West Michigan Chapter of the Buick Club of America




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A Buick With An Attitude ... or, Why Did We Ever Do That?

By Jim Crame, BCA #20188, Grand Rapids, MI

    Several years ago my wife and I bought a Buick and joined the West Michigan Chapter of the Buick Club of America. Our objective in joining was to network with other Buick owners and pick up a few tips and hints along the way that would help us care for our car.
    Over the years, at the monthly meetings, stories abounded regarding the relationship between man and his Buick. Many of these stories are instructional or educational in nature. From my observations I have concluded that there are three ways an old-car hobbyist acquires his learning: told how to do it; told how not to do it; and learns the hard way. A couple fellows shared an educational experience that was ... well, you'll just have to read about it.

    I also have observed that there are two types of collectors: those who collect carefully cared for, or rare, cars; and those who acquire anything cheap that can be fixed up. The latter types have a tendency to watch out for each other; what one doesn't want, he is sure the other one will. Our pair is named Wes Myrick and Del Carpenter.
    Our local newspaper has a classified section for bargain items selling for under $700. Wes, the choosier collector, ran across an ad for a 1963 Buick LeSabre convertible for $300. He didn't want it and presumed that Del would. After convincing Del that this was too good to pass up, Del made the call to the seller for directions. With trailer in tow, the two were off to pick up the bargain Buick. This is where the educational aspect of our story begins.


    The purchase is made; the big-ol’ Buick is winched on the trailer and hauled to Del's place, a rural area near Rockford, Michigan. Because the big-ol’ Buick has no brakes, and using the winch to off-load it would take too long, they decide to just let it roll it off the trailer. The pair concludes that two strategically placed 4x4's should be sufficient to stop the rolling two-ton Buick as it trundles off the trailer and into the garage.
    Del positions himself behind the steering wheel and Wes clambers aboard the trailer and gives the big-ol’ Buick a grunting shove. As the Buick picks up speed on its descent, an ominous feeling sweeps over both Del and Wes. In a sobering, simultaneous split second it becomes evident to both that the 4x4s will not stop the Buick at the speed it is going! In a quick series of jouncing bump-bumps, the Buick runs over the blocks. Glancing through the dirty windshield at Wes, standing tall and innocent-looking on the trailer, their eyes meet. Del's pleading look for help is met with a palms up, shrugged shoulders gesture from Wes that says, "It's not my fault; besides, it's your car!"
    wpe1E.gif (12137 bytes)As the Buick takes a bead on Del's workbench the dull thump-thump-thump sound of a useless brake pedal bashing into the floorboard can be heard coming from the Buick. It's a knee-jerk reaction on Del's part: try to get some pressure in the brake system! The frantic pedal pumping, however, has no effect, and the Buick continues to pick up speed.
    Snapping his head around, Del realizes that the Buick and his workbench are going to make a sudden and noisy acquaintance. And, because it's an attached garage, Del visualizes the destruction of his kitchen wall as well. Del's last reaction to the inevitable "big-bang" is to close his eyes, grit his teeth and brace himself. Tools launch skyward and find new resting places -- on the car, the floor, and unfamiliar places atop the workbench. The wall remains intact.
    Well, if the lesson ended here, it would have been a good one on how not to off-load a car from a trailer -- but it doesn't -- there is more!

Engine Fire
    This next "how-not-to-do-it-this-way" lesson is an unorthodox and risky procedure that cleans an engine … using gasoline and fire!
    Del has made an astonishingly cheap acquisition that could turn some quick bucks, if the Buick runs! His normal methodical, cautious demeanor has been replaced with a "I-gotta-get-this-thing-running" attitude.
    A fresh battery, some new gas in the tank, a prime in the carburetor and Del is again behind the wheel. As he coaxes the engine to life, she is resistant to her awakening from nearly two decades of slumber. She coughs, she sputters, she barks her resentment and then, she roars to life! Del has but a moment to wallow in his achieving glory. His sly, proud grin of victory is quickly replaced with a bug-eyed expression of horror. Above the roar of the engine, an explosive "WHUMPH" is heard.
    Engine fire!
    Fortunately, for the Buick, the garage and the attached house, Del's precautionary senses were not completely numbed. Grabbing a primed water hose that he had laid nearby, Del fights the stubborn fire with tenacity. Amid clouds of steam and smoke, the fire is brought under control and extinguished.
    After the adrenaline subsides from his bloodstream, Del quickly surveys the still steaming cavity between the fenders. A telltale grin spreads across his face as he concludes that the fire has done no real damage. In fact, there is a benefit -- the engine is cleaner!
    Well, if our story ended here it would be a good lesson for all of us on how not to clean a greasy engine with gasoline and fire. But it doesn’t. There is more!


    Clean EngineWith unrelenting determination, coupled with increasingly impaired judgment accentuated by fumes and smoke, Del vows that the ol’ girl will run. After mopping up around the engine, Del again positions himself behind the wheel. He relentlessly pumps the gas pedal, urging the ol’ girl on to a rebirth. Again, she reluctantly barks her protest to the hand that sparks her ignition. She coughs; she sputters; she roars to life. Again, the smug Mona Lisa grin on Del's face is replaced with a terror-induced gaped-mouth look as an inferno of flame belches forth from the cavity that holds the engine. Once again he bolts for the hose -- flame, water, steam. Voila, clean engine!
    At this point Del decides to do a thorough inspection of the fuel system and discovers that the fuel line is repeatedly perforated with small holes. The good news is that the fuel pump is providing a more than adequate supply of gasoline under pressure.
    In retrospect, Del recommends that all hoses, brake lines and fuel lines be replaced on any car that has sat in a garage, over a dirt floor, for 19 years.
    Well if the story ended here, it would be a good lesson for all of us on how not to be in a hurry. But it doesn't. There is more!


    After having replaced the perforated gas line, Del once again coaxes the resentful Buick back to life. Calming her down to a manageable roar Del eagerly decides to see if she'll move a few feet across the garage floor under her own power.
    Slipping the selector into drive, Del feels a reassuring shudder as the transmission leans into its appointed task. Del's right foot, talented, from years of experience, begins a fluttering, twitching dance on the gas pedal. Instinctively the foot senses the needs of the engine; too much gas and she'll backfire, too little and she'll quit. Fluttering, pumping, coaxing -- the car begins a slow creep across the garage floor toward the door.
    It is important here to remember the Buick still has no brakes. Del, however, has the situation well in hand. Slipping the gear selector from drive to reverse provides the braking effect required to arrest the forward motion of the Buick from exiting his garage.
    The Buick shudders to a stop at the unorthodox technique of shifting her transmission while still in motion. She, however, responds to her re-birth with an unexpected spirit. Her engine revs, her driveshaft torques her rear gears; turning her rear axles; rotating her rear wheels. The ol’-girl takes a firm grip on the concrete and enthusiastically propels herself backwards. Again, a confident smirk crosses Del's face. Again, the selector slides to an opposing gear, intending to arrest the rearward momentum of the Buick. This time, however, the ol’-girl has her say -- dead silence. She quit!
    wpe1E.gif (12137 bytes)Within a nanosecond Del's brain fills with dozens of scenarios of "what-to-do-next!" Billions of bioelectrical brain impulses simultaneously scream into his consciousness. His eyes glaze over, his mind busy processing all the alternatives for this situation; but alas....
    The rolling countryside no longer palpitates from the thunderous roar of the Buick. Instead, reverberating from the walls of the garage, echoing across the little valley, an incessant and determined thump-thump-thump of a brake pedal pounding itself against the floorboard can be heard.
    Once again the Buick and the workbench execute the "big-bang." Twice in the same day wrenches, screwdrivers, power tools and parts lift themselves from their appointed resting places to experience a rare attempt at flight.


    Well, when class was over that day, Del and Wes had undeservingly nicknamed the Buick "The Beast." However, as humorous as these experiences may seem now, they could have been devastating, even tragic. As Del and Wes related them to club members they did it with an "I-can't-believe-we-did-that" attitude. Their story is meant to be educational; to let the less experienced know that even two seasoned old-car collectors can get themselves into a mess if they're not careful.
    Okay, what did we learn:
    1) Be very careful and take precautions when off-loading a car with no brakes from a trailer.
    2) Make sure fuel is not being sprayed on the engine by old perforated gas lines and, by all means, keep a fire extinguisher handy!
    3) Don't try to move a car without brakes thinking you can use the transmission for braking.
    Now you may think this is where our education ends. But it doesn’t. There is more.
    So, until the next story, have a safe hobby!

Illustrations by Mark Kingsley Brown