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.”
“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.”
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