Tuesday, July 15, 2014

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1940 Buick Model 81C Limited Convertible Phaeton

Lately one of my favorite sources for street sightings is a quiet street within walking distance of my house. Most of the time I strike out, but when something's there, it's really good. This was the first one I found on the street, a 1940 Buick Limited convertible sedan.

I've spoken with the owner, an older gentleman who owns a small local chain of furniture consignment stores. He has a collection of antique cars, but only a few are local at any given time. I've been lucky to stop by a few times when one of them was parked outdoors. This Buick seems to be one of the prized pieces of the owner's collection. He told me he owned an identical car in high school decades ago but had to sell it to help finance his university education. It took thirty years to find another one. Why so difficult to find an old Buick convertible for sale? Consider this: Buick only made 250 Limited Model 81C "flatback" Convertible Phaetons in 1940. The Limited Model 80C fastback Phaeton is rarer still with only seven built (incidentally, one of those seven is owned by my alma mater, the Academy of Art University in San Francisco). Even the more common 81C like this one is still a very rare animal and I'm sure they don't come up for sale very often.

These cars were some of the most luxurious and expensive Buicks available in 1940, at a cost of $1952 new. The Limited package included a long 140-inch wheelbase, 320 cubic-inch straight eight engine and standard dual side-mount spare tires with steel outer shells. This one also has a pair of fog lights mounted on the front bumper, the optional dashboard clock and a beautiful engine-turned dash panel. Interesting features of the 1940 Buicks are an early example of four-way turn signal lamps (located atop the front fenders and in either side of the red Buick Eight logo in the trunk lid) and a red line that circles around the speedometer gauge face to warn the driver when the car travels at speeds in excess of 50 mph.


One thing I've noticed about this collection of cars is that they look really good from across the street, but up close they may have imperfections like rock chips and aged paintwork. The owner likes to be able to drive his cars, taking them on trips and properly enjoying them. I respect that. This Buick is a sweet ride and from what I've heard from the owner, probably one of his favorites.

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