By Brian Earnest
Every once in a while in life, a guy has to open his wallet or checkbook and really let it snap. And it’s those “damn the torpedoes,” “it’s only money, you can’t take it with you,” and “you only live once” moments that can really reveal how much somebody loves their old car.
Chuck and Dianne Nixon had one of those “now or never” moments a few years ago when they had to decide what to do with a 1932 Buick sedan they had grown smitten with after they discovered it. The car had been sitting for decades, abandoned and alone in a Connecticut warehouse, and it needed a full restoration. The Nixons couldn’t be sure what the total financial hit would be, when the car would be done, or if it would be remotely worth all the time and money it would take to give the car a high-quality remake.
In the end, though, the couple “swallowed hard and said OK,” according to Chuck, and thus began a three-and-a-half-year odyssey that ultimately produced a breathtaking result — a concours-quality specimen and surely one of the nicest, most-elegant prewar Buicks on the globe.
“Someday when I’m retired and wondering where all my money went, I’ll just look at the car and say, ‘Wow, there it is!’” Chuck Nixon joked. “But in no way could we be any happier with the car and the result. It’s been great.” The spectacular Model 32-67 sedan has appeared at the Meadowbrook Concours (now called the Concours d’Elegance of America), the Keels and Wheels Concours in Houston and will be shown at the Santa Fe Concours at the end of September. It has won an AACA Senior Grand National Award and Senior Gold award from the Buick Club of America, which also honored the car with the Nicola Bulgari “Spirit of Buick” award in 2009. The car is also pictured on the 2013 Old Cars Weekly calendar.
Not too bad for a car that nobody seemed to know existed for perhaps 40 years or more.
That Chuck Nixon would be the one to orchestrate the comeback of such a car is almost as unlikely. He had a 1929 Model A Huckster truck — which he eventually sold and bought back — years ago, and number of other cars, including his current 1965 Corvette, 1966 Chevelle SS convertible and two 1973 Rivieras, but nothing similar to the ’32 Buick.
“We had joined the Model A Club and decided we needed a sedan because the truck is tight and not great for taking people around,” Nixon chuckled. “I eventually saw a ’32 Buick that was an unrestored ‘barn find’ at a swap meet, and I thought to myself, ‘That is one elegant car!” I’m an architect by trade, and I just loved and appreciated the lines of it … But the guy wanted way too much money for it and I didn’t buy it, but it got me interested.”
The Nixons had a friend on the East Coast they knew through their Model A connections and one day the man called with some information about a ’32 Buick that had been found in Connecticut. The car had been purchased by Academy Classic Automobiles in Bristol, Conn., and was available either for purchase “as is” or as a restoration project through the shop. “It turns out the car had been found in a warehouse and it had been sitting in there for years,” Nixon said. “The owner passed away and the widow didn’t know about the car. It had no history, no paperwork … She just wanted to get rid of it. So the restorer took it and got it running, but that was about it.
“My friend showed me pictures of it and assured me it was complete, which is kind of rare to find these original and complete, and in August of 2005, when they told me what it would cost to restore it, we swallowed real hard and decided to do it. I had never spent that much money for a car, and I had to say, ‘OK, I’m going to do it, but I’m not one of those millionaires that has money laying all over. We’re going to have to do this over time.’”
It wasn’t long before Nixon discovered that the car needed more work than he expected, however, and he knew an expensive restoration was about to get even more costly. “What we found out is that in all those years that the car had sat, with all those freezes and thaws, was that all the wood in the body needed to be replaced,” he said. “Well, nobody is producing wood patterns or pieces for those cars. You can buy wood patterns for a Model A Ford, but not a ’32 Buick. It was going to need a complete restoration.”
That’s when the Nixons had to make the toughest call — spend a lot more than they had planned and see the project through, or cut their losses. “We blew our budget by about five times over,” Chuck laughed. “But what are you going to do with a half-done car, you know? We went ahead and finished it and we probably have three times in the car what I could get for it on the market today, but when you get into these things you’re not doing it for the money.”
The original owner of the car probably had to swallow hard, too, when he plunked down more than $1,300 – certainly a sizeable sum at the time – for the Series 60 four-door sedan. The car was one of 9,013 built by Buick for the 1932 model year. The 60 Series was second on the four-tier Buick ladder at the time, one step up from the 50 Series but below the Series 80 and Series 90 offerings. The 60 Series cars rode on 118-inch wheelbases, six inches more than Model 50 cars. The Series 80 cars had new 126-inch wheelbase chassis and the big Model 90 luxury line had 134 inches between axles.
Victoria coupe and convertible phaeton body styles were new for the Model 60 series in 1932. Two-door business coupes, Special coupes and convertible coupes were also offered, although none were nearly as popular as the sedans. The sedans could fit five passengers through their rear suicide passenger doors, and inside, the Model 32-67s weren’t Cadillacs, Packards or Duesenbergs, but they weren’t far from it. Ritzy amenities such as roll-down shades, foot rests, robe rails, ash trays and passenger assist cords were all found in the back seat. Drivers could steer with either a fancy artillery wood or steel wheel, and under the hood the 272-cid engine climbed to 95 hp — 5 better than the previous year. The inline eight shifted through a Synchromesh gearbox. Four-wheel mechanical brakes did the stopping.
“It’s got a low gear in the rear end. That’s a real grandma gear,” Nixon said. “But get it into second gear and it really gets up and goes. That straight-eight has a lot of torque and it will really go. It’s kind of scary with the mechanical brakes. It drives good, but you’ve got to keep your wits about you.”
Convenience options included dual sidemounts, tire covers, heaters, clocks, cigarette lighters, trunks, grille guards and single bar bumpers.
“Our car has two taillights instead of one,” Nixon said. “That was an upgrade, I believe, and because it has two spares it has a trunk rack in back. The upholstery, we had two choices and we went with the gray velour to go with the blue, and it turned out stunning.”
The Nixons’ Buick was originally painted black, and the car was all in once piece, but that was about all they know about it. It’s anybody’s guess how long it had been sitting, and there was no documentation with the car. “It was in a machine shop warehouse, and there is probably a file of some kind there somewhere, but we never got it,” Chuck said. “Somebody had stuck a rag in the tail pipe and the tires were all flat. There was no license plate to know when it was registered.”
The odometer in the car showed just 9,000 miles, and Nixon isn’t sure how accurate that number is, or if the car got parked for any particular reason. “We don’t now if it was only 9,000 miles, but we had to rebuild the engine. We found that the sidewall of the engine had a hole in it below the piston skirt,” he said. “But the oil didn’t leak out of there and somebody kept it together. It still ran.”
During the restoration and his parts-chasing efforts, Nixon befriended Buick expert Mac Blair, who runs the Buick Registry was just the kind of guy Nixon needed. “He is THE ’32 Buick guru in the country and Mac had so many parts that he had collected that he actually had new parts made for the ’32 Buick, so we were very fortunate to be able to source a lot of parts from Mac,” Nixon said. “He’s been a great help and we became close friends.”
One of the biggest decisions the Nixons faced was what color to paint the sedan. Chuck is a fan of all things stock and original, but the two-tone Maxfield Blue and Maxfield Dark Blue was too good of a combination to pass up, especially when he found out it would pass muster with show judges. “The rules of the AACA and BCA say you may paint the car a color that you could have bought it in,” he said. “The blue really looks great. In the sun it really sparkles and we get a lot of comments on that. Everything else we did as original as we could possibly do it.”
Winning the Bulgari “Spirit of Buick” award was clearly the crowning moment for the car and affirmed the Nixons had taken their long-lost Buick to heights they never expected. Bulgari, the famed Italian jewelry maker and uber collector and aficionado of prewar Classic American iron, selected the winning car himself. “[Bulgari] said one of the reasons he really liked it was because, for our car, we chose a Model 67, not a Model 80 or 90 — one of the big cars. This car was more like what a banker would have driven.”
The Nixons haven’t been able to spend much time themselves behind the wheel of the Buick yet. They figure that day will be coming eventually, when the car’s appearances at big shows become less frequent. After waiting for 3-1/2 years for the car to be completed, however, they figure they can wait a bit longer to enjoy some Sunday drives.
“We want to drive it more, but every time we want to drive it more, somebody invites us to another concours and we don’t want to nick it up,” Chuck said. “But we’re thrilled and we’ve enjoyed it and we’ve shown it all around the country. Every time we take it out, people come and want to know about it and that’s the fun of it — to meet new people and make new friends. It’s just been a great experience.”
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