Car of the Week: 1950 Buick custom convertible sedan

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By Terry E. Johnson

I first saw this 1950 Buick convertible from a distance in February of 2012. I hadn’t seen one of these for years. But as I got closer something appeared wrong. How could it  be so long? I was standing beside it and suddenly noticed — it had four doors! But this couldn’t be. Buick finished building four-door convertibles in 1941.

I was remembering my past. My experience attending General Motors Institute in the 1950s and later working for the Buick Motor Division offered me a chance to really know the Buick lineup. I had several Buicks then and you couldn’t fool me on this one. Although the owner was at lunch during this car show near Palm Springs, I overstepped my bounds and opened the front door to locate the VIN number. It was then that the answer became obvious to me. It had a large body plate in the door jam identifying that the car was built by General Motors but had a custom body built by Bayliff Custom Body Company located in Lima, Ohio.

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It is entirely possible that you haven’t heard of Bayliff. Being a member of the Classic Car Club I am familiar with Locke, Dietrich LaBaron and others — most of which failed during the depression. Where did Bayliff come from and when? I found out that Bayliff began in the 1970s and built many custom cars. C. Budd Bayliff was a huge Packard enthusiast. The company purchased the Packard name and trademark in 1978. Its specialty became building modern Packards with their bodies being placed on GM chassis. They especially liked building 1930s style clam shell front fenders with side mounts and separate trunks. They always used the famous V style grille associated with Packard. It was a body builder of high quality building a car much lower and modern in design as compared with the 1930s and ’40s Packards.

I wondered if it was possible to find the history of this very well-built four-door convertible. I was able to talk to the last two owners of this Buick, but the trail ended in 1995. My next call was to see if Bayliff was still in business. I was able to talk to Bud Bayliff, who remembered building the 1950 Buick in the mid-1980s, but didn’t remember who owned the car. We know that the chassis was from the a 131-inch wheelbase car. It was the only model with a 4-inch longer wheelbase called the Model 72. He remembered it to be a very low-mileage car that was almost new and unused.

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Needless to say, I was very excited to find this car, but who owned it and would the owner sell it? The list of the people showing cars at the show had the telephone numbers of the car owners. I called the owner of the Buick and he said that the car was not for sale, but yes, I could look it over and drive the car. It was just for “nostalgic” reasons, I told him. Two weeks later I was again examining the car and wanted to drive it. As most car guys know, when you love cars you drive, you remember how it felt to drive them. This was a happy moment. I looked at the odometer and it read 3,627. Could this be original? It certainly drove that way. At that point I knew I had to own this car! So when we returned we went inside his home and made a deal.

Since the car arrived in Denver I have entered it in two local car shows. People who know cars were “all over” the car. I told them that I am sure it is the only one built. Bud Bayliff had told me it is the only one he built. Every part of the car is almost perfect, including the chrome, body, glass, engine, paint, upholstery and tires. And, yes, it is a “4 holer” we used to call a Roadmaster back in the 50s.

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People often ask about the custom top since it is down and hidden most of the time. It is a four-position top, which was a style used often in the 1930 but seldom seen since. The front can come off separately to resemble a “town car” with a driver’s open top. Then this can stay in place and the rear part lowered so the back seat resembles a landolet. The other two positions are all up or all down. The problem is that it takes about 20 minutes to put the full top up. However, the windows are manual and seal very well with the top.

One-offs are fun and usually interesting to historians and car people. I trust most people haven’t seen this car before and hope they find it of interest.

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