Friday, May 11, 2012

Our Big Old Buick

I think I have reached that age when nostalgia becomes a chronic condition

In “My Hometown,” Bruce Springsteen sings about sitting on his old man’s lap behind the wheel in his family’s “big old buick and steer as we drove through town.”  Springsteen and I are pretty close in age and so I like to think that he is  singing about a Buick Special which was an extremely popular and big-selling car back in the mid-1950s.  Our first new family car, at least the first one I can remember, was also a big old Buick Special, specifically a brand-new 1954 gray and Tahitian coral (we called it pink) two-tone, four-door sedan my folks bought  as we prepared to move to the Los Angeles area. 

Thinking back on that old car, I did a little digging to find out what I could about the 1954 Buick Special.  Buicks constituted approximately 10% of all automobiles sold in the United States that year, and the Special was one of its more popular models with its V-8 engine, four-barrel carburetor and Dynaflow automatic transmission.  It was a pretty sporty looking car for its day, with lots of chrome trim on the front grill and the front and rear bumpers with their bullet-shaped guards, and the trademark Vent-Ports on the front fenders.  And the Buick Special was reasonably priced at around $2200 (that would be approximately $17,000 in today’s dollars).

My memories of that cross-country trip, my first real road trip of any duration or distance, are spotty, yet there are some that remain quite vivid.  Dad in the driver’s seat and Mom riding shotgun next to him, and I had the back seat all to myself (my sister would not arrive on the scene for another three years).  My folks bought the car in Michigan before we set off from my grandparents’ farm in the southwestern corner of the state (where the above photographs were taken).  Our travel gear was stowed in the trunk and in a makeshift rooftop carrier one of my uncles welded together out in the barn.

Then it was off to the bright city lights of LA.  I am able to cobble together our general route by looking at old family photograph albums with plenty of black and white shots of me standing in front of numerous “Welcome To” signs en route - Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.  I don’t recall many details except the blistering heat as we drove across the desert.  That big old Buick did not have air conditioning, and the air streaming through the front and rear vent windows (remember them?) did not do the trick.  I recall, too, the canvas water bags attached to the rear bumper - to quench our thirst and for topping off the radiator.  We also traveled at night and during the early morning hours, spending our days in an air-conditioned motel room and the pool.   And then there was the orange crayon that melted all over the shelf below the rear window which remained an indelible reminder of that hot trip.  Stevie wasn’t very popular that day! 

 My folks remained loyal Buick drivers through the late 1970s, but the one I remember best and most fondly was that pink and gray Buick Special with its orange accent.  Now that was a car!.

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