It's 1963 and Tats Gotanda's 1959 Chevy Impala, dubbed the "Buddha Buggy", has appeared in just about every magazine related to custom cars or hot rods. Bought new by Gotanda in 1959, and delivered to Bill Hines, who made a number of mild body modifications before finishing the Impala in Candy Blue in 1962, it was one of the first cars to feature hydraulics, after Hines met Ron Aguirre and got a good look at his X-Sonic bubbletop Corvette. The "Buddha Buggy" had, and still has, 8 1/2 inches of suspension travel, enabling it to be driven at an acceptable ride height yet drop extremely low for car shows. The car was very successful on the show circuit, taking more than one trophy at every event it appeared at, but then Gotanda joined the military and sold the car to Warren Low who continued to have Hines modify it. Eventually, however, the "Buddha Buggy" was retired and disappeared from public life.
As with so many show cars of the time, that could have been the last anyone would see of the Impala, numerous similar cars ending up scrapped, sold off, or left outside to rust away. Many others continued to be modified beyond recognition, but the "Buddha Buggy" never left Warren's ownership or where he kept it in storage. Some 30 years after it was retired, Warren discussed bringing the car back to Hines once again for a full restoration to its show car glory days.
The truly remarkable part of this story is that not only was the car still 100 percent complete when it was delivered to Bill Hines, but his leadwork was all still intact, the hydraulics system was deemed sound enough to leave in place, and even the original interior was all there, though it had faded in places. In fact, the worst part was the surface rust on the hood, roof, and trunk, which necessitated a repaint. This closely resembles its original paintjob, but without the 'flake roof and with fadeaways along the sides of the hood and trunk.
But let's take a trip back through the Candy Blue nitrocellulose mists of time to the early '60s, to take a look at what Bill Hines did to what was already a pretty outrageous "factory custom". Curved scoops were added to the front fenders outboard of the headlights, with similar scoops at the rear ends of scalloped recesses atop each front fender, and yet more scoops, this time squarer, in the rear quarters between the door and wheel arch. Split bumpers allowed housings to be built up around the license plates front and rear, with more scoops beside (front) and below (rear) them. All these scoops were filled with perforated metal, as were the rear light housings that vaguely resemble the stock taillights but are elongated, recessed, curved, and fitted with three separate round lenses.
Beneath the rounded corners of the hood, which echo the rounded rear fin corners, a '59 Chrysler Imperial grille was backed by chromed tubing, while twin lakes pipes ran along the rocker panels out of molded tubes. A pair of frenched antennae rose from the left rear quarter-panel. Buick Skylark wire wheels finished the exterior, which was painted Candy Blue over a white pearl base, with blue metalflake on the roof.
As if the exterior wasn't wild enough, the Eddie Martinez interior was totally redone in Blue Frieze and white pearl vinyl with fur carpet. The stock front seats gave way to swiveling versions, with the rear re-contoured to match. Bob Hirohata allegedly made the laminated plastic dash and doorknobs, while a full-length console housed whiskey decanters and glasses. As befits the period, a TV, stereo, and telephone all made an appearance. Though stock with the exception of a Duntov cam, the motor was extensively chromed, and two fours on an Edelbrock manifold were added, though they made way sometime over the past three decades for a single four-barrel.
Once Warren brought the "Buddha Buggy" back to Hines, the exterior was restored and painted and the car shown at the Grand National Roadster Show, still on the original Buick wires and still with the remarkable Martinez interior, which came up surprisingly well after a good clean and a little touch up with paint. This is next on the restoration list, but I wanted to photograph the car with its original interior in place. While it can doubtless be recreated perfectly, it's such a well-preserved piece of history that it seems a shame to me to have it redone. Though these pictures were shot last year, the car remains today just as you see it here, still with the original interior. Of course it's not my car, but I for one hope it stays that way!