cadillac Florentine coupe show car.
XP-850 was also given cornering lamps similar, but not identical, to those found on 1966 Cadillac models. Using this style of cornering lamp would simply have required the use of a 1966-style front fender, which would have been available in October 1966, or significant modification to a 1965 Cadillac front fender that XP-850 was presumably fitted with originally. A single rectangular lense covered two stacked headlamps up front for a look often found early-1960s GM show cars, as well as the personal cars of Bill Mitchell. The crowning touch to the front end of the car was a deck job that removed the Cadillac “V” and crest, and the car received a special stand-up hood ornament showing the wreath and crest. Mitchell’s personal 1967 Fleetwood Eldorado also featured a stand-up hood ornament that replaced the standard wreath and crest on the front of the hood of production cars.
By Jan. 14, 1966, work to convert the XP-850 was complete. The car got a fresh repaint and was made available to management.
Where it went after that remains a mystery.
Below are pages from the original styling report. They were submitted by J.H. Gilson and approved by A.A. Limberg in January 1966.
Here is another great Old Cars Weekly report.
By Brian Earnest
Photos by Dana DeCoster
Depending on how you look at it, Tom Pfeiffer is either a Buick guy who just happened to work for Ford, or a lifelong Ford guy with a secret crush on Buicks.
Either way, Pfeiffer has both of his old car bases covered these days, as the retired Ford Motor Company employee from Sterling Heights, Mich., is the happy owner of one of each: a 1959 Edsel Corsair with only 27,000 original miles, which he uses for most of his collector car driving, and his real baby, a lovely 1948 Buick Super four-door sedan. The Buick is a car that Pfeiffer lusted after for many years, even as he was toiling for Ford as an employee. Back in 1999, he finally got an unexpected chance to become a Buick owner, and he pulled the trigger on his ’48 Super — which Pfeiffer calls his “mafia special.”
We call his black beauty our OldCarsReport.com “Car of the Week.”
“When I was a kid, a little kid, we lived in the heart of Detroit, on the corner of Martindale and Grand River, and there was a Buick dealer right down the street,” Pfeiffer said. “And these Buicks would be running up and down the street every day. Buicks from that time have always had unique sound. I could always tell a Buick coming.
“Well, I’ve always liked the Buicks. I was just totally fascinated by the way that front fender went all the way across the side of the car and back to the back of the car … I loved that look and always begged my dad to buy one, but we couldn’t afford one.
“I’m very much a Ford guy. I worked for Ford — worked for Ford Product Engineering, right down in Dearborn. I started off at Ford Tractor, but ended up down in Dearborn … But I’ve always secretly had a love for Buicks, that I even carry through to today.”
Pfeiffer has owned a handful of Model A’s and one Model T over the years, and said he had pretty much given up on ever finding a Buick when a friend from one of Pfeiffer’s many car hobby circles, Ray Cimarosti, decided to sell his own ’48 Super sedan. It was the break that Pfeiffer had been waiting for, even though it didn’t happen overnight.
“It took about three months of negotiating, and I finally made an offer he couldn’t refuse and I bought the car. I’ve had it for almost 11 years now,” Pfeiffer said.
“The last three owners of the car were very well-known Buick club people here in southeast lower Michigan. The car was originally sold new in upstate New York and then sold to someone in Pennsylvania. Both of those owners died before they could put very many miles on the car and it was in storage for many years before a fellow by the name of Floyd Leech down in Newport, Mich. bought the car. He had the car also for many years and he was a very well-known Buick collector in these parts. He died and another well-known Buick collector (Cimarosti) bought the car and decided to turn it over quickly and that’s when I bought it. I have had it ever since.”
The Supers occupied the middle rung of the three-tier lineup for Buick in 1948. A total of 47,991 of the handsome four-door sedans were built for the model year, and they carried a base price of $2,087.
The ’48s were similar to the ‘47s, but there were a few changes. The “Super” script on each front fender was slightly different, and the 1948s were a bit lower, rolling on new 7.60 x 15 tires mounted on wheels with trim rings and small hubcaps. Super identification was also found on the center crest of the new black Tenite steering wheel.
Revised cloth interiors had leatherette scuff pads and trim risers. The dashboard was redone, with silver-tone instruments on a two-tone gray panel. The sedan was carpeted in the rear with a carpet in the front rubber mat.
“It doesn’t have very many bells and whistles,” Pfeiffer said. “It has an oil filter, spare tire, a radio and a clock. That’s about it. The car came pretty well equipped right out of the factory.”
Under the hood was the familiar 248-cubic inch, inline eight, which produced 115 hp. A three-speed column-shifted manual transmission was standard on all the Buicks, although buyers could order a Dynaflow automatic on the upscale Roadmasters.
Pfeiffer figured he’d have to put a little work into the car once he got it. The Buick had just 46,000 miles on the odometer, but it still needed a little TLC. The interior was showing its age, the shocks were going bad, the trim was beat-up and a few other things needed attention, but Pfeiffer didn’t expect to ever put the car through a comprehensive restoration. That all changed after one unpleasant incident, however. “The paint was fair to middlin’ — I had thought the outside of the car looked pretty nice,” he said. “Well, I was at a traffic light one time and an Explorer with a bunch of kids in it pulled up next to me and some girl in the backseat threw some nail polish remover onto roof of the car. It ate the paint right down to the metal. I didn’t even know how to go about fixing that, so that’s what started the exterior restoration process.
“I took everything apart and took everything down to bare metal, and I sent the stainless steel trim out and had it bumped and polished. And one thing leads to another, you know … I spent one whole winter where, every night, I’d take a piece off the engine, restore it and get it all looking nice, and then set it aside and move on to another piece. That continued all winter until all I had was a block and a head. Then I got the spray cans out and cleaned the engine up a little and gave the engine a nice paint job.”
Pfeiffer got the car back together about two years ago and says he still has a few minor things to work out. “I want to re-chrome the door handles, and I want to get the radio working,” he said. “The radio worked the first day I had it, but it quit that first day!
“I’ve never re-chromed the bumpers, and I don’t know if I will. It still has the factory chrome and it looks pretty darn good.”
Pfeiffer still considers his Buick a “driver” and he’s put about 23,000 miles on it since he took ownership, but it doesn’t get as much road time these days as it used to. “I don’t worry about it getting beat up, because I restored it for me to drive,” he said. “The problem was, I was putting too many miles on it because we were using it as a cruiser. So I decided to retire it except for a tours, club activities and a few shows — mostly Buick club and VMCCA activities. That’s why I have the Edsel. It’s out of the garage almost every night of the week in the summer, just like the Buick used to be.”
Pfeiffer figures as long as he has both a Ford and a Buick, he can call himself a loyalist of both brands. Apparently the apple doesn’t fall from the tree in the Pfeiffer clan, either. Tom says his wife, Josephine, “is as car crazy as I am,” and their son, Tom Jr., apparently loves the Buick almost as much as his old man. He too, works for Ford, and doesn’t mind taking his dad’s Buick to Ford shows. “And he wins a trophy almost every time!” according to Tom Sr.
“Old Henry [Ford] is probably still turning over in his grave that he couldn’t find something to compete with those Buicks,” Pfeiffer joked. “Those straight-eight Buicks were incredible cars.”
This is not your standard American classic by any means. In fact, it is only part American. Brian Earnest of Old Cars Weekly tells us the story of a rare and unusual 1967 Italian-built, Chevrolet-powered sports car.
About 40 years ago, Marty Schorr had some money that was just burning a hole in his pocket. And he was bound and determined to buy himself a nice car with it, preferably a flavor that he didn’t see on the streets of New York every day.
He probably raised more than few eyebrows among his many car buddies when he went far off the beaten path and drove home one day in an Iso Grifo. For an all-American performance car kind of guy like Schorr, who was editor of “Hi-Performance CARS” magazine at the time, it was quite the roll of the dice.
The purchase turned out to be a good one, however, because Schorr is still the owner of that rare and unusual 1967 Italian-built, Chevrolet-powered sports car. Actually, calling the car rare and unusual would be a big understatement. After Schorr used his connections with the famed Baldwin Chevrolet dealership and Motion Performance Group on Long Island, he got his car turned into a 1-of-1 Baldwin-Motion Grifo.
It’s the only one of its kind — then or now — and it’s this week’s oldcarreport.com “Car of the Week.”
“At the time, I wanted one of two cars: a Ferrari 275 GTB4, or a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing,” Schorr recalls. “I had a birthday coming up and I had decided to give myself a really nice present. I had actually accumulated about $10,000 and I wanted to buy a nice car, and at the time, you could buy about 2 1/2 new Corvettes for that!”
Corvettes were too common for Schorr’s tastes at the time, but he had reservations about buying a Ferrari or Mercedes, too. “The problem was my background was all American [car] and all the speed shops that I dealt were all American … None of them know how to service a Gullwing or a Ferrari, which would have meant I would have had to go to a dealer, and there weren’t many around.”
Ironically, Schorr would go on to launch “VETTE” magazine in 1975 after working for various automotive publications, and also serving as a well-known marketing honcho for Baldwin-Motion. When it came time to pull the trigger on a new performance car in 1969, however, fate steered him away from the Corvettes.
“I worked for an automotive magazine [CARS] and I was contacted to do a story on an Iso Grifo with a big block in it,” Schorr said. “So I went out to this guy’s house, and he had a silver Grifo. It wasn’t a real 427 car. It had been converted in New York … But anyway, he gave me the keys to the car, and told me to ‘Take it for a drive, photograph it, do whatever you want.’
“I just couldn’t believe how fast the car was, how it handled, how it braked. It did everything right, and it had this incredible quality. It was just an amazing car.”
The Grifo Schorr drove and wrote about had a 427-cubic inch, 435-horsepower swapped in for the 327 that was standard. The owner had brought the car into Motion Peformance for service and dyno-tuning, and it was an impressive beast, with a silver paint job and custom aluminum hood modified to make room for the tri-power 427.
Immediately, Schorr began thinking a Grifo might be the perfect birthday present to give himself. And as luck would have it, there was a car waiting for a new owner not far away.
“The guy said, ‘Well, I know there’s a small block one for sale at a dealership. Turns out there was a Grifo at Konner Chevrolet in Paramus, New Jersey. It was for sale. The Grifo had been built for Mrs. Konner, the dealer’s wife, but she was unhappy with it because it didn’t have air-conditioning, a radio and was a four-speed. She didn’t want it, but they left it in the service area hoping she’d come to like it.
Schorr’s car is parked fourth from right in front of the Motion
Performance shop. At the far right is the big-block Grifo that
inspired Schorr to buy his own Iso Grifo.
“It was a brand new car. It had break-in miles on it, had dealer plates and original MSO. The Bertone block-off plate on the dashboard where the radio goes was never even taken off.”
Schorr decided to make an offer on the maroon sports car, but his initial negotiations didn’t go well.
“The sticker price of those cars was over $14,000, and the dealer invoice price was about $10,000,” Schorr said with a chuckle. “Well, I knew the market was not good on these cars at the time, so I offered $5,000 in cash, and he proceeded to throw me out of the building!
“I came back the next day and offered $7,500, which he accepted, but then I had to tell him I didn’t want to buy it from him. I wanted Konner to transfer it to Baldwin Chevrolet so I could put it through as a Baldwin-Motion car.”
Schorr managed to pull off the dealer swap and got to buy his Grifo from Baldwin. It was delivered to Motion Performance and treated to a host of performance upgrades, including dyno-tuning by Joel Rosen, new Holley 650-cfm four-barrel carburetor and Edelbrock aluminum intake.
A new LT1 crate engine replaced the factory 327.
Schorr drove the car for about 3,000 miles with the 327/340 Corvette engine still in it, but was never a fan of the marriage between the car’s engine and rear gearing. The factory solid-lifter 327 delivered about 340 horses, so power wasn’t the problem, it was more an issue of how the car was geared that gave him grief.
“The Grifo was really a car that had the wrong combination ( close-ratio Muncie T-10 four-speed and limited-slip 3.07 rear) for driving in the United States,” he said. “It had a great setup for driving in Europe at the time … The car would have been perfect for driving on the Autostrada or Autobahn. I actually used my car to drive to work in Manhatten a couple of days a week, and it was awful. I was shifting so much … but the car was so nice, that I didn’t complain.”
Then things really got interesting for the Grifo, again, thanks to Schorr’s industry connections. Over drinks one night, Schorr, Motion Performance supercar builder Joel Rosen and Zora Arkus-Duntov — the Godfather of the Corvette — were discussing the new 1970 LT1 engine that Chevrolet was ready to introduce in the Corvette. Schorr related the issues he was having with the drivability of his Grifo, and “before I knew it, there was a crate at Motion for me from Zora with a new LT1 in it!”
The new Corvette small-block motor went straight into Grifo, along with a new milder hydraulic lifter camshaft and carryover Edelbrock manifold and small Holley quad. All original Iso engine dressing was retained. At that point, Schorr finally had the unique, hi-po head turner that he had been imagining.
The underhood tag identifies the Grifo as a Motion Peformance car.
“It’s the perfect power train because I have lot of low end, and I could cruise at any legal to over 100 mph speeds I wanted all day,” he said. “It has huge four-wheel disc brakes. It is a very beautiful, fast and safe GT car … And the LT1 is a great, great engine. It has the forged steel crankshaft and rods, forged aluminum pistons and big port heads … It is really a great bullet-proof engine. Nowadays it’s difficult to feed it because it has an 11-to-1 compression ratio. I use 100 octane unleaded that you can get at the pumps in Florida. I’d like to use 105 or 110 leaded, but you have to pump that into a can.”
Schorr’s car is unique on many fronts, including the obvious: It is the only Baldwin-Motion Grifo ever built. Even if had never gotten the Motion treatment, however, the car would still be noteworthy.
Only 412 of the slippery Italian coupes were produced worldwide between 1965 and 1974. “I’m the only person in the country who has had one from new,” Schorr said. “And it’s the only Baldwin-Motion [Grifo].”
The two-passenger steel-bodied (aluminum hood) fastbacks had some visual similarities between both the Ferraris and Corvettes of the time, with a low profile, lots of glass and refined, leather interiors. The Grifos were swift, and handled and braked with the best cars on the road.
Schorr’s car is No. 046 — one of the first 50 Grifos built, meaning it was coachbuilt using Berone-produced body panels. “It was essentially a hand-built car. You can take my car apart and tell it’s handbuilt ,” Schorr said. After the initial 50 cars were shipped, production switched over to a more typical assembly-line format at the Rivolta factory in Milano, Italy.
After getting the Motion treatment on his Grifo, Schorr had only one complaint remaining – the paint job. He wasn’t satisfied that the paint didn’t match the quality of of the rest of the car, so he had well-known funny car painter “Buffalo Bob” Gerdes at Circus Automotive in New Jersey spray the car a maroon pearl and candy with subtle gold flake underneath.
“He painted the car in 1972 and it’s the same paint that’s on the car now,” Schorr said. “When the sun hits it just right, you see all this gold flake, but it’s very fine.”
The problem with the paint job, now, according to Schorr, is that it is next to impossible to touch up. He’s managed to have some minor paint repair done to the car after he dinged the back end in his garage a while back, but Schorr tries to baby the paint as much as he can.
“I’m a little gun shy of leaving it in parking lots and stuff,” he said. “It really can’t be touched up. The whole thing would have to be repainted, and that would be very expensive on a car like this.”
Not to say that Schorr treats his car like a trailer queen. He drives it around his adopted hometown of Sarasota, Fl. During the winter months, and he makes occasional appearances at shows, where it wins its share of awards as an unrestored original.
“I take it out locally, but it doesn’t have air-conditioning, so summer in Florida is not real conducive [to driving it],” he said. “I’ll drive it a little bit, show it at a couple of shows … I manage a car guy lunch group [Sarasota Café Racers], and I’ll take it to a couple lunches. I get a lot of pleasure out of short drives with it.
“I just have a certain mentality — I tend not to sell things. I just like to hang onto stuff, and with this car, it’s become part of my family. And the fact that you don’t see one — it’s just an unusual car, and I think it’s one of the most beautiful cars, even today.
“It’s 42 years old, and it’s still a stunning car.”
Lossman’s part of the story started back in 1998, when the resident of Nevada City, Calif., was checking out some online classified ads and came across a simple two-sentence ad for a 1955 Bel Air. “The ad said something like, ‘1955 Chevy, 12,000 original miles, stick shift,’ and it had a phone number,” Lossman recalled. “And that’s about all it said.”
We’ll let Lossman narrate what happened from there.
“In 1955, the car was bought by a woman in Salina Kansas. She did laundry for a living, and was described as a feisty, Irish woman, and she saved her money to buy this car. And after she purchased it, she wouldn’t let anybody ride in it, even her husband! In fact, there had never been anybody ever ride in the back seat. She kept the car until 1987, and then she went into a rest home. The couple that I bought the car from [also from Salina] purchased it in 1987. The woman bought it for her husband’s 60th birthday, as a surprise for him.
“At that point — this is in 1987 — it had 11,100 miles. So it went from 1955 to 1987 with this woman driving with nobody else in the car, until it had 11,100 miles. Then this couple in Kansas had it, and the guy drove it once a year in a parade. That was it. That was about all they drove it.”
And that’s about the time Lossman saw the ad saying the car was for sale.
“I’m one of these guys that is just constantly screening car ads,” he said. “I’ve known Chevys all my life, and ‘55 is kind of known as a premier year. It was just a flyer I called on to see what the deal was … I called the phone number and it was a guy in San Diego, and he said he was just placing the ad for his uncle. So I called the folks in Kansas and talked to the husband that owned the car. He was somewhat grouchy, because I kept asking about he condition of the car, and he kept saying ‘It’s only got 12,000 miles!’
“So I used some airline miles and flew to Kansas and they had arranged to meet me at the airport … We drove to their city and checked into a motel, and the woman picked me up the next morning, and she said. ‘I have to go to work, and we’ll drive by the bank where I work, I’m going to leave the car with you for the day.’ And she gave me the keys to the [Bel Air], her house and her Cadillac! She said, ‘Make yourself comfortable!’ So, I drove to the house, and looked in the garage and saw the Chevy. It was covered up, but I could see it. I didn’t have the nerve to start it without the owners being home, but I was sure tempted. When the man came home from work we took it for a ride. We took it out on the freeway. Obviously, the front end was shot. It was wandering all over the place. But it sounded good, was reasonably clean … I had no conception as to what I was going to find. I thought it would be rusty and original, but would need a lot of work. I was amazed at the condition of the car. I played it very cool, because I thought this guy was going to be grouchy, and he was…
“Later, we drove back to the airport and I made an offer. He didn’t accept, and he was kind of grouchy, and I thought I screwed up …. When I got home I called the woman back the next day, and told her I wanted to buy the car … The man didn’t like people from California because he was sure I was going to turn it into a hot rod …and [he thought] I was a surfer. Well, I’m 75 and he was probably 5 years older than I was, but I guess I was just a kid then, 10 years ago! So I sent him pictures of my ‘61 Chevy pickup, which was a national award winner … and gave him a sob story about how I wouldn’t turn his car into a hot rod.”
Well, the Kansas couple did finally agree to sell their Chevy, and Lossman has turned the Bel Air into a bit of a time capsule. Today, the car has just 19,000 miles, and almost everything that isn’t disposable remains original: it’s two-tone paint (Neptune Green with Seafoam Green), chrome, engine, running gear and interior.
“I did the ball joints. I had the gas tank boiled. I replaced the gas gauge, because it didn’t work. I replaced the hoses and anything rubber on it that needed replacing. I tuned it, and I spent hours polishing the paint,” Lossman said. “The interior didn’t need anything, but I did put seat belts in it. And it had the original bias tires on it, so I replaced them with radials, so I could drive it. It had blackwalls, but I put whitewalls on it.”
Any of the “Tri-Five’ Chevrolets are a hit with enthusiasts today, but two-door sedans like Lossman’s were not exactly the glamour cars of the period, nor were they the most popular. Plenty of the two-door post sedans were sold for 1955 (168,313), but both the four-door sedan (345,372 units) and two-door hardtop (185,562) were more popular in Chevy’s top-of-the-line Bel Air series. Today, the two-door sedans take a backseat in the collecting world to the hardtops and convertibles of the era, but cars as well preserved as Lossman’s ’55 are hot tickets.
“I belong to a Chevy club, and some of the guys have cars of that vintage, but most of them are hopped up,” Lossman said. “Mine is the rarity of the bunch. Most people would pull that [six-cylinder] engine out and drop a V-8 into it, but I would never do that.
“One of the dilemmas I have is that I like to brag about the low mileage it has, which means I shouldn’t drive it,” he added with a chuckle. “Pretty soon it is going to turn over 20,000 … It’s pretty silly trying to explain that to my wife.”
Lossman’s car is powered by Chevy’s 123-horsepower, 235.5-cid six-cylinder, and has a three-speed with overdrive and single-barrel carburetor. A three-speed manual gearbox with column-mounted gearshift was standard on all models for 1955. Overdrive was available on the manual transmission at $108 extra. A Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission was available at $178 extra.
The 265-cid V-8 engine was available in 1955 with an optional “power-pack” that included single four-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust.
Standard equipment on the Bel Airs included most features found on the lower-priced lines, plus: carpets on closed body styles; chrome ribbed headliners on the Sport Coupe; richer upholstery fabrics; horizontal chrome strip on the sides of the front fender and doors; narrow white painted inserts on the rear fender horizontal side moldings; gold Bel Air script and a Chevrolet crest behind the slanting vertical sash molding; ribbed vertical trim plate on the sides above the rear bumper ends; wide chrome window and door post reveals and full wheel discs.
“Mine doesn’t even have an oil filter because it I think cost an extra 2 dollars and 50 cents when it was new,” Lossman joked.
Lossman says his car is not quite perfect, but he has no plans to fix its few small flaws. “There is a scratch on the front bumper and a small dent about the size of the dime on the top of one fender — just a tiny little dimple, like somebody maybe dropped something on it,” he said. “Other than that, it looks new … I put a lot of hours into (the paint). I was surprised how well it turned out. I thought I’d take too much off it, because I’m not a professional paint and body guy. But the paint really turned out great. The hood is showing some signs of age. There is some swirl marks, but the rest of it pretty much looks like new.”
Amazingly, Lossman has even kept up a bit of a friendship with the former owners, even the “grouch” who was so reluctant to sell him the car in the first place. “I’ve kept in contact with them and send them pictures of the car periodically from car shows,” he said. “It’s kind of a dream deal, really.”
A dream deal for sure. And a dream car. And a sweet pick for OldCarReport.com’s Car of the Week.
1955 CHEVROLET BEL AIR
SIX-CYLINDER: Overhead valve. Cast iron block. Displacement: 235.5 cid. Bore and stroke: 3-9/16 x 3-15/16 inches. Compression ratio: 7.5:1. Brake horsepower: 123 at 3800 rpm (standard shift); 136 at 4200 rpm (Powerglide). Four main bearings. Solid valve lifters (standard shift); Hydraulic valve lifters (Powerglide). Carburetor: Rochester one-barrel Model 7007181.
V-8: Overhead valve. Cast iron block. Displacement: 265 cid. Bore and stroke: 3-3/4 x 3 inches. Compression ratio: 8.0:1. Brake horsepower: 162 at 4400 rpm (all V-8s). Five main bearings. Powerglide engine has hydraulic valve lifters. Carburetor: Rochester two-barrel Model 7008006.
Wheelbase: 115 inches. Overall length: (passenger cars) 195.6i nches; (station wagons) 197.1 inches. Front tread: 58 inches. Rear tread: 58.8 inches. Tires: 6.70 x 15 tubeless.
Power steering ($92). Power brakes ($38). Directional signals. Electric windshield wipers. Power windows. Power seat. Heater and defroster. Air conditioning. White sidewall tires. Fender antenna. Locking gas cap. Continental tire kit. Outside sun visor. Self de-icing wiper blades. Wiring junction block. Electric clock. Compass. Seat covers. Accelerator pedal cover. Wire wheel covers. Tissue dispenser. Exhaust extension. Filter and element. License plate frame. Glare-shields. Grille guard. Fender guard. Door edge guard. Gasoline filler guard. Tool kit. Back-up lamps. Courtesy lamps. Cigarette lighter. Floor mats. Outside rearview mirrors. Inside non-glare rearview mirrors. Vanity visor. Manual radio. Push-button radio. Signal-seeking radio. Automatic top riser armrests. Wheel trim rings. Safety light with mirror. Sport lamp. Electric shaver. Parking brake signal. Door handle shields. Front fender shields. Rear speaker. Vent shades. Inside sun visor. Traffic light viewer. Foot-operated windshield washer. Vacuum-operated windshield washer.
Here is another post from the great people at Old Cars Weekly on the 1968 Chevelle SS 396. They have a really terrific site site filled with hard to find content like this. Check them out.
By Brian Earnest
Larry Sebranek’s 1968 Chevelle SS is one of those cars that’s lived a very full life. It started off as Vietnam vet’s dream car, went on to ably serve as a mean street machine terrorizing the Wisconsin backroads, eventually became a grocery getter and all-around family hauler, then changed owners and started collecting pink slips at the drag strip.
Then, back in 1996, it was sold back to its original owner, Sebranek, of Lone Rock, Wis., who has happily turned his beloved Chevy muscle car into a fully restored and appropriately pampered trailer queen.
For proving once again that you can do a lot with a Chevelle, a true muscle car for the masses, Sebranek’s stellar SS is this week’s OldCarsReport.com “Car of the Week.”
“It was our family car for, I betcha, eight, nine, 10 years,” Sebranek said. “It had kids in it, crackers on the floor, the whole deal. You didn’t really think about it back then. It was the grocery getter. I hauled my wife and kids to and from the hospital. Back then, it was just a car.
“I bought it brand new when I came home from Vietnam. It’s got the 396 (-cubic inch), 375-horse engine it. I ordered it when I came home from leave. When we were over there we got a lot of brochures on muscle cars … I wanted a 427 and the dealer said, ‘You can’t get it, we’ll get you a 396.’ I was naive and didn’t know, and you believe what the dealer said, you know? So, the first one came in and had the 396 and 325 horse. I said, ‘No, that’s not the one I want .
“I remember my dad calling me and saying, ‘What the hell you want that big motor for?’ I said, ‘That’s the one I want!’”
Eventually, another SS came in, but Sebranek turned that one down, too. Finally, a third 396 came to the dealer and it had something unique about it. “The interior was always different, but nobody could really tell me what the interior was,” he said. “The dealer said, ‘Well, somebody must have screwed up.’ I was a young kind and didn’t really know, so I took it, and it was finally about 10 years later that I found out it was a Buick Grand Sport interior … Apparently, GM was on strike, or something, and some Chevelles got the Gran Sport interiors. You’d get different stories over the years, and yet there is no official record of GM being on strike. But there are a few cars out there like this that got the Gran Sport interior. The guys who really know Chevelles know about them … There’s no logos, no 396 logos on doors, the seats are completely different in a ‘68 Chevelle. A Buick guy could probably pick it out right away. The Gran Sport has more of a pleated upholstery in it.”
Sebranek loved his Chevelle – the first new car he had ever purchased — and he had some painful seller’s remorse from the moment he sold it to a man in Texas more than 20 years ago.
“In about ’87, we sold it. Our son was getting old enough to drive, and I just had raised enough hell with that car that I knew what it would do and I knew how dangerous it was for a 16-year-old boy,” Sebranek said. “I hated to see it go, but then you know, when you got two boys and one’s getting old enough to drive, it’s hard to say no to them. I would have had to say ‘no’ 100 percent of the time. That was dad’s car.
“About six months after I sold it, I started tracking it. At that time you could call the DMV and if you gave them $5 or $10, they could tell you who owned it … So I knew who had the car.”
Sebranek eventually worked up the nerve to contact the second owner to ask if he could buy the car back, but the man declined. “I kind of gave up on it after that,” he said.
But he got one more chance. About five years later, the man sent a letter to Sebranek asking some questions about a warranty block that had been put in the car when it had 48,000 miles on the odometer. “I asked him again if he wanted to sell it. He called me a week later and said he’d sell it back to me. He lived in Kentucky at the time, so we grabbed a trailer and a come-along and we used a winch and went and got it.
“It had been a wrecked a little bit. The right front was dinged up and had quite a bit of mud (body filler) in it. And there was mud all over the wheel wells. It was done in sort of a cobbled fashion. The driver’s seat was torn. But for the average Joe, it was still a good car for being that old.”
During its time away, the Chevelle hadn’t been hauling many kids or groceries. “It had been a drag car,” Sebranek said. “The guy had it to Pomona [Calif.]. He even showed me the slips with the times it had run.”
The fact that it was a street and strip demon certainly didn’t hurt the wildly popular 1968 Chevelle in the eyes of the buying public when the cars were new. The muscle engines started with the base SS engine, a 396-cid “big-block” V-8 with 325 hp. Two more-powerful versions were optional. The 325- and 350-hp versions of the 396-cid V-8 were available with a special three-speed Synchromesh transmission as standard equipment. A four-speed manual gearbox and Powerglide or Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic transmissions were optional. The 375-hp versions, which had to be special ordered, were installed in no more than 2,000 cars. There was usually a two- to three-month waiting period to get one. A power convertible top was optional.
The high-performance SS 396 was a separate series in 1968. It included a sport coupe base-priced at $2,899 and a convertible priced at $3,102. Both had the shorter wheelbase, of course. Overall length, at 197.1 inches, was just a tad longer than in 1967, even though the wheelbase was downsized by 3 inches. Front and rear tread widths were also up an inch to 59 inches. The new Chevelle was also nearly an inch taller at 52.7 inches.
The SS 396 models were made even more distinctive by the use of matte black finish around the full lower perimeter of the bodies, except when the cars were finished in a dark color. Other SS features included F70 x 14 wide-oval red-stripe tires, body accent stripes, a special twin-domed hood with simulated air intakes, “SS” badges, vinyl upholstery and a heavy-duty three-speed transmission with floor-mounted shifter.
For ’68, the “flying buttress” roofline of the Chevelle sport coupe was replaced by a more fastback style and the rear windows had a “veed” appearance (also used on pillared coupes). The round-lens headlights were placed in square, hooded chrome housing that edged up into the hood line. The Chevelle muscle car again wore an exclusive hood with twin power domes. For 1968, the ornamentation was a smaller section of grille work at the rear of each dome.
As in the past, Chevrolet continued to offer the SS 396 with a wide range of transmission and rear axle options. Also standard were finned front brake drums and new bonded brake linings all around. About 57,600 Chevelle SS 396s were made and this total included 4,751 with the L78 engine and 4,082 with the L34 option.
Sebranek had no plans to race his Chevelle once he got it back. And he wasn’t going to be hauling groceries, either. The Chevelle went on to get a full restoration, courtesy of Newton’s Restorations and Al’s Interiors, both of Spring Green, Wis.
“Oh, I never thought I’d get it back,” Sebranek said. “Words can’t describe that telephone call. When he asked, ‘Do you want to buy it back?’ it was probably one of the happiest days that Judy and I ever had.”
The restoration started in 2001 and took more than two years. The car now makes occasional appearances at shows, and is occasionally taken for gentle weekend drives – a far cry from its former lives as a bachelor street racer, kid transporter, and then drag car.
“You don’t realize how stupid we were, to put it plainly,” Sebranek said, of his crazy younger days when he drove his Chevelle with a heavy foot. “Now, honestly, I’m scared now to drive it over 60 mph. We’ve got the bias-ply tires on it. When I was young, I had that car in third gear at 120 mph. Before I was married, I used to do my share of street racing, and it was a tough car to beat. And I enjoyed every minute of it, but you don’t realize how safe our tires are compared to the old tires we had. It’s just completely different worlds.
“The guys who restored the car just did an unbelievable job. We’ve had it to shows and won some awards. We just won ‘Best Paint’ and ‘Best Engine’ and at the Iowa Falls show.
“It’s a Butternut Yellow, so it’s not an eye-catcher. To the average guy it’s just a car, but guys who know paint, who know cars, and who know Chevelles, they know it’s a helluva car.”
Series Body/Style Body Type Factory Shipping Production
Number Number & Seating Price Weight Total
CHEVELLE SS 396 — SERIES 3800 — V-8
38 37 2d Spt Cpe-6P $2,899 3,475 lbs. 55,309
38 67 2d Conv-6P $3,102 3,551 lbs. 2,286
BASE V-8: Overhead-valve. Cast-iron block and head. Bore and stroke: 4.09 x 3.76 in. Displacement: 396 cid. Compression ratio: 10.25:1. Brake hp: 325 at 4800 rpm. Torque: 410 lbs.-ft. at 3200. Five main bearings. Hydraulic valve lifters. Carburetor: Rochester 7028211 four-barrel. Sales code: L35.
OPTIONAL V-8: Overhead-valve. Cast-iron block and head. Bore and stroke: 4.09 x 3.76 in. Displacement: 396 cid. Compression ratio: 10.25:1. Brake hp: 350 at 5200 rpm. Torque: 415 lbs.-ft. at 3400. Five main bearings. Hydraulic valve lifters. Carburetor: Four-barrel. Sales code: L34.
OPTIONAL V-8: Overhead-valve. Cast-iron block and head. Bore and stroke: 4.09 x 3.76 in. Displacement: 396 cid. Compression ratio: 11.00:1. Brake hp: 375 at 5600 rpm. Torque: 415 lbs.-ft. at 3600. Five main bearings. Solid valve lifters. Carburetor: Four-barrel. Sales code L78.
OPTIONAL V-8: Overhead-valve. Cast-iron block and head. Bore and stroke: 4.09 x 3.76 in. Displacement: 396 cid. Compression ratio: 11.00:1. Brake hp: 375 at 5600 rpm. Torque: 415 lbs.-ft. at 3600. Five main bearings. Solid valve lifters. Carburetor: Four-barrel. Sales code L89.
1968 CHEVELLE OPTIONS
C60 Four-Season air conditioning, including 61-amp Delcotron, heavy-duty radiator and temperature-controlled fan ($360.20). G80 Positraction rear axle ($42.15). AXL1 Special economy or high-performance rear axle ($2.15). T60 heavy-duty battery ($7.40). A51 Standard-type front shoulder belts, in cars with standard seat belts ($23.20). AS1/S5 Standard-type rear shoulder belts, in cars with standard seat belts ($46.40). A39 Custom Deluxe front and rear seat belts, for cars with bucket seats ($7.90). A39 Custom Deluxe front and rear seat belts, for cars with bench front seats ($9.50). A85 Custom Deluxe front shoulder belts, requires Custom Deluxe seat belts ($26.35). A85/S4 Custom Deluxe front and rear shoulder belts, requires Custom Deluxe seat belts ($52.70). V31 Front bumper guards ($15.80). V32 Rear bumper guards ($15.80). D55 Console, including electric clock, requires bucket seats ($50.60). C50 Rear windshield defroster, all except convertibles and wagons ($21.10). B93 Door edge guards, two-door models ($4.25). L34 396-cid/350-hp V-8 engine, SS 396 only ($105.35). L78 396-cid/375-hp V-8 SS 396 only ($237). K02 Temperature-controlled fan, standard witrh air conditioning ($15.80). K79 42-amp Delcotron generator, not available with air conditioning or with C60 ($10.55). K76 61-amp Delcotron generator, with air conditioning ($5.30); without air conditioning ($26.35). A01 All windows tinted ($34.80). A02 Tinted windshield only ($23.20). A81 Driver and passenger headrests, with front Strato bucket seats ($52.70). A82 Driver and passenger headrests, with standard front bench seat ($42.15). U03 Tri-volume horn ($13.70). Special instrumentation with ammeter, temperature gauge, oil pressure gauge and tachometer ($94.80). U46 light monitoring system ($26.35). ZJ19 auxiliary lighting groups with A) ash tray, B) courtesy, C) glove box, D) luggage and E) underhood lights; in convertibles includes A, D and E ($6.85); in SS 396 sport coupe includes A and B ($11.10. B37 Twin front and rear floor mats ($10.55). D33 Left-hand outside remote-control mirror ($9.50). Two-tone paint ($21.10). J50 Power drum brakes ($42.15). J50 Power disc front brakes ($100.10). N40 Power steering ($94.80). C06 Power convertible top in White, Black or Blue ($52.70). A31 Power windows ($100.10). V01 Heavy-duty radiator, except with air conditioning ($10.55). U63 AM push-button radio with front antenna ($61.10). U69 AM/FM radio with front antenna ($133.80). U69/79 AM/FM radio with front antenna and stereo ($239.15). U57 Stereo tape system with four speakers ($133.80). U80 Rear seat speaker, not available with U79 ($13.20) U73 rear antenna, all except AM/FM ($9.50). CO81/82 Vinyl roof cover, for Sport Coupes ($84.30). A51 Strato bucket seats ($110.60). G66 Superlift rear shock absorbers ($42.15). K30 Speed and cruise control, with automatic transmission ($52.70). U15 Speed warning indicator ($10.55). N33 Comfortilt steering wheel, requires floor shifter or automatic transmissions ($42.15). N34 Sport styled steering wheel ($31.60). D96 accent striping ($29.50). F40 Special front and rear suspension ($4.75). M22 Close-ratio four-speed manual transmission for SS 396/375 hp ($237). M21 Close-ratio four-speed manual transmission for other SS 396s ($184.35). M20 Wide-ratio four-speed manual transmission for all ($184.35). M40 Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission for SS 396 with 350-hp or 325-hp V-8 only ($237). M13 Special floor-mounted three-speed manual transmission for all except SS 396 ($79 and standard on SS 396). M10 Overdrive transmission with 140-, 155-, 200- or 250-hp engines ($115.90). KD5 Heavy-duty closed engine positive crankcase ventilation system ($6.35). P01 Four bright metal wheel covers ($21.10). N96 Mag-styled wheel covers with non disc brakes ($73.75). N95 simulated wire wheel covers with non-disc brakes ($73.75). PA2 Mag spoke wheel covers ($73.75). ZJ7 Rallye wheels, including special wheels, hubcaps and trim rings ($31.60). P1 Appearance group ($46.40). P4 Operating convenience group ($46.40). P4 Operating convenience group for SS 396 with U14 special instrumentation ($30.60). P4 Operating convenience group ($9.50).