Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Rick Zierler’s 1950 Buick Super convertible somehow managed to survive 35 years of neglect inside a barn.
It couldn’t survive its first big night of freedom, however.
Zierler, a resident of Menasha, Wis., figured his stepson’s wedding would be an appropriate occasion to get his barn find Buick back on the road about five years ago. The lovely ragtop was far from perfect, but it was an unrestored survivor and Zierler had every intention of keeping it that way.
Sadly, an unlucky deer had other ideas.
“This one wasn’t even slated to be worked on,” Zierler joked. “I was working on a ’58 Buick Limited, which was my first car, but my wife said this one would be good to have for the wedding, so I quick got it together.
“I got it all buffed up and looking nice, and it was looking good enough, I thought, for the wedding, and then that night coming home from the wedding I hit a deer and wiped out the whole driver’s side.”
To make matters worse, the venerable Buick was not insured against such a mishap. “I insured it … but my insurance company wouldn’t put comp or collision on it because I hadn’t had it appraised,” Zierler noted.
The Buick’s story has certainly had a happy ending, though. Once he realized that the car would need new paint and some considerable bodywork to fix the deer damage, Zierler decided to have the car fully restored and today it is a classy, iconic show-stopper. The rich combination of red leather upholstery, black paint and a black canvas top are a match made in Buick heaven, and as much as he wanted to keep the car original, Zierler is clearly still smitten with the car today.
“Yeah, I really like the car, of course I’d rather have a ’53 Skylark!” he joked. “Those are a little out of my price range, though.”
For many years, Zierler’s Buick belonged to an old car enthusiast and collector who lived near Appleton, Wis. The car had been driven up through 1962, it appears, but then must have been replaced by other cars and other toys. At some point it was parked in a corner of a storage building and left for several decades. “It was parked in ’62, because it’s got the stickers on the door from the oil changes, and it shows the dates and the mileage and everything,” Zierler said. The owner died without ever getting back to his Buick, and Zierler wound up finding out about the car and buying it from the man’s brother. “He had other guys that were interested in it, too. It was kind of a deal where ‘whoever will offer me the most.’ I didn’t know what the other guys were offering,” Zierler recalled, “… but I got the car.”
“It was in the furthest back corner of a pole shed, and there was a ’55 Nomad in front of it and a combine next to it, so all I could get at was the front right corner of the car. The headlight rims were green from sitting that long, and I really couldn’t tell if it was a solid car or not, because I couldn’t get underneath it or anything. There was a tarp over the top with some boards laying over it. It looked rough sitting in the barn with that much dust on the thing with the timbers laying over the top.
“When I got it running, it ran great, but it overheated. At first I thought it was a head gasket, because all they used was a 15/1,000th steel shim in these things, so I changed that and when I took the head off it had a brand new head gasket in the thing, so that was changed already. And then there was a temperature gauge under the dash that somebody added. Well, what happened is I think he couldn’t keep the thing from overheating and it ended up being a cracked head, and then I changed the head on it.”
That head, of course, was atop the familiar Buick straight-eight engine that had become a fixture by that time and would carry on for two more model years. The 263-cid power plants produced 124 hp and were certainly not known for their jackrabbit starts, particularly when mated to the optional two-speed Dynaflow transmission.
The bigger news for Buick in 1950 was on the outside of the cars. For the first time, post-war Buicks got new styling in the form of the GM B- and C-bodies, which had appeared the previous two years on Cadillacs and Oldsomobiles. The bottom tier Specials rode on 121.5-inch wheelbases and used the B-bodies, which had smooth, gently sloping rear fenders. The C-body design on the bigger Supers and Roadmasters featured body lines that dipped in the doors and sculpted rear fenders that bulged slightly.
And then there was that huge grille. Buick had never seemed to skimp on the chrome up front, and the “big mouth” look was taken to a new extreme in 1950 with a huge set of chrome teeth set inside two large bullets. Three of the trademark “ventiports” were located on the sides of the hood in the Super Series.
The interiors were plusher, especially in the convertibles, which got leather seats, plus a power top and power windows. Popular options included full wheel covers, cushion toppers, glare-fighting rearview mirrors, seat covers, license plate frames, auxiliary driving lights, rubber floor mats and exhaust pipe trim.
Once the deer had made the decision for him that the convertible would no longer be an unmolested survivor, Zierler tried to make the car as nice as he could, keeping in mind that he planned to drive the car a lot more than show it. Mechanically, he went through everything: brakes, wheel cylinders, transmission, water pump, generator, starter, radiator, etc. Inside, he installed new factory-correct red leather upholstery and red carpet. The body, of course, got a new coat of black paint.
Zierler also refurbished the hydraulics in the power windows and power top. “I had to change out the cylinders and rebuild the pump,” he said. “Electric would be nicer!”
The Supers were given the title of Series 50 in Buick parlance and were available in six body styles for 1950. The four-door touring sedan, two-door “jetback” sedanette, Riviera hardtop, Estate Wagon and convertible all used the 121.5-inch wheelbase chassis, while the new four-door Rivera sedan, which was by far the most popular Super among buyers, used the 125.5-inch chassis.
The Super convertible would set you back $2,476 before taxes and add-ons, and 12,259 copies of the ragtops rolled out of the Buick factory.
Zierler’s well-preserved example had just 42,000-plus miles on it when he rescued the car. Since then he’s put about 6,000 miles on the odometer. Original or restored, he says he doesn’t think twice about driving the car anytime he’s in the mood.
“I have other cars, too, and they’re all drivers,” he said. In addition to the 1958 Buick Limited, the black ’50 ragtop shares fleet space with a 1951 Packard, 1955 Buick Special, a second ’55 Special “that I’m making into a hot rod,” and a 1960 LeSabre. “I drive all of them like they are regular cars,” Zierler said. “I drove [the 1950 Super] up to Minnesota for Back to the 50’s, and I got 14, 15 mpg going 70-75 the whole way … I’ve had it up to 105 [mph] once. I don’t baby them, and if anybody in my family wants to borrow one, they can have any of them.”
The Buick’s last owner had the car for quite a long time, and Zierler would like the car to have a similarly long run with his family. He’s already been approached with a generous offer to buy the car “from a guy who is kind of prestigious, I guess you could say.” The suitor was politely rebuffed, but that didn’t keep him from trying again. “He called my wife the next day, I think, and she told me about it and said there was a guy that wanted to talk to me about the car, but I told her that if he called again to tell him it’s not for sale.
“I don’t get rid of anything,” he added. “That’s my problem!”
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