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The Oldest Surviving Buicks - Where Are They Now?

With the cooperation of vintage car collectors and researchers, Buick Motor Division has identified 14 Model C Buicks manufactured in 1905 and 1906 as the oldest known survivors among about 35 million Buicks produced over more than nine decades.

Five are in museums, one is on display in a Las Vegas casino, one is owned by Buick and the rest are in private ownership.

Using engine numbers to refine the list, the researchers believe a Model C owned by Harold Warp Pioneer Village, a museum in Minden, Nebraska, is the oldest survivor. It has the lowest engine serial number (2873) among the known Model Cs. Researchers believe it was built in April, 1905, the second month of production of that model.

It was once owned by the late Alton Walker, a widely known car collector from Pebble Beach, Calif., who at various times owned five Model C Buicks. He had bought it from a man named Riley of Los Altos, Calif., in about 1946 and sold it to Warp in 1957. It is now painted a bright red.

Buick Motor Division owns a Model C that is probably the fourth oldest existing Buick, and which has long been claimed to be the first Buick ever sold in California.

But it's possible an older Buick is out there somewhere -- even, perhaps, one of the storied 37 Model Bs from 1904. If so, it has eluded collectors for decades.

Buick Motor Co., which formed the foundation for the creation of General Motors, was incorporated May 19, 1903, in Detroit. The company moved to Flint later that year. It grew out of earlier companies formed by David Dunbar Buick -- Buick Auto-Vim and Power Co. (1899) and Buick Manufacturing Co. (1901 or 1902).

David Buick's companies produced one experimental Buick automobile about 1900 and another in 1902-03, both in Detroit, and began production with 37 Model B Buicks in Flint in 1904.

Buick produced 729 Model Cs in 1905 and 58 in 1906, all in Jackson, Mich., before switching to the Model F that year.

The Model C recalls the beginning of Buick's rush to become one of the most dramatic successes in the history of the American automobile. Although Buick started production in Flint in 1904, the Model C of 1905 was the first Buick built in significant numbers, 700 being significant at that time.

In 1905, David Buick, who founded the firm and designed the body, was still with the company. So was Walter L. Marr, who helped develop the famous valve-in-head engine. The Model C was the first model distributed nationwide by Buick's dazzling early promoter, William C. "Billy" Durant, who would use Buick as the foundation for his creation of General Motors in 1908.

No. 4 on the list of the oldest Buick survivors -- the car now owned by Buick -- was first sold by a colorful figure who would become the world's largest car distributor. He was Charles S. "Rough Rider Charley" Howard.

"Rough Rider Charley" got his nickname by charging up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War before becoming Buick's early distributor on the West Coast. Howard sold 85 Buicks in 1905 after opening his dealership in San Francisco that summer. He sold his first -- the No. 4 survivor -- to a Dr. A. J. Villain and later bought it back.

(The Howard car was described in a 1919 issue of The Buick Bulletin as the first Buick sold on the West Coast. But before becoming a distributor, Howard had persuaded Pioneer Motor Co. of San Francisco to handle Buicks for a brief period, and there was another early California dealer, so there is some question about the first-sold-in-California claim).

Howard was a dominant, colorful figure. In 1906, he dug a few Buicks out of the wreckage of his dealership destroyed by the San Francisco earthquake and pressed them into service as ambulances and taxis for the injured and homeless.

Later opening a dealership in Hollywood, he and his dealers catered to movie stars and in the process made Buick the car of choice in early motion pictures. He owned the famous race horse "Seabiscuit." He bought Buicks by the trainload as he took control of Buick distribution throughout the West. "Rough Rider Charley" soon became better known as "Train Load Charley."

And he made that No. 4 survivor famous. By 1919 he was displaying it in auto shows as an antique. A surviving photo shows a crowd gathered around it that year. Other photos survive of it in a '20s parade in San Francisco and in antique car races in the '30s, when it won trophies now owned by Buick.

Alton Walker bought the car in 1970 from Howard's grandson, Charles S. Howard III. In a letter, Walker once wrote: "I would say this is the finest of all the old Buicks (because) it has a real history as it has been in one family 65 years...the '05 Buick is always the best tour car for the hobby as it is always dependable." Earnest Faggart and his son, Ted, owners of a Buick dealership in Porterville, Calif., bought the Howard car from Walker in 1978 and arranged for Buick to take ownership in 1991. "This car belongs at Buick headquarters in Flint, where more people can see it," said Ted Faggart.

The Model B and Model C were both relatively large cars with two individual seats in front and a rear tonneau roomy enough for three more passengers. The original two-cylinder engine produced 21 horsepower at 1230 rpm -- which was considered so powerful at the time that a prominent writer, Hugh Dolnar, had to set up a special test to prove that result to his doubting editors and colleagues. Buick demonstrated its power quickly -- winning a major hill climb with one of the first Model Bs and becoming a major player in early auto races.

The search for the oldest surviving Buicks began with the research of lists provided by antique car clubs, discussions with experts and known owners of Model Cs and the study of old records, photos and newspaper articles. The research group was a loose-knit collection of Model C owners, writers, restorers, museum curators and people who make a hobby of Buick historical research.

There are minor differences between the Model B and Model C. The earliest Model Bs had an engine with pushrods on the bottom, a narrow brass molding along the front of the hood and an 83-inch wheelbase. The Model C had an engine with pushrods on the top, a wider brass molding and an 85 to 87-inch wheelbase. Some experts believe Model Bs built late in 1904 had Model C characteristics and some claim a few of the 37 cars of 1904 were Model Cs.

While some of the surviving Model Cs have Selden patent numbers and frame numbers, others do not. Most surviving cars have been ranked by engine number, found on the flywheel. The Howard car has a replaced flywheel with a serial number of 8014 but documents show the original number was 3044, which was used to rank it.

Many of the surviving Model Cs have been incorrectly identified through the years as 1904 (or even 1903) cars, and the Howard car is no exception. Although the 1919 The Buick Bulletin correctly identifies it as a 1905 car, photos from the '30s show it with brass "1904" numbers on the radiator cover, which were still on the car when Buick received it.

And there is a metal license plate on the dashboard, issued by Oakland, Calif., with a number of 98 and a date of January 1, 1905 -- but the 5 appears to be a strikeover of a 6.

While the original factory records are now missing, William G. Gregor of Flint, who once owned a Model C, quoted from the then-existing records in a 1951 letter to Warwick Eastwood, of Pasadena, Calif., who still has his Model C.

According to Gregor, 729 model Cs were built in 1905 -- 38 in March, 109 in April, 141 in May, 78 in June, 78 in July, 174 in August, 31 in September, 37 in October, 26 in November and 17 in December. He recorded 58 more built in 1906 -- 17 in January, 35 in February, 2 in March, 3 in April and 1 in May. He said his car (now owned by Imperial Palace Casino in Las Vegas) was built August 31, 1905. Gregor's data suggests the oldest surviving Buick was built in April of 1905 and the car now owned by Buick was built in June.

Ownership of known Model C Buicks, in order of engine number:

1. Harold Warp Pioneer Village, Minden, Neb., 2873 (engine number).

2. Grant Burns, Costa Mesa, Calif., 2938.

3. C.A. "Skip" Carpenter, Shrewsbury, Mass., 3006.

4. Buick Motor Division, Flint, Mich. (number is now 8014 but documents show original flywheel had a number of 3044).

5. Richard I. Braund, Elroy, Wis. (number missing but reported frame number of 348 indicates 4th or 5th oldest).

6. Robert "B.J." Coombes, Jr., La Canada, Calif., 3050.

7. Sloan Museum, Flint, Mich., 3076.

8. National Museum of Science & Technology, Ottawa, Ont., Canada, 3081.

9. Imperial Palace Casino, Las Vegas, Nev., 3359.

10. Lowell Anderson, Glenham, S.D., 3399.

11. J.B. Nethercutt, Sylmar, Calif., 3459.

12. Sloan Museum, Flint, Mich., 3476.

13. Warwick Eastwood, Pasadena, Calif., 3355 (probably a 1906 car).

14. Duane Dreesen, Hartington, Neb. (no engine or numbers so unranked).

One of the cars owned by the Sloan Museum (No. 7 above) was used to help build a replica of the first Model B Buick built in Flint. The car has an original 1904 (pushrods-on-bottom) Buick engine, one of only two believed to exist.

As for an original Model B, the search goes on. Through the years, there have been reports and claims of existing Model B Buicks. But to date, the claims have evaporated under expert examination. Usually the cars turn out to be a Model C, or even a Model F or Model 10.

But the experts acknowledge that not every vintage Buick owner has been reached. Not every old garage has been opened. Not every field, or warehouse, or scrapyard, has been searched.

Source: Buick Motor Division
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