1956 Buick Special Sedan – Ken Herne

Purchasing Our 1956 Buick Special
My wife Judy and I have owned a 1936 Chevrolet Roadster and a 1937 Chevrolet Master Sedan since 1994. We have toured around Eastern Australia in our cars and shown our girls Emily and Sarah many interesting places with old cars and club events have becoming part of our family life. As is normal, the girls grew and drifted away from touring with mum and dad and the 36 Roadster although a fun car seemed to spend too much time in the garage so was sold in 2004 leaving us with the 37 Chev Master which carried us afar and was a good touring car. I didn’t really have any intention of selling the 37 Chevrolet but an idle comment to a friend, Barry, who lives near Saskatoon, Saskatewan Province, Canada changed things. Barry is an old car enthusiast that I came across on a 36 Chevrolet forum and have stayed in contact with over the years even though we no longer have a 36 Chev.

Late August 2009 I said to Barry that I really like the lines of the 57 Buicks so let me know if he happens across one for sale………..a bit of a joke but he took me seriously and a week later Barry had been to a car display in Saskatoon and found a nice 56 Special that looked OK and was for sale!!!!. Barry sent me photos and said `what do you think of this 56??’ including the owners contact details. The car seemed fine to me so I did the sums, if I sell the 37 Chevrolet then it should about pay for the Buick and free up some garage space so I put this scenario to Judy and didn’t draw too much grief. From here things moved fairly fast, I spoke to the owner a couple of times, Barry drove 300 miles to do a full inspection and didn’t report any significant problems. Apparently the car had been restored in 2002, had the Dynaflow transmission rebuilt in 1976 as had the engine at some stage. There had been 4 owners with the current owner’s family having it twice and the others being his neighbours. With a known history all seemed go if I could sell the Chev which was listed on Ebay and sold in 4 days and gone in 6 days. Money in the bank and a Buick in Canada all seemed rather daunting to me but I paid for the car on 9 October 2009 then set about finding an importer.

I asked around through the car clubs and was pointed to a guy that imports parts from Dewinton, near Calgary, and sometimes will bring cars in with his bits and pieces however he wouldn’t be in Canada for a few weeks. OK, no rush but after a couple of weeks the former owner asked me to move the car as he needed the space for his new business. I had no previous experience with importing cars and found the following months a bit of a worry as you become so dependent on other people doing the right thing for you and so many things can cause delays. Eventually the former owner put the car on a trailer and delivered it to a heated specialist car storage facility at Dewinton (532klm) for us where it was promptly snowed in for about two months because of blizzards and temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees………….at least it was in good company with all the Ferraris and Porsches in winter storage. During this trip the car moved sideways on the car trailer causing the trailer mudguards to damage the paint on two doors on the car. He was so distraught about this that he paid my storage fees and rang me to apologise. Eventually the winter lifted and the car departed Canada and I received a telephone call advising that the car was in Melbourne and ready for collection on Friday 9th April 2010.

Always looking for a bit of adventure, Judy and I took a flight to Melbourne with the intention of checking the car over and after having a night in Melbourne we accepted the risk of driving an unknown 60 year old car home to Canberra on the Saturday. In Victoria you can pay for an unregistered vehicle permit over the phone and the $48 for a week seemed reasonable to me. Apart from being dirty from the customs disinfection process and the smell of stale petrol the car looked OK and the 322 cubic inch engine started straight away and settled down to that that nice V8 burble. Nothing immediate seemed to need doing to the car so after purchasing a few breakdown tools, checking the fluids, pumping up the tyres and giving it a wash we hit the highway for home on Saturday morning.

I can say that the car cruised nicely and quietly up the highway and despite intending to take it easy the car just seemed comfortable at 110kph and the vacuum wipers even worked in the driving rain.The transmission took a little time to get used to as it is an early form of automatic and quite unique in that when in `Drive’ it has only one gear which it uses up to the reported top speed of 120mph (190kph). Gearing is varied by using a variable pitch torque convertor that adjusts itself depending on road speed and throttle position with its operation similar to a variable pitch propeller on an aeroplane. There is a low range that is manually selected to assist with towing or starting on a hill but there is no automatic gear change, just smooth increase in speed.

I had in the back of my mind that the Buick Club of Australia were holding their national gathering at Wangaratta on this weekend so we decided to drop in unannounced to say g’day at the display in the park in the centre of town. We were well received and made most welcome and even invited to the presentation dinner where we were introduced as the adventurous couple who had just picked up their car off the boat in Melbourne and were driving it home. It was here that I discovered that the brake lines to the back wheels had been damaged when the car had been chained down with the pipe to one wheel flattened and broken off at the wheel cylinder. Fortunately the flattened pipe had reduced the fluid leak to a weep so I just topped up the fluid and pressed on………..don’t need brakes on the highway anyway.

We were met at Gundagai by some other Canberra Club members and escorted home; all we were missing was the arch of fire hoses as we came into Canberra.

Since then I have gone over the car pretty well and replaced the rusted front floors and fitted all new brakes plus a lot of time consuming tidying up and repainting bits and pieces. The car is now on full registration and quite popular for weddings, I guess people in Australia are not used to seeing such big cars with lashings of chrome.

Ken and Judy Herne