Here's proof you don't need a recently completed project to snag a feature in R&C, just a neat car that we haven't spotted before. David Dickinson's '39 Buick 40 Series convertible has covered 17,000 miles in five years with him at the helm, though he's just continuing a legacy passed on by the Buick's former, and original, owner.
Dr. Council Dean bought the Buick new, had the top chopped that same year, and proceeded to put more than half a million miles on the odometer while traveling to all 48 states in the contiguous U.S., and he was still behind the wheel at the age of 87.
David was actually on the trail of a '57 Chevy convertible when he learned the Buick was for sale, Dr. Dean having recently passed away. Of course, at that time, David was unaware of the car's history and the local celebrity status it and its owner had enjoyed. What he saw when he arrived to look over the Buick was a car sorely in need of a savior, with fenders that had been welded to the body yet had also rusted through, the bottom 4 inches of the car rusted away, and much of the floor missing, ravaged by road salt over the years. "I didn't know much of the Buick's history when I made the deal to buy the car," David said. "Dr. Dean had accumulated mountains of repair parts, and I took what I needed but knew I wasn't going to restore the car, so I only took a spare hood, grille, and some trim parts."
Before taking the Buick home, David took it to Bob Messig, a good friend and artistic car builder, and that friendship played an important role in the five years it took to rebuild the car. According to David, "Bob loved it as much as I did, and we sometimes didn't see eye to eye. Sometimes he could change my mind, and other times I would have to remind him who owned the car. In the end, I don't think either of us would change a thing."
So, while Bob went to work on the Buick, David busied himself trying to locate front fenders with side mounts, eventually wearing down a hairdresser in Houston over a three-month period and convincing him to sell a pair. He also supplied sketches of how he envisaged the Buick, selected the running gear, and hustled parts from swap meets and Buick purists around the country.
Despite its relatively stock appearance, park David's Buick next to a stocker and the modifications really become apparent. At Buick shows, he's been asked if it's sectioned, and people can't believe the doors have actually been extended by 1 1/2 inches on the lower edge to meet the rockers. One guy produced a tape measure, his disbelief was so strong!
Subtle improvements include sectioning the hood and grille 3 inches at the front, tapering to stock height at the cowl, frenching the grille, radiused wheel openings, and lengthened front fenders. The rear fenders were also widened 2 1/2 inches at their leading edge, tapering to stock at the rear, along with sectioned side-mount tire covers, new window frames and vent windows, and a rectangular tube subframe to strengthen the cowl area and inner structure, to eliminate cowl shake. Oh, and the rear floor was raised for axle clearance.
But, as well as his sense of pride when people appreciate the Buick, it's the connection with its previous owner that David seems to get a huge kick out of. "The two of them seem to have been inseparable," he said. "He drove the car daily until his death, and a teacher at the University of Central Arkansas gave me a photo from the college newspaper where Dr. Dean always caused heads to turn when he made his annual homecoming visit." It was a former student of Dr. Dean's that told David the car had been chopped when new, as Dr. Dean wasn't a tall man and felt the car was too large. We're sure the esteemed doctor would be proud to see his Buick relishing its new lease on life, and continuing to put miles under its tires.