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.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Owner contact info: email@example.com
1939 Buick convertible
The stock chassis sits under that vast body, though the two were separated to thoroughly go through both. A Fatman Fabrications Mustang II IFS with Eaton coil springs and QA1 shocks now adorns the front, while the stock coils were removed at the rear and Chrysler leaf springs tunneled into the frame to lower the rear end. There's a '59 Ford 9-inch under there now, with a limited-slip differential and Delco shocks. Bob Messig, at Bodies by Bob in Furlow, Arkansas (501-352-1709), undertook all the chassis modifications. The stock Ford drums are still doing a fine job of braking, combined with a pair of Wilwood six-piston calipers and 11-inch rotors up front, ably hauling the heavy Buick down from highway speeds.
David opted to stay in the GM family and slip a big-block Chevy under the Buick's pancaked hood, settling on a '94 454 with Street & Performance intake and fuel injection, Sanderson headers, and a custom stainless steel exhaust system. Street & Performance also supplied the engine dress-up parts and accessory bracketry. Taking no chances, David purchased a new 4L80E transmission from GM, adding a Lokar shifter and hooking it to the 9-inch with a custom driveshaft from Superior Spring in Little Rock.
Wheels & Tires
Rims from a '92 Buick Roadmaster keep everything in the family-15-inch all around but with an extra 1/2-inch of backspacing on the front pair. Firestone Diamondback wide whites measure 205/75 and 235/75 front and rear, respectively.
Body & Paint
We mentioned the chop in the text-3 1/2 inches, by the way-and that means the convertible top was chopped, too, but the Buick was also channeled, receiving fabricated roll pans front and rear, and wearing '39 Ford door handles. The rear quarters have been extended vertically, the leading edges of the rear fenders have been extended down to meet the rockers, the stock taillights were lowered on the body, and the emblems and hood ornament all required modification once the hood was pancaked. All that is in addition to the body mods we've already discussed. Bob Messig was responsible for all of this, as well as the PPG "darkest navy blue on the chart," according to David.
The stock dash was altered, with a Burlwood framed insert, though the stock speedometer was refurbished by United Speedometer and refitted. A Wheel Shoppe Inc. banjo steering wheel points the Buick in the right direction, thanks to an ididit tilt column. David reclines in style on a caramel-colored ostrich leather-trimmed Glide Engineering seat with a split center armrest. More ostrich leather covers the door panels, thanks to the capable hands of Terry Holt. A Vintage Air system keeps occupants cool, while a Ron Francis harness ensures everything works as it should, including the Panasonic stereo system that Bob installed when he wasn't busy with his welder or spray gun! Not that you'll spot the stereo, as the head unit is hidden behind the hinged speaker grille.