By Brian Earnest
Kent Waddington always knew what the answer was going to be, but he kept asking the question anyway.
“Can I buy your car?”
Finally, after he had begun to lose hope that he would ever land the intoxicating 1965 Buick Wildcat sport coupe he had been lusting after for more than 20 years, he got the answer he was hoping for when he least expected it.
“I wanted that car from the time I was a kid, maybe 10 years old when I’d first seen the car,” Waddington laughs. “There was an Ohio couple that had a cottage on the river up here in eastern Ontario where I live, and I’d see the car every year when they came up. The first time saw it I thought, ‘I need that car!’ Every year I’d see the car and I’d ask the wife, ‘When are you gonna sell that car?’ Never mind that I was only 10 years old, or whatever, and had no money and no license… Every year for about 20 years I’d see her and ask her about the car. And, of course, every year it was ‘No, no, no’, I don’t want to sell the car.’”
That refrain finally changed in 1990, however. The good news for Waddington, a resident of Combermere, Ont., was that the couple was planning to sell the car, and they were giving him first dibs. The bad news was that the timing couldn’t have been much worse.
“I had just bought a brand new Cobra Mustang GT convertible when she phoned me and said I’m finished with the Buick if you want it,” he said. Still, Waddington figured it was now or never and he needed to pony up the money for the car or forever regret passing on his big chance to finally get the car. His tune began to change when he started trying to figure out the logistics of bringing the car home, however.
“I got excited and decided we had to go and look at it, but I’d never bought a car from across the border before and never bought one that far away… I started making phone calls [to state transportation bureaus] and they were all telling me I had to have trip permits for every state … It started to look like an insurmountable chore to ever get the car and drive it home. I figured I’d go through with it and go to Ohio and politely turn down the offer. I figured the car would be all rusty and beat up from sitting.“But then when the husband backed it out of the shed and the sun hit that 1,000 lbs. of chrome and I saw what kind of shape it was in I decided I had to have it. I wasn’t leaving without the car. I paid far too much for it and on top of that there was a 15,16 percent exchange rate in favor of the Americans … But I got the car and I drove it home!”
Waddington quickly discovered the Wildcat had a bad wheel bearing in front that caused a nasty vibration above about 30 mph, so it was a long, slow trip home from Garretsville, Ohio, not far from Cleveland. “It was probably youthful foolishness,” he says. “It was roughly 745 kilometers, which was 462 miles. It took us 2 ½ days to get home.”
But the excursion has proven to be worth it for Canadian car buff, who now has 16 vehicles in his collection, and non more beloved than his authentic 1965 Buick. The car remains in remarkable original condition, with its interior and drive train untouched after 57,000-plus miles. Waddington has had touch-up paint work done on one small spot on the trunk and suspects the car had a front fender resprayed at some point in its past – probably from a minor fender bender or mishap in the previous owners’ garage. But aside from routine maintenance and minor repairs, including some work on the wheel cylinders and machining the drum brakes, the shiny red-and-white hardtop cruiser has barely been touched.
“I never had any interest in doing anything to it,” Waddington says. “Other than the brakes and exhaust and master cylinder, it’s just as it drove out of the factory. The only that thing people would look at on it that is detracting from its beauty is the headliner. The ultraviolet light has really turned it almost to a powder … I’m sure for couple hundred bucks I can have it changed, but it’s authentic the way it is.”
Waddington’s car is a Custom model, which had a slightly fancier interior than the base model. The Wildcat lineup was expanded to 11 different trim and body style combinations for 1965 — the model’s fourth year. The base and Deluxe series cars were available as four-door sedans, four-door sedans, two-door sport coupes and convertibles. The top-line Custom series did not include the four-door pillared sedan.
The Wildcat debuted in 1962 as a big, sporty two-door hardtop that was part of the Invicta lineup. At about 4,150 lbs., the big coupe needed some big cubes to justify the “sport” in its moniker and it got them with Buick’s 401-cid V-8 rated at 325 hp. From the beginning, the Wildcat was never going to be confused with a true sports car, but it’s attractive styling, myriad of options and body styles, and healthy V-8 power made an attractive all-around family machine that Buick marked as its “family-sized sports car”.
The 1965 Wildcats were slightly restyled and shared the LeSabre's new body. They carried new die-cast grilles with a large center emblem, large simulated bright front fender vents and Wildcat script on the quarter panels and deck. Inside, Wildcat emblems appeared on door panels. The full wheel covers also used the Wildcat emblem. The upscale Deluxe and Custom models could be had with bucket or notchback bench seats with folding arm rests and some other interior goodies, such as carpeted door kick panels.
Waddington’s lovely red-and-white cruiser is outfitted with white vinyl seats and doors with contrasting back carpet and dash. For a base price of $3,272, buyers of the Deluxe level Wildcats got power steering, power brakes and seat and the standard 401-cid/325-hp V-8 with four-barrel carburetion. Automatic transmission was a $241.88 option on the Wildcats, while a four-speed manual was also on the options list for $231.13.
A combined total of 11,617 Deluxe and Custom Wildcat sport coupes like Waddington’s were built for the 1965 model year — there are no exact breakouts between the two top trim levels. The fancier Wildcats were slightly more popular with new car buyers than the base models, with the big four-door hardtop sedans being the top choice.
Waddington estimates he has spent between $800 and $1,000 to make minor repairs to his Wildcat over the past 25-plus years. The car’s dependability and versatility have made it a wonderful hobby car during the warm weather months. “When you get in it and sit down it’s just this cavernous opening, and usually you pump the accelerator twice, turn the key and off it goes,” he says. “It’s very nice to drive on the highway, it handles well, you can get six people in it if need be. It’s got a gigantic trunk. It was everything a big luxury boat from the mid-’60s was supposed to be, and with a very high degree of reliability… It gets 17, 18, 19 miles per gallon — in Canadian gallons — which for a car that heavy and that big with a motor that size is pretty darn good.”
Waddington has put about 500 miles a year on his big red Buick. The original owners averaged a little over 1,000 miles a year, so the Wildcat has never really been a daily driver. “She never really drove it much,” Waddington says. “She was a bit eccentric and she and her husband always drove Chevrolet C10 trucks. She bought three Chevy trucks, and she bought them all in Canada, because for some reason she believed the Canadian trucks were better than the American trucks [laughs].”
Waddington recalls that he didn’t wait long to take the Wildcat to its first car show. It was the first thing he did with it — even before he got out of Ohio. “The day we got it was late in the afternoon by time got all the paperwork finished, and right across the road from their house was a Dairy Queen and they were having a cruise night and of course I wanted to show off my new car. So I drove across the road and the first guy I meet was a guy who worked at the Buick dealership in town and he was really [ticked] at me because he’d been trying to buy the car for years.”
After waiting 20-plus years to get his hands on the Wildcat, Waddington can’t picture parting with the car anytime soon. He has 15 other vehicles in his hobby fleet, but the Wildcat might be the least likely to go.
“I’m just the caretaker right now,” he says. “Lots of people want to buy it. I can think of five people that would love to have it. The problem is when I sell a car I never want to see it again … We do get emotionally attached to these things.
“You can’t always explain what it is about a car that you like. It’s just something. And people that aren’t car people, they wouldn’t get it anyway.”
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