You know how it is; some people build a car every couple of years and move them on to make way for or finance (or both!) the next project. Then there are guys who will keep a car for years, improving it as funds and time allow. Andy Forget is very definitely in this latter category, having bought this '55 Buick Special back in 1986 whilst still in college in New Mexico. Seems he'd totaled his motorcycle-"I T-boned the guy and flipped over his roof. Luckily, I landed on my head and wasn't seriously hurt!"-and with the insurance payout, he went looking for a new vehicle. We'll take the easy route now and let Andy take it from here.
"A friend of mine spotted the Buick on the street in Albuquerque with a For Sale sign at $3,000. As soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew it was mine. Sitting there was a lightly restored, stock, white-on-green '55 Buick Special with the biggest whitewalls I had ever seen. It had 60,000 miles on the odometer and a 30-foot passable paintjob. It was beautiful. It was big. It was majestic. It was also about a thousand times safer than the motorcycle. This car would change my life; do you know how much beer you can fit in that trunk?
"My dad was a Buick guy and helped me seal the deal on the car. I guess he figured the steel dash had more give in it than a curb! People ask me why I chose a four-door as my project. I didn't choose it-it chose me. I drove the car for 16 years, completely stock. At different times, it was my only car. When I moved to California, I left it on the side of my house and neglected it, and the salt air in Santa Cruz took its toll. In addition to the surface rust, there was some sort of science experiment with mildew going on in the interior.
"I went to drive it one day and the brakes went out. I fixed them only to be reminded that '55 Buicks never did have good brakes. I decided to put discs on the front, and on researching this, discovered the best solution was to swap the front frame clip. If I was going to swap the clip, I decided I'd do the engine. If I was going to do the engine, why not replace the entire frame? How about air suspension?
"I went from a simple brake job to a complete custom car. At this time, I was looking at new cars, and I talked myself into some fairly top-of-the-line models in the $50,000 to $70,000 range. I figured I could take the new-car money and drop it on the Buick and end up with a car I'd rather be driving and that wouldn't depreciate. I was wrong about the $70,000 limit!
The goal was to build a driver, and this car was meant to be a daily driver. It was the last car I would ever own. If I bought a new car, I knew that five years later I would buy another, and another. The Buick was meant to put a fork in that cycle. I'll probably save more than $100,000 during the lifetime of the car. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
"GMP Speed and Machine in Santa Cruz, led by Grant Peuse, built the car over a 3-1/2-year period. The goal from the outset was not to do a frame-off restoration but to build a complete, new, modern vehicle. I anticipated commuting from Santa Cruz to Silicone Valley and wanted to have the ultimate comfortable commuter vehicle. I wanted to have all of the features that top-of-the-line cars have: A/C, Bluetooth, MP3, XM radio, touchscreens, and more.
"I'm in the computer software business, and at the start of the build, I was doing an awful lot of traveling, leaving me with many hours on airplanes thinking about the details. I wanted as stock an appearance as possible and to work in the original radio controls into the system to play, pause, and fast-forward MP3 music, as well as incorporate an LCD screen into the station indicator with song and artist information. There was simply no off-the-shelf technology we could utilize, and it was somewhere over the Sea of Japan that I realized I would have to build the system myself.
"The decision was made at an early stage to go with a car computer, so it impacted the entire project in some not-so-obvious ways. Although Grant is a master at building engines, we decided to go with a crate LS1 because it had a fully outfitted OBD2 system that I could interface with the computer. I can graph rpm, mass airflow, and dozens of other measurements on the touchscreen, as well as analyze and clear codes. Try doing that with your head unit!
"The touchscreen is hidden behind a sliding speaker grille, and the dash looks like a stocker with it closed. The actuator for the grille took up much of the glovebox, but since I live in California and don't own gloves, we sealed it up! Steve Sellers from Sellers Equipped tackled the metalwork on the dash.
"Since completion, we have put more than 8,000 miles on the Buick, both from road trips and car shows, and I love showing off the car to kids. It's fantastic to let them drop the air in the airbags and play with the screen cover. What's the point of having a cool car if you can't share it with the most appreciative audience?"
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Santa Cruz, California
1955 Buick Special
An Art Morrison Enterprises mandrel-bent 2x4-inch 0.120 wall rectangular tube chassis forms the foundation for this four-door hardtop, complete with Morrison Air Ride IFS and Air Ride four-bar in the rear. QA1 Ultra Ride 12-way adjustable shocks are fitted at each corner, along with a Morrison antiroll bar at the front. Wilwood brakes all round are actuated by a Master Power Brakes cylinder and booster, the pedal assembly coming from Kugel Components. All hard lines throughout the car are stainless steel by Matt Blaz of GMP. The 22-gallon fuel tank was designed in a U-shape to accommodate a temporary spare wheel, as Andy feels a spare tire is vital in a car that's driven. The chassis had a trailer hitch added, which protrudes through the rear bumper, before getting powdercoated John Deer Green. Custom-built air tanks reside along the inside of the main 'rails.
As mentioned, a new crate LS1 motor was selected owing to its ability to interface with the computer. Custom accessory brackets and the air cleaner were fabricated by Steve Sellers and Matt Blaz, with headers by GMP feeding into MagnaFlow mufflers. The Corvette fuel-rail covers wear '55 Buick Special logos by Evil Wheels. A 4L65E trans backs the motor, operated via an ididit column shifter, and feeds the power back to a limited-slip 3.25-geared 9-inch Ford axle with 28-spline Strange shafts.
Wheels & Tires
It's hard to beat a set of wires on a car like this, and the Buick rolls on a set of Zenith 15x8-inch rims, wrapped in BFGoodrich Silvertown radial whitewalls, measuring 215/70/15 up front and 235/70/15 out back.
Body & Paint
The hardtop styling disguises the fact that this is a four-door, and the stock-appearing body belies the amount of work it's received. The driveshaft tunnel and doghouse were resized to clear the new trans and to allow room for the air suspension to operate, which also required the floor to be clearanced beneath the rear seats. The trunk floor was also raised to allow clearance beneath the fuel tank at the suspension's lowest position. Under the hood, the firewall was smoothed and custom inner fenders were fabricated, the left-hand one now mounting one-off aluminum reservoirs for overflow and washer fluid. Emilio Belmonte of Evil Wheels undertook the bodywork and paint, using House of Kolor Cool Vanilla over Candy Green.
The original seats were re-covered in white and green leatherette by Ray's Upholstery in Watsonville, California, though they now incorporate '05 Cadillac folding armrests with integral cup holders, while the stock steering wheel was detailed and reused with a '55 Chevy hub welded on to mate with the ididit column. The main work inside the Buick went into the dash, fabricating the aforementioned sliding cover for the touchscreen, as well as adding what look like stock A/C vents at each side, though '55 Buicks never had A/C vents-the air pumped through scoops on the package tray from the trunk-mounted A/C unit. The original heater controls now operate a Vintage Air system. The gauges were created to look stock but actually comprise a 160-mph speedometer and a quad cluster designed for the LS1, while a trick shift indicator that changes color depending on the gear selected was built by Deme Ambrosi using a Dakota Digital gearshift sending unit.