HOUSE OF BUICK
A wonderful collection of Buicks if you ever had the privilege of seeing this collection it was a memorial event. Photos below.
But first some information about the owners and their story. The article below was originally part of a story by Channel Nine Perth.
Les & June Woodruff Love of Buicks
(Article posted with the permission of Channel Nine.)
It was in ’72 that he finally bought a Buick – a stylish 1932 Sports Roadster model, which had been restored by a friend whose situation forced him to sell. That was the start of a serious collecting streak.
In ’76 a 1934 Sedan came Les’ way, followed soon by a 1938 Straight Eight Century sedan, from Melbourne. As Les’ interest in the marque grew, the next couple of cars added were older models – a 1926 Tourer and then a 1915 Tourer which came from Sydney.
All of the Buicks had been bought as collector’s pieces, not for everyday use. Les says: “I wanted Buicks that were a bit rare after I had three or four, and wanted variation and cars which were special.”
Over the next few years the span of models increased, covering each decade up to the ’70s. A 1956 Roadmaster, a 1972 Electra 225 Coupe (“It was owned by circus people who’d towed caravans with it and the upholstery had been torn up by lion cubs”), and a 1936 Convertible Phaeton illustrate that variety.
Cars started being imported from the US for Les through trusted finders, and later Les and his wife June travelled to America, picking up a few Buicks along the way — as you do. By the 1990s, this was a serious collection.
Many of the cars have been restored by Les in his well fitted-out workshop, usually taking about two years each. The quality and attention to detail in each of the restorations is certainly impressive.
When asked about a favourite, Les isn’t keen to name any particular car — it’s obvious his enthusiasm is as much for the marque of Buick as it could be for any individual car. Some of the cars stand out, so we chose a few, to look at the progress of the first several decades of the company, celebrating its 100th year in 2003.
The birth of Buick
David Dunbar Buick was a brilliant inventor, but it seems, not an especially gifted businessman. He had invented and patented the method for enamelling cast iron — such as for bathtubs, in a system used to this day. He went on to engine production, primarily for marine and stationary applications, but the draw of the automotive world was strong and it wasn’t long before the first Buick car saw the road.
Buick relied on backers to finance his operation, and they changed several times until finally William C Durant became the primary financier (he was later to set up General Motors). Durant sent David Buick packing with a US$100,000 handshake — a lot of cash in 1908. The cars by this time were very successful, with Buick being outsold only by Ford.
Until 1910 all Buicks had been two-cylinder models, with straightforward layouts. Les Woodruff had his scouts in the US looking for an early two-cylinder, chain drive Buick for some time. One of his people had been buying cars occasionally from a collection and had often walked past a dilapidated veteran car, unaware it was a Buick. Once he worked out what it was, negotiations began.
It took a long time and many calls to America to eventually secure the car. Les was amused by the seller. “This fellow just couldn’t believe he was talking to someone from down under — he had a real drawl too. When they finally decided to sell the car they wanted too much, so I said I’d call back later.” He did, and as a canny negotiator, ended up the new owner — so not long after the car was in a container on its way to Australia.
The car is a rare model in having the engine under the bonnet, rather than under the floor. It was built right hand drive, as were many cars in America at the time. Les says the restoration was, “a piece of cake. It’s like a toy, so easy to rebuild”.
Starting is by crank-handle, and the little twin chuffs into action and appears an easier car to drive than contemporary T-model Fords. It is a relatively small and light car which manoeuvres easily. The 1910 gets out quite often on club runs these days, and certainly looks the part.
One of the most glamorous cars in the collection is a striking turquoise coloured Roadmaster Convertible Phaeton, a 1936 model. The unusual body style as a four-door convertible makes this car a real stand out. The engine is a 320cu in straight eight, a layout for which Buick would be famous for right through to the early ’50s. With just 1230 made, this is a very rare car anywhere in the world and is one of just two in Australia.
It came to Western Australia from Adelaide and had previously been in Victoria, painted a sober black.
“We pulled it completely and utterly to bits,” Les remembers, and the result is quite something. It’s one of those cars which is worth taking a look underneath — the chassis and all the underneath fittings shine like new. The restoration has justifiably won awards for Les.
You sit about as high in this car as people ever did in a normal passenger car — higher than you do in a modern Jeep Cherokee. It gives a commanding view over the long, long bonnet. The engine purrs as a 5.0-litre in-line eight ought to. These are leisurely sorts of cars to drive, but certainly not slow — the model being known for its 100 miles per hour (161km/h) capability.
After the famous Buick toothy grille of the 1940s, Buick’s 50th year 1953 saw its first V8 engine, and lower, more progressive styling. Top of the range was the new Skylark, a sporty version wearing Kelsey Hayes wire wheels — priced at exactly US$5000, which was expensive at almost $1000 more than a convertible Cadillac. But there were 1690 Hollywood stars, Texan oil magnates and New York socialites who wanted this must-have Buick.
Less than 900 were built in 1954 and that was the end of the Skylark. Today this model is among the most collectable of Buicks, and it’s not hard to see why.
Les had wanted a Skylark for many years and had his main Buick spotter from Sydney looking whenever he went to America. In the early ’80s he saw a picture in an Australian magazine showing the front of a Skylark. He contacted the magazine, followed the leads to Victoria to speak to the person who’d had the car at the event in the photo. It wasn’t the man’s car, but he’d been doing some work on it for the owner who lived in Sydney — and the man turned out to be none other than Les’ Buick spotter.
Both men had wanted a Skylark for a long time, but Les showed remarkable persistence, phoning every month for over a year. Les eventually got the owner to agree to give him first option on the car. So Les began calling the owner every Sunday night. It seems that the owner was eventually worn down by this and finally Les got his car. It’s the only one in Australia and on its rare outings has attracted enormous attention.
The V8 burbles a smooth note and on the move the Skylark shows a comfortable turn of speed.
The design of this car sits on the cusp of when cars were shaking off the last of the bulbous separate mudguard look and starting to achieve the longer, lower, wider look of the modern car. With sweeping chrome side spears, a wide-mouth grille and low windscreen, the Skylark is a very stylish piece of machinery.
The two-tone pale pink and white 1958 Century Hardtop Coupe in the collection also has a remarkable history. Bought originally by a car collector, it was de-specified when ordered. When standard fittings included power windows, seats and steering, this car was specially ordered without. Interestingly, Kelsey Hayes wire wheels were fitted to the car. The original owner kept the Century for many years without ever registering the car.
When Les was in America, he was on the lookout for a 1958 convertible. The model is known as the most chrome-laden model of the American fins and chrome era, and is completely different to the preceding and following year models. When Les went to the big Carlisle swap meet in America, he came across this hardtop coupe. The price was high, and it wasn’t a convertible, but the car had covered just 72 miles from new — that’s a paltry 110km.
Today with a lofty 127 miles on the odometer (six of those miles done during our photo session), the hoses and other perishables have been replaced, but otherwise it stands as a remarkably perfect illustration of how a car was assembled and finished almost 50 years ago. Even the mufflers are the original items put in place at Flint, Michigan at the end of 1957 (the date is stamped on them).
This is a very good looking machine. The twin-headlights — new for 1958, full-width multiple square grille, lashings of chrome trim on the rear wings, wrap-around windscreen, twin gun-sights atop the front guards and overt badge-work are all elements of an overall look which works very well on what is a big, hefty car. Even though the car has not done enough mileage to have been run in, the engine purrs. As with the whole collection, Les regularly starts the car, rotates the wheels and makes sure everything is maintained properly.
Buick models were becoming mainstream GM derivatives in the early ’70s until the 1971 Riviera dreamt up by General Motors styling chief Bill Mitchell. The Riviera had been sold since 1963 but each model had become progressively less distinctive — until the new model of ’71. The proportions of the car changed to a lower, sportier profile. The side view was dominated by a sweeping window line, similar to Buicks of the mid ’50s, but most striking was the “boat-tail” rear end, with it’s pointed tail and wrap-around rear window. This look didn’t gain great approval at the time, and only lasted for three years, but today is recognized as a brave and different look.
Les found this 1973 Riviera outside the huge Hershey Swap Meet in America several years ago. “I found it sitting on the kerb outside Hershey. For blocks and blocks around there were cars for sale. We hadn’t even got to the gate yet when I saw this one,” Les recalls. “I looked right through it and liked it, but thought the price was too high. So I went to get my wife to take a look and she really loved it.” Before Les had a chance to make an offer, the vendor said he wouldn’t take any less than a particular figure — which was far lower than Les was about to offer!
After sitting for some years in his collection near Perth, Les decided to take the Riviera to the national Buick rally in Bathurst, NSW, so after a service and test run to the southwest and back, the car was driven to Melbourne. It didn’t skip a beat, with not a drop of oil or water used, and 19 miles per gallon average — not bad for a 455 cubic inch V8. That’s over 7-litres for the young ‘uns.
The Riviera has plenty of power to spare, sits nicely on the road and really illustrates how easy to drive American cars had become in the ’70s. Loaded with luxurious appointments, very comfortable seats and an appealing V8 exhaust note, the Riviera makes a compelling argument for American iron.
Having lots of Buicks certainly doesn’t mean Les Woodruff has a narrow view of motoring; a few other vehicle makes in the Woodruff household proving that.
Looking through the impressive Woodruff garage you can see the development, not only of the Buick marque over the last century, but of motoring itself.
Link below certainly will impress, and show the dedication and love of Buick’s