I apologize for the late start on Cold Start today, but I got in so very late last night from all the Amelia Island goings-on, so I’m catching up on lots of things. That said, I really want to show you a little taste of what I saw there, a sort of study in contrasts that defines a lot of the very car-crammed weekend, seen through a Buick-shaped lens. We have so so very much great content coming for you from the event, but for right now let’s just look at two Buicks, separated by over seven decades.
The first one I want you to note is that pristine 1908 Buick up there, and I want you to especially note how its tires are wrapped in plastic, like how my mom made us all wear little paper booties over our feet, shoe’d or otherwise, when walking on her new carpet, which retained the status of “new” for nearly a decade. Those white rubber tires were so very pristine that they were just not going to get even slightly dirty if that owner could help it, which is both eye-rolling and impressive, all at once.
But what makes this even more incredible is the car that the same owner brought and parked next to the 1908 Buick:
Maybe you noticed it in that top picture there, behind the white vision of Buickic perfection, and wondered how that heap managed to get lost and somehow end up in the Amelia Island Concurs parade lineup. But, no, it was supposed to be there, this example of what I’ve always considered a low ebb in the GM timeline, a 1980 Buick Century, one of those miserable G-Bodies where the rear side windows don’t roll down and I have painful childhood memories of cooking inside these unpleasant, sharped-cornered things.
So, why is this one on the lawn at all? Because it has a three-speed manual floor shifter. I’ve never seen one, ever. Despite technically being the base trim, no-options version, I have literally never encountered one in the world, despite living through the era where these things were everywhere.
I’m not going to show you the shifter yet because we’ll have some video of this shockingly rare vehicle soon and I don’t want to spoil it. Just know that it’s sublime and confusing and just like seeing Sasquatch riding a unicorn while eating a sandwich made from kosher bacon between a pair of Karmann Ghia radiators.
How many of these were sold? Three? But one was a mistake and the other was driven into the sea, leaving this one? I have no idea.
Anyway, more great Amelia stuff coming up!
UPDATE: Screw it, I’m showing you. the shifter! I can’t keep secrets from you!
In the early ’90s, family friends of ours had a daughter who was going college in Atlanta, where I lived. She drove her grandmother’s 77-79 Malbu from New Hampshire, with a V6 and 3-speed, power steering and unassisted brakes. I drove it once and it was such a strange thing to drive, with a sort of agricultural-feeling manual (and come on, a 3-speed?!), typical GM one-finger power steering and a he-man brake pedal. One day, while parked in our uphill driveway in neutral, the parking brake failed and it rolled down the driveway and across the street into a brick mailbox, putting a big ‘V’ in the rear end and totalling it.
A friend had a 78 or 79 Olds Omega with a 3 on the tree. That had to be a pretty rare beast.
If those white tires are anything like the white tires I have on my antique bicycle, the plastic covering isn’t needed as the tires are actually easy to clean. It’s the deterioration that will happen no matter what that will be the problem. Mine have aged to tan (they match the varnished wood wheels) and the rubber is starting to break down at about 3 times the rate of similar black tires and I keep them of the sun.
You like 3 speed manuals on the floor? Alright… I’ll give you 3 speed manuals on the floor:
Three-on the floor is quite common in Aussie Valiants into the mid-70s, reverse being where first usually is in the shift pattern catches out new owners quite often!
It looks as if GM themselves weren’t quite certain how to install the shifter.
“Oh! Crap! Someone ordered a manual! Did anyone design these parts or should we just see what’s in the shed? Crap, now we have to come up with parts numbers and the lists have already gone to the printers…”
GM wasn’t the only automaker to offer one last round of 3-speed on the floor stripped-down models in that part of the malaise era. I remember helping a friend wrench on a first-generation Mercury Monarch (Merc version of the Ford Granada) that was similarly equipped. Had the 200 cu in straight six in it; it was basically a Falcon in 1970’s clothing.
But it was definitely odd to get into a car that you expected to find yet another boring automatic slushbox in, only to discover the simplicity and delight of a manual. Well, delightful if you were a car nut, at least.
All in all, those packages served the needs of helping to meet the early federal CAFE regulations for fuel economy (Back then, an automatic carried a huge fuel economy penalty along with its convenience), helped provide a low-cost model, and also appealed to some buyers who preferred a manual; in other words, today isn’t the only time that manuals seemed to be an endangered species.
“miserable G-Bodies where the rear side windows don’t roll down and I have painful childhood memories of cooking inside these unpleasant, sharped-cornered things”
My brother! Fellow survivor here, but my folks didn’t have the scratch for a fancy-ass Buick. We got the Chevy Malibu, may it burn forever in hell. We celebrated when it was stolen (by masochistic mental patients, I presume) and wept when the police called to say they had recovered it.
Ah, the dulcet tones of projectile vomiting: Buick! Buick! Buick!
I will not be able to erase that from my mind. Thanks.
I am just amazed that a 3spd box was considered acceptable in 1980 (mind you, I’m also bewildered by the 2spd auto GM were using in the Corvair decades earlier). The American auto industry is equal parts amazing and stupid).
My first vehicle was a 1983 F150 with the 300 straight six and a 3-on-the-tree. Clutch had a fully mechanical linkage, no hydraulic slave cylinder. No power steering, or, rather, “Armstrong” power steering as we used to call it. Only thing power was the brakes, probably because they were required for the truck’s weight rating. No A/C, just roll-down windows and a spiffy ultra-modern slide-open section in the back window. Vent wings were still being installed in front of the windows, too. No headliner, just a nicely-stamped piece of body-color painted metal as an inside layer of the roof. No carpet, just some sort of everlasting black neoprene rubber over a layer of heat and sound insulation on the floor. It was only three years old when I bought it; I kept it for another fifteen years or so. Given the massive torque of the old 300 six, a three-speed was perfectly adequate get around economically and still haul heavy stuff. And it could still whip along at faster-than-then-legal highway speeds with no sweat. (In the era of the national 55 limit, that truck was just fine doing 65-75, which is perfectly fine for a pickup even now.)
I still miss that truck…
So, are you really sure that a model year 1980 Buick Century is a G-Body car….?
Got any antique and vintage motorcycle pics from the show. I know wheels through time was on the show field.
Huh, nope, I’ve never seen one either. Chevy and Pontiac G-bodies weren’t too uncommon with the 3 speed, and Olds wasn’t completely unheard-of, but the Buick is a new one on me.
I have seen (and test-driven) a FWD X-body Skylark with a 4 speed manual. That’s gotta be rare too.
Good Lord GM really just didn’t care. A bench seat with 2 inches between cushion and shifter and square cut carpet for a squircle boot.
That installation isn’t even half-assed. Calling it half-assed would be a compliment.
How much do you want a bet that shift boot isn’t actually a GM part? I’m thinking they just sent a plant gopher to Trak Auto to pick up a few generic parts and called it a Friday.
Wow, that jogged some repressed memories…
I grew up riding in the back of a 1978 Buick Century station wagon. Rear windows didn’t roll down so kids like me wouldn’t fall out. Nobody had carseats back then so I guess that was the safest thing for kids.
BUT, mom ordered it from factory without air conditioning because she cheaped out!!! She regretted it every summer for 12 years.
It did have an automatic transmission though.
It was actually so they could advertise a wider seat by hollowing out the rear door card, leaving no room for the window mechanism
This particular Century was the bait car offered for $4,999 in 72-point type in the dealer’s full-page newspaper ad at the back of the classifieds.
My Nana had a Century of about that vintage. It was baby blue IIRC. Not sure what year it was because I was maybe 5, but I can confirm the windows not rolling down much in the back. It sucked.
My father had a white one bought used. Mom and he would drive up to PA from FL and back with it in the ’90s. I piloted it on a trip for their 50th.
That is all.
So, uhh, does this mean that an Iraqi Taxi Malibu is concours-grade now?
Only with the full collection, a 1980s Brazilian VW Passat (with red or blue interior and -natch- four doors, at a time when the Brazilian market the excess had to be resold in overwhelmingly preferred 2-door cars with gray/black interiors) and a 1990s GAZ Volga (heaterless, how deep did THOSE have to be discounted to move the metal in Russia?)
It’s surprising given their record that Saddam’s Iraq fleet orders weren’t restricted to spec that would be popular and easy to resell in the home market when the inevitable partial cancellation came…
That would make a for a great nook at the Lane Museum.
You are forgetting about all the Datsun 510s, Toyota crowns and Kia Bongos.
It being Monday, I expected a Mercury.
Mercury Monday is almost exclusively on days that don’t begin with Mon-
Is this your first time on the site?
This reminds me of a Ford Wagon I heard a story of once. In the 60s a guy sold his sports car to have a family car, but he wanted the big V8 and a manual. He could get the manual no problem, but he wanted the Cobra Jet motor (something like that, memory is a bit fuzzy.)
He went round and round with the dealer trying to get them to order a station wagon with a big damned V8 and a 4-speed manual and the dealer finally got frustrated enough to tell him “here, you want the damn thing, you write to this guy. If he says ok, we’ll order it for you.” and gave the guy Lee Iacocca’s address at Ford.
So the guy writes to Lee, Lee says “hell yeah, brother!” and signs off on it. If I remember correctly the VIN number even had a blank spot on the tag where the engine code was supposed to go because it didn’t exist.
Oh, and as for the rubber, that’s because tires were white till they started adding carbon black to the tires which increased longevity by something ridiculous like 10x.
Because they’re the original color that probably means they have the same wear resistance and he might be trying to protect them from un-neccesary wear as much as from marks.
That was in a Motor Trend article a few years ago. 429 4 speed Country Squire wagon with bucket seats. Never restored.
Isn’t that the one..or one like it that Tom Cotter, Barnfind Hunter owns?
The interesting thing about the carbon in tires is that carbon was originally used as a filler alternative filler to save Mg for the war effort. Happy accident that it made the tires last so much longer.
Later on, it was discovered that adding some silica caused tire durability to improve even more.
Man, the auto industry was such a wild West back then.
Want a station wagon with a 4 on the floor and a giant V8 it isnt supposed to come with? Sure.
Want a luxury sedan, but with power windows in the front only, air conditioning, and power steering, but no power brakes? Sure, we’ll build that.
Want it painted yellow with a red leather interior and a green vinyl roof? Strange, but you’re the boss
One of my favorite Hemmings articles ever was this one: a 1968 Ford LTD Brougham that was one of six cars subject to a “glitch” on the assembly line, meaning that oopsie, it ended up with a 428/4-speed, a 4.11 Traction-Lok differential, factory dual exhaust with H-pipe, and cop tires/cop brakes/cop shocks, topped off with a Ford “four in one” four-function gauge randomly sticking out of the transmission tunnel in front of the shifter. Ford accidentally made Gator McKlusky’s moonshine-running rig, then shipped it to a dealer like it was just another LTD – which, with power brakes, power steering, power windows, air conditioning, and a vinyl top, it seemed to be.
VIN means Vehicle Identification Number.
Please don’t say VIN Number. It makes my teeth hurt!
Do you go to the Automated Teller Machine Machine and enter in your Personal Identification Number Number?
I’m glad you’re sharing your POV view…
And how is your hot water heater?
Don’t know: the LCD display is broken.
Now that I am finished reading your rant, I’m going to go study for my SAT test.
Tom Cotter the “Barn Find Hunter” owns it now. Fast forward to 11:06
My dad did similar, but with a Rambler Wagon. He did most of it from the build sheet, the rest from the parts counter. The saleman wanted to make a hotrod wagon as much as my dad did. 343/4bbl with 4 speed.
Was a super sleeper
I’m guessing the spot light means it was sold to a government fleet, possibly police as an unmarked detective car or something, which explains the ultra base configuration. Or, since it survived so well, maybe an agency where it wouldn’t see heavy miles, like the Treasury Police or something
Cold start a little late on a Monday morning? Only seems right tbh.
With a little flair the Century could be a Toyota Century….can anyone comment if there is a relation?
No connection at all. In fact, the Toyota design would have been 13 years old when this Buick was built – the first-gen Century somehow managed to go 30 years.
The names even come from two totally different sources, the Buick Century was introduced in the late 1930s as a factory performance car, guaranteed for a 100mph top speed, while the Toyota Century was meant to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota
thanks Ran! and @Citrus!
I can just imagine that the 1908 Buick is what caused OCD. If I had one back then I would literally have to wash every part of it after every drive.
Yes, but if you had a car back then you would have minions to wash everything for you.