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By Brian Earnest
Jim DiGregorio admits that he’s owned probably more cool collector automobiles over the years than any car buff has any right to own. Pristine ’50s Cadillacs, stellar Jaguars, Tri-Five Chevys, awesome Chrysler “Letter Cars” that have fetched record sale prices. “The list goes on and on,” admits DiGregorio, a resident of Scottsdale, Ariz.
And even though he has had so much spectacular machinery in his garage at time or another, DiGregorio seems anything but jaded or spoiled when it comes to appreciating fine cars. It is obvious when he speaks that he has been genuinely humbled by his longtime love affair with his cars.
Sometimes, you can just tell when a guy likes cars so much, and his passion and admiration for wonderful iron is so genuine, you just figure he deserves to have a really nice one of his own.
DiGregorio is one of those guys.
So when he gushes about how much he digs his sparkling, and rare, 1959 Buick LeSabre convertible, you know the car must be special. It has some big tracks to follow in DiGregorio’s garage, but a totally original 1959 ragtop with just 32,000 miles and über-rare, three-on-the-tree is certainly something to get worked up about, no matter what else you’ve owned previously.
“This car is just a real privilege to own,” says DiGregorio. “I don’t for a second ever take it for granted.
“It’s just so phenomenal to look at. It might sound strange, but it’s almost hypnotic … Many times I’ll just walk out into the garage and just stare at it and I can’t even believe it’s mine.”
DiGregorio had owned a 1959 LeSabre convertible years ago and was a big fan of the cars when he spotted a magazine ad for a stick-shift ragtop a few years back. “I decided to pass on it because I thought they were asking far, far more than it was worth for what it was,” he said. “But when I noticed that it was a manual transmission, that’s what really caught my attention.”
Eventually, DiGregorio figured out that the car had been purchased by a man in the Phoenix area — a man he eventually became friends with. “I told him I wanted to buy the car, but he was a very reluctant seller,” DiGregorio admitted. “But I was persistent, and eventually I was able to buy the car.
“I got lucky. I stepped up to the plate. I had to pay the gentleman a profit over what he bought it for, but I knew what the car was and I saw what the car needed.”
What the car needed was not much. It was in near-perfect condition inside and out, “it just needed a good bath,” DiGregorio said. “I spent three days cleaning all the stainless up. There are so many stainless pieces on those cars, and there is not a single scratch or ding anywhere.”
For all its stunning, big-finned beauty, DiGregorio knows that his Buick is truly special for two reasons. “It’s unique because it’s stick shift, and because it’s a low-mileage original,” he said. “Basically, other than that, it’s just a standard car. It has an AM radio in it … There are not many bells and whistles on the car.”
Regardless of the car’s condition, DiGregorio’s ’59 would be of interest to collectors and enthusiasts simply because of its transmission. Some sources indicate that even though manual transmissions were standard on 1959 LeSabres, less than 2 percent of all Buicks for that year didn’t get the upgrade to either the Twin Turbine or Triple Turnbine Dynaflows. “And who knows how many were convertibles?” DiGregoria added. “This might be the only one. It would be interesting to know how many are out there that are alive and well.
“I’ve never seen another one in my life, and I have not met or talked to a single other person who has ever seen one.”
Buick built 10,489 LeSabre convertibles for the 1959 model year. The new-for-1959 LeSabre lineup also included two- and four-door sedans, two- and four-door hardtops and a station wagon, with the four-door sedan being the most popular among buyers with 59,379 produced. The 4,216-lb. droptops carried a base price of $3,129.
If the ’59s had a singular calling card, it was most certainly the crazy angled fins that seemed to go from one end of the car to the other. The front end was a dazzling grid of chrome squares with menacing dual headlamps angled in a sort of evil squint that surely intimidated a few drivers who spotted the Buicks coming up from behind.
“You could say it’s a car with character,” laughed DiGregorio. “When you meet some people, they might be really nice looking and they have character. I think that’s what you think of when you think of this car.”
The bodysides had chrome strips running from bow to stern, and the round tail lights sat low in the back. Standard equipment included a glovebox light, dual horns, electric wipers, horizontal Red Liner speedometer and an outside mirror on the ragtop. Power steering and brakes were optional on the Series 4400 LeSabres, as was air conditioning, power seats, automatic transmission, a fancy radio, padded dash and a long list of other niceties.
The only under-hood offering was the 364-cid V-8 that produced 250 hp.
As far as DiGregorio can tell, every piece of his Buick is original except for the four tires (“But they are the authetic old four-ply, nylon tires, and they act like it!”), a new generator and battery, and a fresh set of shock absorbers. DiGregorio believes his Buick was sort of predestined to enjoy a pampered life after it was originally purchased by a man in Pennsylvania who “was pretty much a fanatic about the automobile. It was his shrine or his temple… And this man, I’m not sure what he was thinking at the time, but he wanted a stick shift. ”
The man eventually died and the car went to his brother, who then turned it over to a broker before the car eventually wound up with an attorney in the Phoenix area.
DiGregorio has taken the LeSabre to a few car events “where it has a habit of taking first place or best in show,” but mainly limits his road time to trips to and from Saturday night collector gatherings in Scottsdale. “I take it down to the pavilions on Saturday nights, and we have one of the best groups in the country show up down there,” he said. “Every time I go anywhere, I usually only put seven to 10 miles on the car. I only take it to shows, really… I try to wait for the cooler weather down here to drive it, and I don’t let it sit out in the sun. I have the plastic seat covers on the seats, and it can get too hot for those — if you’ve even had those, you know what I mean.”
Like a lot of owners of low-mileage original cars, DiGregorio has to weigh the fun of driving his beautiful Buick against the specter of adding miles to the odometer. “I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t, but I’d rather be damned with it than without it!” he jokes. “It’s just that it’s so unique and so odd that it is a stick shift and they only made those blade fins for one year … What do I do?
“I like anything unique, original. I’ve always been that way, I guess. And anyone can restore an automobile, but as the expression goes, it can only be original once. I have a preference for the originals because of their uniqueness and the way they handle …
“Nothing has to be done to this car whatsoever. Nothing at all. It’s the kind of condition you’d love to have a car in.”
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